Zircon Technologies, creating art with flexo - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

Flexo printing often forces many printers to adjust their processes in the pursuit of making the labels look polished. Zircon’s managing director Sanjeev Sondhi found a pre-press workflow with which his company could cleanly and accurately reproduce high-quality print demanded by its customers

13 Dec 2020 | By Noel D'Cunha

Zircon is a multi-location label convertor with four plants operational and one under construction in Dehradun, Uttarakhand;  one in Chennai; and another coming up in Mumbai. The label converter uses narrow-web flexo printing presses from Mark Andy, Omet and others.

Sanjeev Sondhi, managing director, Zircon Technologies, says flexo printing is an art. “If you print the job as you receive it, it becomes a routine mechanical task. When we add our touch using our expertise and skill, it results in a much-improved print. Most jobs we receive need this added touch,” he explains.

There are software that allow you to produce the job well and efficiently, but “you have to visualise and decide how you use different tools available within a particular job,” he explains. “For example, different portions within a job can go with different lines per inch (LPI), and you can recreate it very uniquely on print. Once you have done so, the job will remain with you as the client would not trust anyone else to achieve what you have created. This helps the brand to have unique presence on the shelves.”

Sondhi says this is one of the reasons of Zircon’s success in a short span of 12 years.

Working with brands
 “Collaboration with the brand is a must as it helps to achieve bigger objective of the brand to create better reception for the product in retail shelves. Designer, brand owner and Zircon work together from the inception stage to create a design. Zircon provides brand owners and designers with different print options and provides opportunity to choose the best,” Sondhi says.

This is only possible, he adds, because the company has pre-press and flexo platemaking in-house. “If a brand owner is not happy with our first results and wants some changes, with our in-house pre-press we are able to offer alternate options very quickly. This infrastructure that we have created over the last decade is what differentiates us from others,” he adds.
“Due to this strong infrastructure and multi-location presence, we can offer different options to brand owners,” he says.

So, are the brands responsive to Zircon’s proactive approach? Sondhi says the idea is to make the product stand out on the shelf. “We have so many success stories in the market and brands respect us for that,” he says, adding, “That’s only possible when we come out with our ideas for the craft — to create a vibrant package. Continuous innovation and technology are key to achieving results.”
Using thermal.

Zircon moved from solvent to thermal pre-press workflow at the beginning of 2018. Today, the pre-press set up at its Dehradun plant includes Esko CDI 4835, DuPont Cyrel DigiFlow 2000 ECLF (exposure, light finisher and post-exposure unit), and DuPont Cyrel Fast 2000TD thermal plate processor.

It all started when DuPont visited the company and explained to Sondhi that it has a solution without compromising on the quality of the prints. “Thermal technology has been available for many years. We were apprehensive about using thermal technology as we felt that the print quality which we are achieving with solvent plates may not be possible with thermal. Then we realised that thermal has gone to the next level with the new thermal processor and new Cyrel Easy plates. This was also in harmony with our business philosophy to provide a safe working environment and reduce EHS hazards.
So, we looked into it,” he says.

Challenges and benefits in shifting from solvent to solvent-free thermal technology
The biggest challenge when you make any change in platemaking is to manage the dot gains and match existing job results according to Sondhi. “That is because of the very high LPI prints we do,” he explains.

Today, Sondhi says, the print quality of new thermal plates is amazing. “It is difficult for me to differentiate whether a job has been done with a solvent plate or thermal plate. DuPont just matched our requirement of print quality. The thermal platemaking system vastly improves on our press downtime whenever there is a need to change a job. Platemaking time has come down to less than an hour as compared to 3.5 to 4 hours with the solvent system. With replacement plates getting ready very quickly, we are now saving both on press time and raw material wastage like substrate and inks. We can live up to our delivery commitments to customers and are even managing next-day shipments.”

But why DuPont when there are other players offering thermal plates? “It’s not just about buying a product,” he says. “Anyone can invest in technology, but you should know how to use it. I believe DuPont is not just selling the product, it is helping us get the best out of the technology. It spends a lot of time and resources with us. The DuPont team was with us for three weeks to match the output of solvent plates with thermal. That’s the reason I call it a solution provider. DuPont understands our needs and supports them.”

Quality control with DuPont
Zircon has multiple printing presses including Mark Andy and Omet. How does it ensure that the DuPont plates run perfectly on each machine? “Our team and experts from DuPont work together to make it happen,” Sondhi says. “Thus, the plate is independent of a single press or single model.”
With DuPont’s help, we have standardised up to the level of the dot size on print, on each of our presses. This is how we are able to deliver consistent print quality across our presses. On the new plates with the thermal processor, we are able to hold extremely fine dots so standardisation is much easier.”

Flexo in packaging
Does he see a future for flexography in packaging?  “Recently, I attended a conference and came to know that more than 80% of flexible packaging is on gravure, print quality being one of the reasons. At Zircon, we do flexo printing and we are getting really high quality. I think this can extend to flexible packaging as well. Yes, flexo is here to stay and grow.”

Flexo in the FAST lane: Case Study powered by DuPont