On March 26, the DIGM 3350 met at Gulf States Label Co. Their location is near Clay Road and the Sam Houston Tollway. The printing plant specialty is custom labels using flexography. Mike Williams, President/Sales, began our tour with some details about the outfit. The company has been in business for 11 years and a total of 30 years of experience under their roof. He introduced Bob Nicolosi, as our guide from that point forward. Bob is the one in the company for technical expertise.
We entered the print manufacturing area. Bob began by discussing the difference between flexography and offset lithographic printing. Mainly, flexography is a direct method that uses relief plates. Their presses are very different from all the rest I have seen on these field trips. Rotary flexography was invented in the 1950’s. Some advancement has been made in the dies and plates; otherwise the process remains as it was in the early days. Bob continued by giving us an overview of the cylinder and plates. We were shown plates in varying stages of completion and a set of plates for color separation. The flexible plate is mounted on a metal cylinder. The first press was in makeready mode and not quite ready for us.
The 16” press was running a job. The group made its way over to the 6-color machine. This is an in-line press that has separate tower for each color and a drying unit at the bottom of each tower, so that color with be dry before the next is applied. This press is capable of running 500 feet per minute. A die-cut was being used to cut the unwanted sticker portion away from the backing. This portion was being fed onto its own roll above the press. The output was sheet of label that the customer was planning on feed through their own laser printer.
We went back over to the other press and the pressman was not doing so well. Bob took matters into his own hands and restarted the press (or as Mr. Stokes said rebooted).
We stopped by the Production Department. These ladies are finishing the job by putting the labels on cores, rolling them up and counting by measuring increments of 10”. Bob talked about his start in the printing business. In 1977, he began by rewinding labels. He reminisced about the old-style, a more hands-on than today. He continued by telling us that the problem labels were spliced out of the web and flagged for the production department to be aware.
We finally got a look at the 8-color 10” press in action. We walked down the side of the press. It was very easy to tell all the parts of the process. The ink reservoir was full and the ink was thin. The Anilox Roller provided ink from the reservoir and the doctor blade wiped the excess. The soft plate with raised images was wrapped around the plate cylinder and was being inked. The impression cylinder rolls the opposite direction of the plate cylinder with the substrate passes between the two. The impression cylinder pressed the web-fed labels into the raised images. The web then goes through an in-line dryer. There was also a die-cut being use on this press. Just like the other, the sticker portion that was not label was cut and removed, while the labels remained with backing. The unwanted material was spooled above the press. I found it very interesting.
I would choose to do business with Gulf States Label. I believe that they are a leader in their business. They created a niche that will sustain economic uncertainty and they know their stuff. What really impressed me was the fact that went through the UL certification process and became Authorized Label Suppliers. Bob spoke about the process briefly. Another fact that makes me what to do business with Gulf States Labels was Bob continually saying “It’s what the customer what’s…” I know these folks take care of their clients.
I think this is my favorite trip so far. I really got in there and saw a process that was all theory. I would still like to see more flexography, such as packaging and other applications. I think this is the most flexible printing process; but Bob burst my bubble when he discussed the initial cost for a top of the line 12-color in-line press would run about half million. I won’t be buying my own flexographic press any time soon. Guess I’ll stick to Serigraphy until I graduate.