Kirk Group automates flexo plate production with Catena+

Over the five decades since its inception in 1972 when Graeme Kirk first set up his business to produce gravure cylinders, Kirk Group has grown to become a packaging industry leader. The company is today the largest supplier of artwork services and image carrier solutions across Australia and New Zealand, counting global brands and major printing companies as its customers.

Headquartered in Minto, in Sydney, Kirk Group also has manufacturing sites in Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland, with a total of 120 staff, along with sales offices in Christchurch, and more recently in Mumbai, India. As Managing Director, Graeme is still very much involved in the business. His large contribution to the industry was acknowledged in 2018, when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Flexible Packaging and Label Manufacturers Association (FPLMA).

General Manager John Kapiniaris joined in 2015, bringing with him a strong background in flexible packaging and an entrepreneurial drive to innovate. He says, ‘We work with leading brands and printers across ANZ and into Asia, offering a proven systematic approach to print management. We launched the Flite On-demand e-commerce platform to automate daily tasks, boost productivity and help our customers win the race to shelf.’

To support this type of innovation, Kirk Group decided to implement a fully automatic platemaking line from XSYS, consisting of a ThermoFlexX imager combined with a Catena-E LED exposure unit, a Catena-WDLS washer, dryer and light-finisher and a Catena-R for rotating the plates between the exposure and wash-out units. This modular system, known as Catena+, is an end-to-end automated solution that removes operator intervention and greatly reduces waste. It became commercially available in October 2020 and Kirk Group is among the first companies to leverage the benefits.

Increasing efficiency and reducing costs

The new Catena+ platemaking line was installed to increase capacity, productivity and quality consistency at Kirk Group. It features dual head imaging allowing an imaging speed of up to 12sqm/hr and standard resolution up to 5080 dpi, plus an ultra-high-resolution option, which Kirk Group is leveraging for its clients in the security printing.

John continues, ‘We saw the opportunity to centralise and rationalise our production by increasing efficiencies and productivity. With the new system, we can maintain a lower cost base by consolidating production and removing manual steps throughout the process. This reduces the human touch and opportunities for errors, so we end up with a superior product.’

The choice to invest with XSYS was made after a very rigorous review process that evaluated all the options currently available in the market. The team was especially convinced by the build quality of the modules and the fact that they are all produced by the same manufacturer. ‘The equipment really stood out from the competition and the integration is second to none,’ says John, ‘plus the reliability of the output means that we can manage our core business and offer our customers a higher-quality finished product and achieve improved print results across our industry.’

The purchase was partly carried out through the XSYS partnership with local distributor GMS Pacific, which facilitated the ThermoFlexX component of the system. This highly automated imager is completely plate agnostic and excels by the excellence of its optical system. When integrated with the Catena modules, platemaking is fully automated, with each part fully enclosed creating its own controlled environment. At the start, the plate is simply placed on the tray of the ThermoFlexX unit and will then automatically travel through imaging, exposure, washing, drying and final light exposure, before being stacked ready at the end.

Meeting demands with latest innovation

Two of the main drivers in packaging production today are speed to market and sustainability. By automating and optimising flexo plate production with the Catena+ processing system, Kirk Group can respond to brand owners’ requirements for faster delivery, top quality and reproducible results by using more environmentally friendly manufacturing methods that produce less plate waste.

‘The Catena+ platemaking line is perfect automation in action, and we are excited that an industry leader like Kirk Group has recognised the benefits that this innovation will bring to their business,’ says Roy Schoettle, VP, XSYS Asia Pacific. ‘Catena is the Italian word for “chain”, and this is exactly what XSYS has introduced into flexo platemaking – a “chain reaction” that needs no intervention by the operator. This is Smart Manufacturing at its best.’

Kirks Chief Operating Officer Robert Selvaggio concludes: We see ourselves as industry leaders and innovators, and our continued investment in the latest technology and automation means that we can satisfy our customer’s requests for the highest quality print outcomes, maximum consistency, and fastest time to market, all whilst maintaining lowest costs and minimising waste.’