Becoming more than just a supplier
“Pamarco reflects on what it takes to stay in the anilox business for 70 years”
Interview by Rebecca Watson
As Pamarco celebrates its 70th year in the anilox roller business, our editor sat down with Nick Walker, general manager for Pamarco Europe, and David Parr, technical sales manager for Pamarco Europe, to get a sense of where the company came from, what drives the company currently and how the company views the future of flexo. We also get into the nitty-gritty of selecting and cleaning anilox rollers as well as what Pamarco recommends for technical challenges printers face.
Could you give us a quick history of Pamarco?
Parr: It was founded in North America in 1946, and I think the first product area was essentially the inking rolls for printing presses, and they were made by a mechanical process in the early days before anilox were laser engraved. So in a sense, we’ve been making anilox rolls from day one. We’re based in the European operation, which was founded as a company called MA Buckley’s in the 1970s, which then became part of Pamarco in the early ‘90s. Buckley’s was one of the first companies in the world to develop the ceramic coated laser engraved anilox, which is essentially the anilox that we currently use. The other areas of the business — gravure, flexo and offset — really all came about through that history as Pamarco in North America.
What kind of distribution does Pamarco currently have?
Walker: We are a global company with 5,000 customers in more than one hundred countries, Pamarco has a global reach with 50% of our business from the Americas and the other 50% split across Europe Asia, and the Middle East.
How important is drupa?
Parr: It’s important on the basis that it’s a four yearly show piece about technology. In terms of exhibiting our products, it is not our main focus. We tend to exhibit at much more regional and sector focused shows, where they’re predominantly flexo and are very active in the regions and applications that we’re present in. As Pamarco continues to develop into Asian markets and other developing areas of the printing industry, drupa will become more important. Certainly we attend to stay aware of what is on show and what’s new, but it’s not the highest focus for us at the moment.
Walker: Absolutely, clearly drupa has a heavy focus towards digital, and how digital print will change business. In many ways, people know the advantages of digital, but of course there are many advantages, particularly economically, of flexo. Digital is driving consistency, and I think one of the real drivers for us in flexo is to achieve the consistency that’s possible whilst retaining the economic advantages. There are many things that we can do in our business to support that consistency, but many of our customers actually need much more than just the anilox roller. They need the support also to help them achieve consistency.
Is consistency one of the biggest problems flexo printers face?
Parr: Consistency and repeatability of quality are big issues for all flexo printers. Flexo does have a lot of variables, so for our part it is essential that we supply the same quality of product time after time. In Pamarco, we have a good understanding of our customers’ requirements and we work closely with them to ensure we keep pushing the boundaries of the flexo process.
Walker: Pamarco has 15 manufacturing plants — eight of which are focused on the flexo market manufacturing anilox rolls, ink metering systems and ancillary equipment for flexo printing. All of the anilox plants have common manufacturing equipment, standardized raw materials and production processes, etc. So very much standardization for repeatability is driven throughout the organization to try to help the customer achieve optimized levels of consistency. But reinforcing what David is saying, our anilox roller is one part of a very sophisticated matrix in flexo, so differences in the anilox, formulation and viscosity of inks, printing plate or mounting tape, etc., all have an effect.
Pamarco produces for the flexo market and the gravure market. What about other industries?
Walker: The embossing and the offset market are important parts of Pamarco with dedicated divisions serving them. The flexo division focuses on flexo printing and gravure applications of anilox rolls.
The flexo market is actually the biggest for Pamarco, and we see a lot of development potential. Pamarco’s historically has had a very strong position in certain market sectors and with certain OEMs, but that’s evolved quite a lot in the last decade. Our biggest markets are the corrugated and flexible packaging markets.
The flexible packaging market is probably the one that is growing the fastest for Pamarco and globally today. Our strength is that our heritage gives a lot of people faith in what we can deliver. For the anilox market specifically, consistency and knowing that when we deliver an anilox roll, it will put down a very precise amount of ink is something that people can’t take for granted in our industry, and there are a lot of manufacturers and a lot of varying standards within our industry. I think one of the biggest challenges is having a common standard for measuring ink volume — it’s possible to buy the same product from several manufacturers and receive different volumes and therefore different performances.
Parr: There have been a lot of studies made globally on which is the best method to measure and quantify anilox specifications. Pamarco has been involved in that investigation, and within our group we use the system that has been rated as being the most consistent over a long period of time.
And what system is that?
Walker: It is a system, manufactured by Microdynamics, in the US. They make a cell measurement microscope using white light interferometry — for volume measurement, and both the device itself and the common calibration mechanism – spherical calibration – have been developed by both MD and Troika to actually mean that those volumes are much more repeatable and interchangeable today than five years ago.
What should printers look for in choosing their anilox rollers?
Parr: First of all, they should be very clear about what their requirements are, not just for today but for the future, to hone in on the specifications they need. It’s important to ensure that the anilox specification matches that specific press type. With flexible packaging in particular, a lot of the latest CI presses are sleeve-based anilox, and some of them are fairly wide web with carbon fiber complex shafts, so having a manufacturer that is able to meet the high demands of the press manufacturer — the critical tolerances, repeatability, consistency and stability of those sleeves — on an ongoing basis is very important. Finally having a manufacturer that has production capability to be able to produce ceramic laser engraved rollers within a good delivery time consistently is important.
Walker: Also very important is a working partnership with your anilox supplier. An anilox supplier can supply a consistent product, but much more than that, customers need advice. For example, a customer is installing a new Bobst flexible packaging press, and they’ll say, “I want to get my plate manufacturer, my ink manufacturer and my anilox manufacturer together to make sure, as a team, they optimize and agree on the standards given the work and the quality standards I want to produce.” It’s very much a unique company that is going to have the application expertise to work in that partnership with you.
There’s a particular challenge for anilox rolls when using HD flexo plates with 60 line per centimetre or higher screen rulings. How does Pamarco recommend handling this situation?
Parr: With our corrugated market, we recommend the anilox very much in relation to the different papers because they absorb a lot of ink, which is a significant variable. With flexible packaging and narrow web, it tends to be on a more stable substrate, so the anilox is selected much more in relation to the graphics resolution. Our latest data sheet information suggest selection related to the smallest dot you would achieve on your printing plate, so whether it’s defined as HD, which is in relation to the resolution of your imaging of that printing plate, the thing we really care about is the physical size of dots on that printing plate. Then we select the anilox roll in relation to that smallest dot.
For example where we have a plate screen of 60 lines per centimetre – 150 line per inch — the smallest dot is about 19 microns, so we specify the smallest anilox cell to be able to give the right amount of ink and good support for that dot. So once we know that cell size, we can specify the optimal range of anilox cell volumes available. An informed choice can then be made based upon customer experiences in terms of the amount of ink that they can handle on the different substrates.
So we have these tools, which are really based around, not just empirical data, but theoretical data, and you can quantify this data mathematically to say, “This anilox is going to be the ideal selection for your particular printing plate.”
Walker: But for anybody who wanted verification or certification, back in 2012 we went through the compliance regime with Esko to ensure that the EFlo became Esko HD certified.
Can you give some advice for cleaning an anilox during HD flexo printing?
Parr: It really starts from the anilox selection process – there is what’s called the depth-opening ratio that has a huge impact on how much ink is actually transferred out of that cell. The higher the transfer, the cleaner the cell. If you can imagine, there are two coffee cups on your table: one with a very narrow mouth that is tall like a latte and then another one with a big opening, like a cappuccino mug. There is the same amount of ink in them, and when you turn them over, one is going to release faster, and essentially it’s the same thing with anilox technology. What we recommend is selection as the starting process. For instance with our EFlo, the optimum ink transfer that you get and what actually comes out of the cell, is generally something like 35-40 %, which means 60-65% is left in the cell. It’s that ink that has the possibility of drying in the cell. So if you find a screen where you’re going to use smaller cells whilst still trying to maintain a high cell volume, this is where printers tend to have their problems.
Walker: Actually probably the biggest challenge for flexo printers in many markets is keeping the anilox roller clean. The rules for cleaning are quite clear and well-known. Nevertheless I think the basic problem is people don’t make it a priority due to production pressures. Unfortunately converters don’t commit the time that’s necessary, so we can give advice but the solution has to be adopted culturally.
If you select the right anilox engraving, it will run cleaner for longer, but you still need a rigid cleaning regime to be in place.
What type of anilox rolls are in demand right now?
Parr: In our corrugated market we see a growing demand for the EFlo extended cell technology. There are very few areas where it has any disadvantage against a hexagon roll. It’s been a little bit slower to be adopted in the flexible packaging and narrow web market, but we see printers in those markets are now recognizing that as the demand for the graphics and the screen counts is going finer and finer, the issues of keeping the anilox cleaner for longer when you are working in very high graphic areas is a challenge. So there are definitely opportunities for EFlo to help in that area. There is still certainly a place for the 60-degree hexagon, because if you specify correctly, you can get absolute ink control by using a very precise hexagonal cell.
What other trends do you notice?
Parr: What we see as an ongoing demand from our customers in all print process tend to be shorter runs, and that’s why obviously digital, with its high quality and short-run capabilities, is growing. So the demand is to be able to produce cost-effectively and consistently in short runs, and that means fast changeovers of your ink. Back in 2013, Pamarco bought a company called Absolute Engineering, which is essentially the chamber doctor blade system that the anilox runs in. We work very closely with Absolute to optimize how the ink can be moved in and out of the chamber quickly and cleaned from the anilox quickly. This is something that we see as an ongoing request, particularly from our OEM customers.
Walker: It’s a double costs savings. It’s the ink savings but also the downtime savings of that changeover. But really, for the customer they prefer to see the anilox not as an ink transfer device but as part of that ink management system.
How has the company celebrated 70 years?
Parr: As of last summer, we underwent a rebranding transition for the company, which saw us drop the ‘global graphics’ element of our name to be known just as Pamarco. The company has a very strong heritage across all associated markets, particularly flexo, and the name change was introduced to signify the equity the Pamarco name alone had built across these markets, since its formation. We also have a new logo, incorporating the CMYK colours, to clearly show everybody from the outset what were all about.
Walker: The rebranding of Pamarco has also led to the creation of a brand new website for us. We now have a modern, easy-to-navigate platform which all our customers, partners and suppliers can access to gain the critical information that they are searching for. As part of this new setup, Pamarco has released a brand new podcast channel which aims to educate its audiences with industry relevant information and expertise, mainly from our experienced technical sales network.
What about the vision for the future?
Walker: If you consider 2013, president Terry Ford acquired the Absolute business, and looking at the marketplace, many distributors selling industrial products sell both anilox and doctor blade chambers. I think what Terry saw was the fact that customers want to talk to people about supplying an ink management system, and whether that’s the OEM customers or whether it’s the converter customers they want somebody to come in and help them. Pamarco is the only manufacturer that makes its own chambers and anilox rolls, and that combination will lead the development specifically around that area, and that was Terry’s foresight. Pamarco will certainly be looking for other opportunities to make similar acquisitions.
Is there anything else we should know about Pamarco?
Parr: In terms of actually why we have been successful for the last 70 years, yes we are innovative company, yes we do build great quality products, but I think a lot of the reasons why companies have done business with us is down to our corporate culture. We are a company that values our people, who are passionate about what they do; passionate about delivering overall excellence in all areas of our business, and in my case, passionate about solving problems for customers on a daily basis. This underlying passion has helped build personal relationships with partners and customers throughout the world.
Walker: I think it’s in the DNA of the company — we’re seen as a partner not just as the supplier. In fact within our European sales office here literally five people together have 150 years of experience, either working in anilox or in the flexo market. And we’re a smaller part of the organization. One of the things we like to say is that, if you look at the areas we’re involved in — flexo, gravure, coating, offset — all of which have rollers, we like to keep the world’s printing presses rolling.
Thanks so much for the interview.
- David Parr
- Nick Walker
- Rebecca Watson
Watson, Rebecca .. “Pamarco – Celebrating 70 Years in Anilox.” Flexo & Gravure Global. FlexoTech Magazine, 29 Aug. 2016. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.