P23 – “A new generation” takes the helm

Generation change at Flex-Punkt Druckformen GmbH

A new generation has taken the helm at Flex-Punkt. The prepress company is now headed by David Weber, who has been managing Flex-Punkt’s business since 2019. He is supported by four young, highly motivated managers. From left to right: Dennis Schenfisch (Product Management/R&D), Sabine Santoro-Selhöfer (Administration/Accounting), David Weber (Management), Marieke Heidemann (Work Preparation/Production), and Nicole Linnemanstöns (Prepress).

Retailers and brand owners are increasingly demanding packaging solutions to achieve their ambitious sustainability goals. Suppliers are required not only to consistently implement these goals, but also to identify with them. This poses major challenges for prepress and printing companies. After all, it is they who ultimately bear responsibility for the practical implementation of sustainable packaging solutions. “This requires a whole new way of thinking and a different orientation from all those involved in packaging production in order to be prepared for the issues of the future,” says Flex-Punkt Managing Director David Weber.

Flex-Punkt has been working continuously for many years to optimize its products and service offerings in terms of sustainability, resource efficiency, delivery capability and quality. In doing so, the prepress company based in Melle in the district of Osnabrück focuses specifically on innovations and invests above average in new technologies and digital infrastructure as well as in the expansion and modernization of its company building. “Above all, however, it is our employees who contribute with great dedication and passion to making us a little better as a company every day,” emphasizes David Weber. “Without our good employees, we would not be where we are today.”

Well positioned for the future

“In order to place the responsibility for our family business completely in the hands of the next generation by 2023, we launched Project 2023 – P23 for short – in 2018,” adds Günther Weber, Managing Partner of Flex-Punkt. With the initiated generation change, a change in mentality has also taken place at Flex-Punkt in recent years. Today’s young managers and specialists are very demanding and want to know what prospects Flex-Punkt offers them for the future and what business strategy is being pursued. It’s not just about money, but rather about a coherent overall package,” explains Günther Weber.

From left: David Weber (Flex-Punkt Managing Director) and Udo Theus (Senior Sales Manager at Hell Gravure Systems) stand in front of a PremiumSetter S1700. The elastomer flexosleeve is ready for direct engraving. (Source: Ansgar Wessendorf)

Here, the work-life balance plays a weighty role. “The management supports this approach by involving the employees in the decision-making processes,” Günther Weber continues. Clearly formulated target agreements ensure the greatest possible transparency on both sides. “We organize internal training courses or register interested parties for external advanced and further training measures.” For example, Flex-Punkt finances the master craftsman course or studies to become a state-certified print and media technician for young employees aspiring to management tasks.

“Since the introduction of P 23, we have successfully implemented a wide range of measures. The company is now managed by my son David, who has been running Flex-Punkt since 2019. He is supported by four young, highly motivated managers who are operationally responsible for the business units ‘Product Management/R&D’, ‘Prepress’, ‘Work Preparation/Production’ and ‘Administration/Accounting’,” explains Günther Weber. “Additional employees have been trained to become experts with a high level of expertise in specific areas of flexographic printing and digital workflow. In addition, two junior employees are currently completing a three-year training program to become media designers.”

“In this context, I am very pleased that young employees are taking advantage of their opportunities with a high level of commitment and ambition. The average age of our workforce is now 35, so we are well positioned for the future. The steady and sustainable growth of Flex-Punkt is also reflected in the number of employees, which has increased from just under 35 to over 50 in the past four years, with a very low fluctuation rate overall,” says Günther Weber. In the meantime, he himself has largely withdrawn from the operational business and is now mainly responsible for the further development of the company’s strategic orientation.

Growth and company expansion

In addition to sustainable personnel development, a high willingness to invest in the latest technology and modern production facilities is part of Flex-Punkt’s company policy. Therefore, a completely new company building with a production hall of 1280 m2 and office space of 800 m2 was already built in 2014.

Standing in the new company building, the five PremiumSetters from Hell Gravure Systems for direct engraving of elastomer flexo sleeves and flexo printing plates (Source: Udo Theus) (Photo: Udo Theus)

However, against a background of strong growth as well as increasing order numbers and the associated new installations, Flex-Punkt was increasingly reaching the limits of the available area capacity. Therefore, the company decided to build an additional 850 m2 production hall in August 2020. This now provides sufficient space for the instal¬lation of new machines to improve performance and expand the portfolio. Investments were also made in a state-of-the-art tool rack system, the installation of which was completed at the end of the third quarter.

An unusual portfolio

Flex-Punkt has a wide range of services from design, repro and proofing to the production of printing plates and seamless continuous sleeves. “Our production technology equipment makes us a full-range supplier in the field of flexographic printing plates,” comments David Weber. The plates and sleeves are used to print flexible packaging substrates for a variety of applications. These include the hygiene, pet food, bakery, tobacco and beverage sectors, as well as tissues (e.g. napkins) and decorative products such as gift wrap. In order to be able to react flexibly and at short notice, Flex-Punkt keeps around 3000 flexo sleeves in standard sizes permanently in stock for its regular customers – especially in the tobacco products sector.

A special service is the support of printing companies. To ensure that even difficult jobs are executed reliably, all details of color management are coordinated with them, characteristic curves are defined, and test forms are made available. “Thanks to our strong focus on customer service and the expansion of our internationalization, we were able to add further major print shops. This contributed significantly to our continued strong growth,” says David Weber.

80% of customers are printers and smaller brand owners, mainly from Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Customers also include colleague companies for whom Flex-Punkt manufactures continuous seamless flexo sleeves. However, not only the very heterogeneous customer structure, but also the composition of the product portfolio is unusual compared to most prepress companies. Flexosleeves account for around 80% of production at Flex-Punkt, and flexographic printing plates, including coating plates, account for 20%. Flex-Punkt primarily processes plate materials in thicknesses from 1.14 to 2.84 mm.

The elastomer flexosleeves are offered in bale widths up to 1800 mm and in circumferences between 230 and 1380 mm. DuPont’s two in-the-round lines enable the production of photopolymer LAMS flexosleeves in printing widths up to 1700 mm and in printing lengths from 260 to 920 mm.

The new PremiumSetter F1700 with 32 laser diodes for imaging photopolymer flexographic printing plates was installed at Flex-Punkt in the summer of 2019 and, after thorough testing, accepted in the spring of 2020 (Source: Udo Theus) (Photo: Udo Theus)

In total, Flex-Punkt produces well over 10,000 flexo sleeves a year. Elastomer sleeves account for a good 70% of these and the polymer variant for 30%. “In this context, it is interesting to note that demand for photopolymer sleeves is declining in favor of elastomer sleeves,” says David Weber.

Trustworthy, fruitful and efficient

Hell Gravure Systems has played a part in the continuing successful development of Flex-Punkt that should not be underestimated. The two companies have enjoyed 20 years of very fruitful and trusting cooperation. As early as 2001, Flex-Punkt carried out the beta test for the first laser engraving system from Hell. Currently, five direct lasers and two LAMS lasers from Hell are used to produce all elastomer and photopolymer sleeves and sheets. The only exception is Miraclon’s Flexcel flexographic printing plates.

Joint development of a LAMS laser

The long-standing partnership led to the idea of combining the technologies of the Heliograph companies Lüscher and Hell to develop a new universal LAMS laser imager. While Lüscher contributed its diode laser to this project, Hell provided the proven mechanics of the PremiumSetter. The result was the new PremiumSetter F1700 with 32 laser diodes, which was installed at Flex-Punkt in summer 2019 and accepted in spring 2020 after thorough testing.

For imaging digital LAMS flexographic plates, the F1700 is equipped with simplified plate handling. For this purpose, the loading table has been integrated into the unit and the vacuum cylinder has been equipped with a clamping bar function. The maximum plate format is 1330 mm x 1650 mm. For lasering photopolymer sleeves, the F1700 is equipped with an integrated bearing and swiveling device (cantilever) to simplify handling.

The maximum sleeve format is 1350 mm in circumference and 1700 mm in width. The F1700 images at up to 5080 dpi as standard, achieving full HD flexo quality levels. Regardless of screen and exposure resolution, productivity is 8 m²/h and maximum plate thickness is 6.35 mm. The X!Mask software developed by Lüscher automatically structures areas and lines using microcells, allowing higher density values in the solid areas.

Elastomer sleeves – the “green sleeve

In view of increasing demand for directly engraved elastomer flexo sleeves, Flex-Punkt decided at the end of 2020 to invest in a third S1700 Premiumsetter from Hell Gravure Systems, which was installed at the beginning of 2021. This means that the prepress service provider now has five PremiumSetters – one S1300, one S1600 and three S1700. With the exception of the S1600, all setters are equipped with dual-beam technology, which enables the otherwise usual engraving times to be halved.

Since 2012, Flex-Punkt has offered laser-direct engraved continuous-seamless elastomer flexo sleeves. In addition to high mechanical resistance, the printing of “difficult” ink systems, such as 2K inks or water-based inks, is a particular strength of such plates or sleeves. They are also frequently used for applying high and homogeneous layer thicknesses, as required for white inks and coatings. Elastomer materials also offer advantageous properties for jobs where the printing plates have to be highly resistant to solvent- and water-based inks and other chemicals. On its laser direct engraving systems, Flex-Punkt processes elastomer sleeves and plates from ContiTech, Ligum and Böttcher.

Profile depths of up to 1000 μm can be achieved with elastomer engraving. This is not possible with photopolymer laser imaging because this technology cannot control optimization parameters such as undercut, first step and flank angle, which is a necessary prerequisite for successful printing with very high screen resolutions. The low dot gain of the elastomer printing plates ensures excellent image, gradient, line and text quality. The laydown behavior of the ink in the areas is very good and fine gradients as well as positive and negative fonts are clearly reproduced. “The high reproducibility of direct engraving not only plays an important role in repeat jobs, but also makes it possible to achieve predictable print quality in general,” says David Weber.

Flex-Punkt also refers to direct-engraved elastomer sleeves as the “green sleeve”. This is because the environmental benefits are obvious: In the process, which is shortened to two steps, no chemicals are required for profile cleaning. The elimination of UV exposure not only avoids ozone formation, but also contributes to a noticeable reduction in energy costs. In addition, the waste heat generated by cooling the lasers during direct engraving is used for hall heating in winter.

First-time user of “PureFlexo Printing

Since 2013, Flex-Punkt has also been using the Flexcel system from Miraclon (formerly Kodak) to produce photopolymer plates for high-quality flexographic printing. “We have also maintained a close relationship with this company for a long time and exchange information intensively on promising innovations and technologies for increasing performance in flexographic printing. In Germany, for example, we are one of the two first users of ‘PureFlexo Printing’, the latest development from Miraclon,” explains David Weber.