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Flexographic printing

Started by Mechanic, October 18, 2008, 07:43:51 AM

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A number of years before I retired in 1989 there was a need to increase the press capacity of the Sydney Morning Herald. At the time, offset seemed to be the way to go, however that would have meant a mixed operation. Instead second-hand letterpress machines were purchase from a US newspaper that had converted to offset. Fairfax the publishers of the SMH, completed their conversion to cold type in March 1984, with letterpress using NAPP polymer printing plates.

Fairfax family's control of the paper was lost when young Warwick Fairfax tried to re-privatise the listed group by borrowing $1.8 billion shortly before the share market crash in 1987.

The banks called in receivers when the board reported that they did not believe the company could service its debt, reported to total $1.7 billion. After almost 150 years, the Sydney Morning Herald no longer had a Fairfax in control of the company.

In the three years before debts made it impossible for Fairfax to stay afloat, the group sold its interests in television, AAP and Fairfax magazines.

Canadian media baron Conrad Black bought what was left of the Fairfax group, before it was re-listed on the stock exchange in 1992.

As I was already retired I'm no longer sure of the time frame, but shortly after the takeover a new printing plant was built to the west of Sydney and new offset presses were installed. The editorial operation was moved to a new location in Sydney and the building on Broadway was sold.

I was prompted to write the demise of the Fairfax family from the Sydney Morning Herald and its subsequent revival, after I ran across a current web page of the American Printer which detailed the progress of flexo printing and wondered if the original Fairfax production management was converting today which way would they go in view of the fact that NAPP is a major producer of plastic flexo plates. I doubt if any printing process can save newspapers as we know them, however that aside I found the information gleaned from the American Printer's web page very interesting, particularly the fact that the London Daily Mail is the largest newspaper using flexography for production.

For the story see:-

Flexography, on the surface appears to be a much simpler process than offset and for the press machinist using letterpress polymer plates the conversion would be fairly straight forward.

It would be interesting to know why the Daily Mail chose to go with flexo.
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

Rob Clayton

The enquiry regarding flexo was interesting and overdue. Flexoraphy was the manufactured name for Aniline peinting introduced around 1900 to print machine made paper bags. it was from this lowly start that it was dirided by conventional letterpress printers as 'winkle bag' printing. Print quality was poor yet acceptable for the market involvedit was the growth of supermarkets  and the need for consistency that sparked the need for precision presses. In the USA the Flexographic Technical  Association was formed folloyed some yearls later by the European flexographic Technical Association a UK based group the writer is I  believe the only surviving  founder member. later groups were formed in Germany and other countries.
Open to printing companies and trade suppliers the Associations were very successful and had a positive input in encouraging technical progress. As Technical Director for a number ofyears of the EFTA i was also involved as part of my full time occupation as a Director of the UK agency for Windmoeller & Hoelscher the world's leading manufacturer of high quality flexographic presses. Based in Germany they had developed  the first  computer controlled flexo presses and it was natural that KBA approached W&H to manufacture suitable units to meet a need for a major project being investigated by the Daily Mail.The discussions  went on for months and included  W&R Grace manufacturers of the solid photopolymer plate.
for some of the discussions I was present and although pressed by W&H to get involved was reluctant due to KBA being   less than friendly to even their own agents. Unlike W&H who were a fantastic family company to work with and who we had represented in the UK for 90 years. The Daily Mail were correct to go for flexo it was unfortunate that a last minute change to a liquid plate by the Mail involved a design change in the way plates were mounted delayed the installation and bedding down of the presses.However the end result was a great success and with very little start mis register this is also one of the plus points in favour of the process. Since the original installation several of the key executives have like the writer retired and the new executives have concentrated on their very succesful new generation of presses. KBA had lost their links with the company and Cerutti in the meantime bought out an Italian flexopress manufacturer and have gone from strengthh. Their Didcot project from the look of their press drawings with the overhead common impression units should be a true winner. Rob Clayton

Dave Hughes

Interesting stuff indeed - I didn't know the Daily Mail was printed flexo (but there again I never read it!)

Looking for stories on the flexo debate I did see one story that suggested that recycling flexo-produced newspapers is a little problematic. Apparently the water-based inks are more difficult to remove (perhaps surprisingly) and only a low percentage of flexo-printed newspapers can be used in each batch, otherwise the paper produced is unacceptably "grey."

I only managed to find one image of the Didcot plant, taken in March this year. Unfortunately the foreground is dominated by David Cameron (leader of the Tory opposition party here in the UK) and Lord Rothermere, who is looking a little more sprightly than I thought he would!

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