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Leading flexo platemaking house Kirk Group has installed a new ThermoFlexX imager combined with a full Catena+ platemaking line from XSYS, which it says is boosting its overall equipment efficiency.

Touch-free flexo plate production: Robert Selvaggio, Kirk Group, (left) with Yves Vanryckeghem, XSYS
Touch-free flexo plate production: Robert Selvaggio, Kirk Group, (left) with Yves Vanryckeghem, XSYS

The new system offers fully automated and completely touch-free production of flexo plates, with a reduction in waste for greater sustainability in the process for the prepress specialist.

Kirk Group decided to implement a fully automatic platemaking line from XSYS, consisting of a ThermoFlexX imager combined with a Catena-E LED exposure unit, a Catena-WDLS washer, dryer and light-finisher and a Catena-R for rotating the plates between the exposure and wash-out units.

This modular system, known as Catena+, is an end-to-end automated solution, that removes operator intervention, and says XSYS, “greatly” reduces waste. Kirk Group is among the first companies in the world to leverage the benefits.

The company says the new Catena+ platemaking line was installed to increase capacity, productivity, and quality consistency. It features dual head imaging, allowing an imaging speed of up to 12sqm an hour, and standard resolution up to 5080 dpi, plus an "ultra-high-resolution" option, which Kirk Group is leveraging for its clients in the security printing sector.

Over the five decades since its inception in 1972, when Graeme Kirk first set up his business to produce gravure cylinders, Kirk Group has grown to become a packaging industry leader. The company is today the largest supplier of artwork services and image carrier solutions across Australia and New Zealand, counting global brands and major printing companies as its customers.

Headquartered in Minto, in Sydney, Kirk Group also has manufacturing sites in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Auckland, with a total of 120 staff, along with sales offices in Christchurch, and more recently in Mumbai, India. As managing director, Graeme Kirk is still involved in the business. His large contribution to the industry was acknowledged in 2018, when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Flexible Packaging and Label Manufacturers Association (FPLMA).

General manager John Kapiniaris, who joined in 2015, bringing with him a strong background in flexible packaging, and an entrepreneurial drive to innovate, said, “We work with leading brands and printers across ANZ and into Asia, offering a proven systematic approach to print management. We launched the Flite On-demand e-commerce platform to automate daily tasks, boost productivity and help our customers win the race to shelf.”

Kapiniaris said, “We saw the opportunity to centralise and rationalise our production by increasing efficiencies and productivity. With the new XSYS system, we can maintain a lower cost base by consolidating production and removing manual steps throughout the process. This reduces the human touch and opportunities for errors, so we end up with a superior product.”

The choice to invest with XSYS was made after a rigorous review process that evaluated all the options currently available in the market. The team said it was was especially convinced by the build quality of the modules, and the fact that they are all produced by the same manufacturer. “The equipment really stood out from the competition and the integration is second to none,” said Kapiniaris, “plus the reliability of the output means that we can manage our core business and offer our customers a higher-quality finished product and achieve improved print results across our industry.”

The purchase was partly carried out through the XSYS partnership with local distributor GMS Pacific, which facilitated the ThermoFlexX component of the system. This highly automated imager is plate agnostic, and according to GMS, “excels by the excellence of its optical system.” When integrated with the Catena modules, platemaking is fully automated, with each part fully enclosed creating its own controlled environment. At the start, the plate is placed on the tray of the ThermoFlexX unit, and will then automatically travel through imaging, exposure, washing, drying and final light exposure, before being stacked ready at the end.

Two of the main drivers in packaging production today are speed to market and sustainability. By automating and optimising flexo plate production with the Catena+ processing system, Kirk Group says it can respond to brand owners’ requirements for faster delivery, top quality, and reproducible results by using more environmentally-friendly manufacturing methods that produce less plate waste.

“The Catena+ platemaking line is perfect automation in action, and we are excited that an industry leader like Kirk Group has recognised the benefits that this innovation will bring to their business,” says Roy Schoettle, vice president, XSYS Asia Pacific. “Catena is the Italian word for ‘chain’, and this is exactly what XSYS has introduced into flexo platemaking – a ‘chain reaction’ that needs no intervention by the operator. This is smart manufacturing at its best.”

Kirk's chief operating officer Robert Selvaggio concludes: “We see ourselves as industry leaders and innovators, and our continued investment in the latest technology and automation means that we can satisfy our customer’s requests for the highest quality print outcomes, maximum consistency, and fastest time to market, all whilst maintaining lowest costs and minimising waste.”

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