Any package printing business attempting to make its finishing workflow more streamlined and efficient should pull work through a facility, rather than push it, says Doug Herr, director of folding carton sales at BOBST.
“There is no sense printing an item for it to sit on the floor because it can’t be finished,” he advises. “You want to look at the finishing department, folders and gluers, to make sure you have the capacity there … so it flows smoothly. The elimination of any log jams is paramount to moving the final product on to the next process or out the door.”
Herr explains that equipment maintenance is imperative, stating that equipment in “top-notch shape” will allow jobs to flow through the printing and finishing process with minimal downtime.
A key aspect of the maintenance process, Herr says, is data collection, so converters can maintain a sense of their equipment’s quantifiable output.
“Although you may know how fast your equipment is running, one key component is in knowing how much quality product is actually landing on the production floor,” he says. “From here it is necessary to be able to identify the true reasons why there are deficiencies affecting the net output. Accurate data collection is the key to understanding downtime; such as setup or makeready times, pre-planned preventative maintenance and unscheduled stoppages. Your equipment is more than likely not operating as efficiently as it could if you aren’t accurately measuring all aspects of productivity.”
Maintenance and upkeep is especially important to ensure finishing equipment is running as intended. Kris Haugen, design engineer, Delta ModTech, says maintaining a machine’s condition should be a continuous effort. For example, in a web finishing process, he says keeping a finishing line well-maintained helps ensure that the functions most critical to producing consistent high quality results like web steering, tension control and die registration and corrections are operating optimally.
Another consideration is to make sure there is enough space in the production facility from a logistical standpoint, Herr says, adding that it’s crucial to make sure the work in process pallets aren’t “bumping into each other or the equipment,” while being moved.
Determining the best location for materials is also important, Haugen says. By keeping consumables needed for the finishing process staged in the right location, printers and converters can streamline the process even further.
“That way, everything you need is ready and on-hand as you go,” he says.
Planning and organization is key not only in the placement of equipment in a facility, but in the planning and staging of jobs, Haugen points out. He suggests organizing jobs by common finished roll width and utilizing “recipes” to capture job and process setup data to help reduce time spent on setup and changeover.
Similarly, Herr advises that printers and converters should take the time to organize jobs based on balancing out various factors. For example, when running folding cartons through a folder/gluer, it saves setup time if similar styles of cartons are batched together. It may make sense to run the smallest cartons, gradually working up to the larger sizes versus skipping around, he says.
Other aspects of the process, such as delivery deadlines, have to be taken into account, he advises. In addition, timing of the total production process is important in the printing to finishing process. Herr says it’s crucial to know how many steps will be needed for a particular job, so it can be precisely determined where the job will be in the production process at any given time, allowing converters to plan accordingly to avoid backups.
“If you produce a luxury/cosmetic folding carton, it may pass through a hot stamper twice, then a diecutter and subsequently be sent for folding and gluing,” he explains. “It is important to know how long each process will take and the timing of such. By analyzing the whole process before the job is started, you can better judge when it will reach each piece of converting equipment – such as the hot stamper, diecutter or folder/gluer. With proper planning, two jobs are less likely to conflict on one or more pieces of converting equipment.”
Herr suggests taking a thorough look and evaluating the total cost of ownership when it comes to purchasing and replacing machinery, because he warns, “oftentimes the cheapest becomes the most expensive.” It is important to accurately compare the output of the machinery versus the true cost of ownership, especially when accounting for low productivity, long set-up times, downtime and other factors.
Keith Laakko, VP of global marketing and business development at RotoMetrics, suggests converters familiarize themselves with the substrate materials before they go through the finishing process. Key considerations include determining the length or revolutions of each job early in the planning stage. Also, he recommends planning for slug ejection or waste removal needs to determine the right die solution for the job. If the job requires part removal or collection, or an abrasive material is being used, then a solid die may be better than a flexible die, he says.
“Is it paper on paper; film on paper; [or] film on film? What is the web of label stock running through the press to be diecut? This is critical to help accurately choose a die solution that will produce a quality product with an acceptable liner strike and one that will hopefully last more than one run,” Laakko says. “Look at the material and hone in on the right solution to optimize the performance of your press and your investment of time and tooling costs. RotoMetrics has 60-plus years experience in diecutting and our expertise can help find the right solution that works right out of the box.”
Laakko says it’s also important to understand the inks that are going to be used and the effects they will have on die life. He explains that clay coatings and white inks in particular may be abrasive because they contain calcium carbonate or titanium dioxide additives for whiteness and opacity.
Although there are strategies for making any finishing workflow more efficient, there are some strategies and guidelines specific to the various packaging segments and technology types.
When diecutting labels, Mathew Jones, regional sales manager for labels at BOBST, advises printers and converters make sure they have an understanding of matrices. For example, if a matrix tends to break because of an odd shape or if it’s very thin, it can break at higher speeds and will need to run slower. Understanding this will help scheduling time for any given job.
Jones also stresses the importance of strategic decision making when deciding how finishing will fit into a label production process.
“There are a lot of things you can do converting wise on label printing machines or finishing machines,” he says. “For instance, if you want to utilize a press for printing and print it fast, you may want to consider finishing it offline.”
During the decision-making process about how diecutting fits into a label production workflow, it’s also important to consider if the goal is long die life or quality cutting results.
“As converters look to thinner film liners, they need to minimize variables at play and have a solution to work within standard tool tolerances” he explains. “If someone wants to be versatile and prepared for liner variance, they may want to use an adjustable anvil so they can control the ability to manage cut and clearance to control liner strike.”
Laakko explains that other considerations for converters to take during the label finishing process include full-rotary versus semi-rotary diecutting, lamination capabilities; waste removal and management; and overall capital expense.
Herr suggests taking a thorough look and evaluating the total cost of ownership of a device, because he warns, “sometimes the cheapest can become the most expensive,” when it comes to maintenance, downtime and other factors.
Matt Bennett, VP and GM Americas for Highcon, a digital finishing solutions provider, explains digital finishing is markedly different than other finishing solutions.
“Whenever you talk digital, you’re talking about a new way of doing things from the analog way,” he says. “You can’t assume you’re putting in a new digital cutting system and it’s going to be business as usual. It’s a big change in process.”
One of the biggest changes is the elimination of some of the most costly components of analog finishing, such as dies, he says. Not only that, the makeready time is much faster than analog, turnaround times are shorter, late stage changes can be made at little cost, and there is minimal waste.
“The diecut product is a sellable product on the first sheet through the press,” Bennett says.
Although digital solutions are quickly growing, analog isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon, Bennett says.
“Analog technology certainly isn’t going to go away,” he says. “Digital technology simply complements what is needed in a production environment for printers to support their customers.”