ThermoFlexX takes on the big boys

The culmination of more than two years of intense research and development, planning, investment and negotiations have resulted in Belgian manufacturer ThermoFlexX taking a leading global position in the field of flexographic imager technology. A string of recent partnership agreements, technical breakthroughs and distributor announcements means that the company is able to provide a total pre-press solution for the flexo market that rivals anything on the market.

“We moved into the flexo industry in 2012 following the purchase of a German manufacturer of flexo imagers called FlexoLaser and the acquisition of the brand name ‘Thermoflex’, a Kodak range that had ceased production,” says Christophe Lievens, director sales and marketing for basysPrint and ThermoFlexX.

“Since that moment we’ve pushed forward the boundaries of what can be achieved in imager technology to such a degree that our products now incorporate several industry-leading features that are unique to ThermoFlexX.

“Our recently announced partnership with Hybrid Software has been augmented with working relationships with manufacturers Zund and AV Flexologic. This gives us the ability to handle with great effectiveness every element of flexo pre-press, from design, screening and ripping using Hybrid Software’s groundbreaking PACKZ and Cloudflow suites, exposure on a ThermoFlexX imager, cutting on Zund equipment and mounting via an AV Flexologic system.

“With the launch at the end of 2013 of the largest imager in our range - the ThermoFlexX 80 - we can now provide a flexo imager to meet the requirements of almost any printer or trade house. Our imagers are used by flexo customers as far apart as Australia and America, operating in fields as diverse as labels, packaging, folding carton and corrugated.

“The ThermoFlexX reputation for quality, flexibility and productivity has led to an increasing number of leading resellers around the world wanting to represent us. Appointments have recently been made in India, America and Portugal and we anticipate that over the next few months we will be announcing dealers in Asia, Latin America and Europe.

ThermoFlexX operates under the umbrella of Xeikon Prepress, which has been involved in CTP technology for 20 years. The 14,000 sq metre factory in Ypres employs 80 people and has three ‘lean’ production lines manufacturing basysPrint CTP systems for the commercial market, ThermoFlexX imagers for the flexo industry and, under an OEM agreement, newspaper CTP systems for Agfa.

By bringing together experts in fields as diverse as optics, software, electronics and mechanical engineering, ThermoFlexX is able to test new ideas quickly, using its extensive research and development facilities and the wide ranging skills found in its comprehensive engineering department.

During the summer the company will create a technology centre and included amongst the new services will be the opportunity for customers to bring their own flexo plates and have them exposed and processed in the factory. ThermoFlexX experts will be on hand to examine results and provide advice on finished plates, which can be taken away by the customer to print test on their own presses.

“The flexo industry has made great strides over the last few years in terms of quality and market share, with several commercial litho printers installing flexo presses,” says Christophe Lievens. “In 2012 some people questioned the wisdom of Xeikon International, best known for producing digital presses, moving into the flexo industry with an imager product.

“However, the industry has proved to be largely resistant to the recession, which was one of the reasons for the move, and with Xeikon already a major player in key areas such as packaging and labels ThermoFlexX was immediately in an ideal position to serve these markets. We anticipate that the synergies between the two will become greater while our customers will increasingly be the same companies.”

The working relationships with Swiss manufacturer Zund and Dutch manufacturer AV Flexologic represent an important strategic move that provides customers with a host of new ways of improving efficiency in the pre-press department. For example, using a new software module from Hybrid Software called Patchplanner, it will be possible for customers to identify small printed items in a job that has large unprinted areas, a scenario commonly encountered in corrugated box production.

Instead of exposing an oversize flexo plate, most of which will not be required and therefore wasted, users can expose a small plate that can then be cut on the Zund equipment and the separate elements mounted on to a plastic carrier sheet on the AV Flexologic system. The high cost of plates and the degree of accuracy and automation offered by these systems makes this an extremely cost effective method of producing plates for large jobs that only need small areas printed.

“If you examine what is happening amongst imager manufacturers and the requirements of printers and trade houses on a global basis, it’s easy to see that there are some significant changes taking place. For instance, people today expect choice in everything they do and companies are much less willing to be locked into a deal with one consumable supplier and be denied the freedom of shopping for the best prices.

“At ThermoFlexX we listen carefully to our customers to ensure we provide them with the choices they need. It’s an extremely exciting time to be involved in the flexo industry, which is moving away from traditional analogue processes at an ever greater pace. Experts estimate that globally nearly 50 per cent of flexo plates will be produced digitally during 2014 and many predict a 4 per cent annual growth over the coming years.”