Maximizing Efficiencies for Sustained Success
Facing commodity price increases, faster turnaround requirements and decreasing run lengths, converters are seeking out competitive advantages and additional ways to boost efficiency. Taking steps to tweak production practices and adding new, automated procedures to maximize output is critical to succeed.
According to a 2016 study conducted by All Printing Resources (APR) in Glendale Heights, Ill., the primary area converters seek outside expertise is for color matching and color management, notes Richard Black, VP of business development.
“This shouldn’t be the No. 1 issue for converters,” Black contends. “There are too many resources out there.”
APR provides service, technical support, training and products that offer cost reduction and time-saving opportunities to the flexo market. It is also the exclusive distributor of SpotOn! Flexo color matching software.
“It is a really nice tool to use press-side,” Black says. “Traditionally, there haven’t been a lot of tools targeted at press operators. Most tools are targeted at prepress and even platemaking.”
Black maintains that many converters aren’t aware of many of the color management and color matching tools and technologies available. He says that the key to color management and color matching is having some sort of specification or aim point, and then implementing a tool that shows that the color is close to being matched.
“I think that is really where it starts, and I don’t think a lot of people have that,” he points out.
Black says that SpotOn! Flexo breaks traditional color matching rules.
“Normally, printers use ink density to track as a metric,” he continues. “The problem with that is that ink density is not a metric for color, it is a metric for lightness and darkness. Now, instead of using a densitometer that measures lightness and darkness ink density, for basically the same price, you can have a spectrophotometer that actually measures color. Once you can measure color, you can compare two colors together with the formula ∆E.”
This gives users a mathematical way to put a number to a color match, he says, noting that the smaller the ∆E, the better the color match.
“I have been in color management my entire career, and I remember when color management didn’t work,” he says with a laugh. “But now it really works, and is relatively easy to deploy.”
SpotOn! Flexo technology allows the user to tell the software how close of a color match is required. This eliminates the need to have press operators guessing when matching colors and not having relevant data for repeat jobs.
“Discussing what is the best ∆E number is like talking politics at the Thanksgiving table,” Black concludes. “There is no right answer. The smaller the number, the better, but the number that you want to aim for on a ∆E is the number that will satisfy your customer.”
In the pressroom, Shawn Oetjen, flexo trainer at Flexographic Tech in Minneapolis, believes basic planning and workspace organization can pay big dividends when it comes to increasing changeover efficiency.
“Little things like having the sheeter die set up before they need to go in the press, or having ink pots ready to go, can save time,” Oetjen stresses. “Making sure you have all of the items staged for the job at the press, including ink, substrate, plates mounted etc., is important. [There is] nothing worse than looking for a roll of stock while the press is sitting idle.”
Oetjen contends that operators should be thinking ahead about jobs in the queue and prepping for the next job before the current job is off the press. Ensuring that items like scissors, black lights and other miscellaneous-but-important items are properly stored is also vital, he says.
“Making sure your anilox rolls are put away clean, properly labeled and organized so you don’t have to spend time hunting for an anilox roll,” he adds, is also a time-saver. “These items are all low hanging fruit and don’t require much capital investment, but can make a significant impact on the life of the operator and changeover times.”
Proper inspection of materials is also important, Oetjen explains, including looking for defects in film, paper and dies before setting up or running a job. And when using water-based inks, operators should be sure to check the pH and viscosity before putting it in the press, he says.
“Color matching accuracy is tighter than ever with customers wanting ∆E’s of two or less in some cases,” he continues. “Tweaking the ink press-side can be a time-consuming endeavor. To decrease color match time, a proper correlation from your ink lab to press is critical for ink formulation accuracy and drawdowns that will match the press.”
Oetjen is a big believer in training and open communication between management and the pressroom. Ensuring that press operators are trained on best practices is a key to keeping a shop running smoothly and efficiently. But keeping the lines of communication open is also a way to ensure a shop remains as efficient as possible.
“[The press operators] know better than anyone where the bottlenecks are,” he stresses. “Sometimes buying an additional anilox roll or plate cylinder is all that is holding the operators back from a quicker changeover. Perhaps there is a different way the job can be run, or the lineals could be built right into the die, different length rolls or widths could be ordered. The possibilities are endless, so why not talk directly to the people fighting the battle?”
On the back end of the converting process, partnerships between digital press manufacturers and finishing equipment companies abound, offering a wide range of in-line, off-line and near-line solutions. With new technology comes improved efficiency opportunities in the finishing process.
“Digital print for packaging has benefitted a lot already from the development of dedicated finishing equipment over the years,” says Bob Leahey, associate director for InfoTrends. “Digital printing in the packaging category has grown up first in the label category, and that is where the developments in finishing are the most evident. For instance, finishing equipment vendors for the core processes — such as lamination and diecutting — have made systems that are especially targeted at HP Indigo, Xeikon, Durst and similar types of digital label webs,” he adds. “Meanwhile, finishing options for digital package printing — for folding cartons and flexible packaging — are now becoming prominent.”
Leahey says that finishing equipment manufacturers have come to know the digital label press industry very well, and are producing products that are tuned and configured for use with both electrophotographic and digital print technologies.
“This progress of finishing equipment that we have seen so much of in the label industry is now evident in the digital printing of folding cartons and flexible packaging,” he adds. “In terms of folding cartons, we have some experienced suppliers of finishing equipment who make solutions that are configured and tuned for use with the HP Indigo 30000, Xerox iGen and Xeikon 2000 Series to print folded cartons.”
Leahey points to analog cutters by KAMA, and digital cutting and creasing by Highcon, as good examples.
“The latest evidence is in the flexible packaging category, where HP Indigo has worked with a partner to create the Pack Ready technology, and that is going to provide lamination in-line with the HP Indigo 20000,” he explains. “That is a giant leap in efficiency, because normally the lamination occurs away from the printing process and requires time to cure. But they do it in minutes, and that is pretty exciting.”