Thai: Nilpeter FA-4*: A platform for short-run flexibility

By installing a Nilpeter FA-4*, Marschall in Porta Westfalica, Germany, has postponed its move to digital printing.

Since the company began offering pressure-sensitive roll-fed labels in 1986, Marschall GmbH & Co. KG has focused on labels for technical applications, in short and medium run lengths. In such circumstances, many might have opted for a digital printing system – but, in December 2014, managing director of Marschall, Friedel Sellmann, invested in the Nilpeter FA-4* 6-colour flexo printing press instead. Founded by Alfred Marschall in 1924, the company started off by offering hand stamp-applied markings. The start of its own labelling operations took place in 1981 with a small printing system. Some years later, the Marschall company in Porta Westfalica installed its first rotary printing press.

Technical labels as focus of production

The company employs 20 people and produces mainly labels for technical applications on five presses. This work encompasses polypropylene (PP) labels for application on car tyres and special film labels for high temperatures or security solutions. Run lengths for these applications are typically between 10,000 to 250,000 labels; only in exceptional circumstances do they extend into the millions. At the moment, the majority of Marschall’s output is paper, but film composites and other speciality substrates generate the most value.

Marschall has always produced these jobs by flexo. The large amount of small- and medium-sized runs prompted the company some years ago to think about adopting digital printing.  

“We have constantly watched the development of InkJet printing. However, we have not seen the expected breakthrough”, says Friedel Sellmann. “Although there has been considerable progress, there are still several questions in our opinion. As a relatively small company, we did not want to assume the role of a pioneer which in the end could jeopardize our existence.” 

Because of this, the decision was taken to postpone the adoption of digital printing.

Search for suitable machine concept 

During a comparison of technical data and performance capabilities of presses from various manufacturers, the subsidiary of the Danish press manufacturer, Nilpeter GmbH from Hannover, came into play. 

“The technical know-how about printing details and its practical industry experience that Nilpeter GmbH brought along, in the person of Thorsten Saathoff as consultant, were important factors in our decision-making phase”, recalls Friedel Sellmann.

The original plan was to install a further rotary flexo press with a width of 330 mm (13 inches), to work alongside existing machinery. However, Marschall put a 420 mm (16.5 inches.)-wide Nilpeter FA-4* press into operation. This latest model in the FA-4 series offers a relatively low price difference between the 13 inch and 16 inch versions. As make-ready times are the same for both press versions, the investment has the additional benefit to occasionally enable faster and thus more economical production of bigger jobs.

Economic alternative to digital printing

Marschall’s key criterion for press selection can be summarised in one question: To what extent does this machine strengthen the company’s ability to meet customer requirements flexibly, through short runs and shorter delivery times? For Friedel Sellmann, the FA-4* is a real alternative to digital printing solutions when it comes to short runs. The different systems for automation, such as the Automatic Plate Positioning System (APPS) and the P2C-Register System, accelerate make-ready during job changes. In addition, simple and fast tool changes via Easy Load Tooling and CLEANINKING, the chamber ink system developed by Nilpeter, facilitate work for the staff as well as the low weight of the printing cylinder and saving of job data in the press. Experience at Marschall points to the fact that, when repeat orders are set up, about 95% of all settings can be done automatically, if the initial job has been established accurately.

According to Bernd Fiebig from Nilpeter GmbH, the design of the press’s body is responsible for enabling the high consistency when reproducing precise register repeat jobs. Thanks to an innovative production concept, the whole frame can be manufactured in a single operation, thus enabling both tight manufacturing and printing tolerances and reduced machine production costs.

Every meter less waste is worth money

The innovative print engine design provides for an extremely short web path inside the press. This aspect has an important role for Marschall as generation of waste is kept at low levels. 

“We use self-adhesive materials for special applications that may cost ?15 or more per square metre”, explains Friedel Sellmann. “That’s why we are thankful for every meter that does not end up in the skip.” 

On the older machines, make-ready waste for a 4-colour job was 600 to 800 metres. However, the new Nilpeter press already prints saleable quality after running only 80 metres.

In addition, machine operators at Marschall cite the web path’s precision as an advantage. Until now, jobs that require additional laminating had to be carefully monitored. Discrepancies in register meant the web needed frequent adjustments. Web tension on the FA-4* is controlled at four different locations in the press, ensuring consistent quality throughout the whole job.

Quick Change die cutting and iPad control 

The FA-4* also comprises a QC-Die, the Nilpeter die-cutting unit with Quick-Change system, developed together with Kocher + Beck, the Quick-Change unit for inline die-cutting significantly reduces make-ready times.

UV-curing capability is featured at all printing units, while first printing unit also includes a powerful hot air drying unit. The latter is used for thermal labels printed with special aqueous inks that offer high resistance against smearing when subsequently processed in thermal printers.

Furthermore, the press comes with an inspection camera for print inspection, to eliminate defective labels on-the-fly. This prevents costly downtime during automated administration of labels at application processes further down the line.

A special feature of the FA-4* is the possibility for radio-controlled machine operation via ACS (Air Control Satellite). This makes it the first Nilpeter model that can be controlled via iPad. This frees the operators from having to stay at the operator terminals without compromising effectiveness. iPad commands are implemented by the press immediately. At first glance, ACS might seem like a sales gimmick. However, the press operators see it as very user-friendly, thanks especially to its intuitive menu-control. Overall, the iPad control boosts job satisfaction.

Training for all printing operators

Both installation and commissioning of the press as well as on-site staff training were carried out by the Nilpeter GmbH service team.  Everyone in the production is trained on the new machine, in order to make staff aware of the latest developments in printing technology. 

“For a company of our size it is extremely important that in cases of staff shortages – during holidays or due to sickness for instance – there will always be experienced operators available for each machine”, states Friedel Sellmann.

Soon after commissioning, the FA-4* demonstrated the productivity that could enable Marschall to compete for longer production runs. The company intends to exploit this opportunity in the coming months.