Gearless press raises the bar

Mark Spaulding, Editor in Chiefand 1 more

February 3, 2014

8 Min Read
Gearless press raises the bar

"The quality of flexo has taken such a quantum leap," says Tim Fredman Jr. "The equipment, processes and materials are all getting better. It's allowing flexo to take a bite out of the other [print methods]." As president of Milwaukee-based flexible-packaging converter Fredman Bag (, he should know. His family-owned, 115-year-old company has been printing with flexography for nearly 30 years.

Founded in 1889 by Fredman's great-great-grandfather, the company concentrated its business for the first 80 years on bags produced in paper and textile materials, before adding polyethylene bagmaking machinery in 1970. Two CI (central impression) flexo press installations and a new focus on value-added flex packs over the next three decades led to the adoption of reclosable-zipper application systems in the early 1990s. Fredman Bag's latest vote for the advantages of flexo: The November 2003 installation of an Emerald 825 eight-color, gearless CI-flexo press from Uteco Converting (

"Any package that has a little more value to it—that's been our focus over the last handful of years," Fredman says. The company now almost exclusively manufactures consumer-goods packaging. It surface-prints chiefly monolayer films (although it's doing more work with coex films), then converts them into bags. Printed rollstock is also becoming a significant source of new business.

Fredman's primary markets include food, housewares, hardware, promotional, and lawn and garden, with product sold mainly to Upper Midwest customers. It recently began selling a greater share of its production through distribution networks, helping to grow its name recognition across the country.

Tech's twin rewards

Fredman Bag's future sales direction is closely tied to the twin benefits of high-quality flexo print and the improved efficiency it expects to achieve from the new Uteco press. It had been regularly hitting 100-line-screen process print on its existing six-color, 57-in. Flexotecnica press from Cerutti (, but with the Emerald, it plans to soon reach 133-line.

"The impact of those graphics is going to be significant," Fredman explains. "We'll get opportunities just because of the quality of the print. I think part of it is when your customers know you can't do it, they just don't talk to you about it.

"And with the new press' efficiency, we'll also be able to go after higher-volume jobs and be more competitive. Within 45 days of turning on the press, we already had two orders for eight-color work, which was very promising. We're going to get into eight-color work much more rapidly than we had anticipated."

Bridgeview, IL-based Stampede Meat, Inc.'s colorful bag for frozen center-cut, boneless pork chops was the first eight-color print job to run on Fredman Bag's new Uteco Converting press. Sold through Fredman distributor Wetoska Packaging Distributors (, the film bag features a resealable closure supplied by Zip-Pak/Atlanta ( Prepress house Pen & Inc. ( provided minor image-manipulation services, film separations and DuPont Cyrel® ( photopolymer flexo plates.

The bag's graphics use four line colors—black, red, white and gold—and four process colors for the front photography, which was imaged entirely in FM (stochastic) screening. Using a J.M. Heaford ( eight-camera video system, the plates were mounted on the Uteco's Rossini ( sleeves.

On-press, Fredman printed the substrate—a monolayer linear low-density PE blend with ethyl vinyl alcohol metallocene film from Brentwood Plastics (—using Sun Chemical ( solvent-based flexo inks and anilox sleeves from Praxair Surface Technologies ( and Stork Cellramic ( Screens ranged from 200 lpi for solids and 700 to 800 lpi for process colors. The Emerald press ran 150,000 lineal ft of material at an average speed of 500 fpm, but Fredman anticipates much higher speeds on subsequent runs.

In converting, Fredman applied the Zip-Pak zipper closure in-line during bagmaking via a Zip-Pak/AMI ( system tied to a Ro-An Industries ( bagmaker. The final order, delivered in March, totaled 200,000 finished bags.

Timing's everything

Actually buying an eight-color press came much more rapidly than Fredman had expected, as well. The idea was initially floated in spring 2002, and a press implementation team consisting of Ken Hennen and Dennis Scheibe from the operations team and Bruce Reich, maintenance manager, was formed. In all, 10 equipment proposals were presented by various suppliers.

Fredman first began looking at geared presses, but then a series of fortuitous events occurred, opening the door to a "gearless" acquisition: Interest rates fell, overall capital-equipment sales plummeted, and accelerated tax depreciation went into effect to help boost equipment sales.

"Everything fell into place," Fredman recalls. "It became the perfect time to buy from a financial standpoint, due to low interest rates and the tax incentives that had been put into place. There was so little of this gearless technology in the States at that time, every supplier wanted to establish a beachhead with equipment here. We stepped up to the gearless press and stayed within our budget.

"It's kind of ironic that we went into this very casually, looking in spring 2002, and bought a press by December 2002," he says.

Press-side tour

Print and anilox sleeves provide for rapid changeovers. A main operator station centralizes all controls. Direct drive of the plate-sleeve and CI drum is accomplished without any mechanical transmission between motors and driven components. The high resolution of encoders, as well as the high-speed digital network connecting all drives and AC-vector motors, results in registration accuracy.

"During the press acceptance test, the machine held dead-register at full speed [1,150 fpm] for an hour," Fredman says. "There's no question that gearless is the wave of the future in printing. I don't think anyone disputes that. Before we were a good printer, but now we have the capability of providing a superior-quality product."

Press speeds have typically been around 525 fpm, almost twice the output of Fredman's older press, and less scrap is produced. Aiding in that accomplishment is a TruColor Vision Systems ( 2000 Series video web-inspection unit, outfitted with an extra 17-in. monitor at the rewind stand. Fredman's Flexotecnica press also employs a TruColor unit. "It gives us better control over print quality," Fredman says.

Mounting perfection

An equipment addition put in to support the press is Fredman's new J.M. Heaford Ltd. plate mounter. The unit, purchased off the CMM Intl. 2003 show floor, has eight video cameras yielding 100X-plus magnification and is built for print sleeves. "It's an excellent unit," says Fredman. "To be able to print something very high quality, you have to mount it perfectly. If not, you're dead in the water."

Along with demands for higher-quality flexo print, customers are also now focusing on shorter product-delivery lead times, Fredman says. He plans to make the new press' expanded capacity a core marketing strategy to address this demand. "We've chosen a proactive route and feel from a marketing standpoint that we can reduce lead times ahead of the curve," he says.

What tomorrow holds

If the level of activity at the Fredman Bag operation is running high now, just wait until tomorrow. Tim Fredman reports that orders have increased 30 percent over the same period last year, the new Uteco Emerald press is running 24/7, and the company has just signed a deal to purchase the building next door. Space will nearly double to 52,000 sq ft, making more room for material storage and production flow.

What else lies ahead? "The growth in flexibles and flexo printing is really going to explode in the next five years," Fredman predicts. "My global view of flexible packaging is that we're just starting to scratch the surface on standup pouches. And as we grow, [converting standup pouches] is something we'll most likely get into."

After all, Fredman Bag hasn't succeeded without planning ahead. "If my father hadn't put in that first polybag machine back in 1970, we probably wouldn't be here today. We're keeping our eyes open."

More information is available:

Flex-pack converter:Fredman Bag, 414/462-9400.

Gearless, CI-flexo press:Uteco Converting North America, 770/427-4100.

Flexo press:North America Cerutti Corp., 262/827-8500.

Flex pack distributor:Wetoska Packaging Distributors, 847/437-6100.

Zipper closure:Zip-Pak/Atlanta, 800/488-6973.

Prepress services:Pen & Inc., 414/421-8262.

Flexo plates:DuPont Cyrel® Imaging Technologies, 800/555-8167.

Video system:J.M. Heaford, +44 161 928 5679.

Flexo sleeves:Rossini North America, 678/482-0835.

EVOH metallocene film:Brentwood Plastics, 800/466-1135.

Flexo inks:Sun Chemical, 201/224-4600.

Anilox sleeves:Praxair Surface Technologies, 800/234-3131.

Anilox sleeves:Stork Cellramic, 888/977-8675.

Zipper applicator system:Zip-Pak/AMI, 800/488-6973.

Bagmaker:Ro-An Industries Corp., 718/821-1115.

Web inspection unit:TruColor Vision Systems, 800/277-8287.

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