Flexography is well suited for printing on any substrate and can be used for printing of labels, corrugated boxes, wallpaper, paper & plastic bags, milk cartons, etc. Current flexographic plate or sleeve production technologies are based on expensive subtractive processes that involve multiple steps and waste large amounts of photopolymer. Agfa Graphics N.V. developed the technology referred to as “Makalu” for the purpose of making a flexographic print master (plate or sleeve) by means of 3D printing of a curable liquid. The patent portfolio consists of 22 patent families related to three areas:

  1. Fluids: designed for jetting by means of ink jet heads and which can be UV-cured to form elastomeric layers suitable for flexographic printing.
  2. Hardware: 3-D printer using an additive, digital, multilayered materials ink jet based process.
  3. Software: Printing modes, inkjet head design, jetting sequence specifically designed to obtain 3D images on a rotating drum starting from a 2D-image.

Agfa’s Makalu is a major innovation and a potentially disruptive technology for the flexographic printing industry. Makalu streamlines the flexographic plate and sleeve production process by printing plates directly onto sleeves that are pre-mounted plate cylinders, eliminating time-consuming mounting processes and post-production clean-up and waste. Plate makers can take advantage of the lower costs, faster speeds, smaller equipment footprint, and environmental soundness enabled by this technology. Also, plates can now be produced directly by printing operations, saving time and cost.

Agfa is seeking a progressive company to license the technology, to further develop it, and to bring it to market.

Disruptive Innovation In Flexographic Printing

Compared to subtractive manufacturing processes, this new technology is:

  • Less Costly: Reduced consumables content due to precision additive process and no requirement for cleaning fluids.
  • Faster: Fewer time-consuming steps compared to current subtractive process. Makalu eliminates the need for plates and developer solutions and
    the need for processing steps including masking, washing and drying.
  • Streamlined – No Mounting Required: Durable, yet flexible raised images with higher resolution formed directly on sleeves or plates mounted on drums are immediately ready to go onto a press. This eliminates the time consuming steps of cutting the plates, mounting them on separate sleeves and registering the flexographic plates.
  • Smaller Equipment Footprint: Less equipment needed compared to current subtractive process.
  • Environmentally Friendly: The process is sustainable with less wasted photopolymer and a smaller CO2 footprint. Further, no solvent is used, eliminating the need for costly recycling facilities and expertise.