Forum 2018 Session to Arm Operators in the Battle to Problem Solve

Forum 2018 logoThere’s a saying that goes, “The best camera is the one you’ve got with you.” The idea behind it—When you’re in the moment, you use what you have or know—can be applied to any situation. There are a fair number of “situations” flexographers can find themselves in, where they need to know how to solve a problem quickly and efficiently.

It is these sorts of moments which Forum 2018 plans to equip attendees for in its final session, “Troubleshooting Survival Guide.” The three-and-one-half-hours end cap to four days of educational and informative technical presentations will feature a foursome of industry experts tackling some of the most pervasive and persistent problems faced by flexographers.

Here, session co-chairs Catherine Haynes of All Printing Resources Inc and Jason Cagle of MacDermid Graphics Solutions discuss with FLEXO Magazine the “gremlins” they will cast a light on, the value of standards and automation, and how to keep cool in stressful situations.

Headshot Catherine Haynes
Catherine Haynes

FLEXO Magazine: Troubleshooting a problem—especially under a time crunch or with a customer on site—can be a true test of patience and resolve. What’s the secret to remaining calm and controlled?

Catherine Haynes: Education, preparation, strategy. Most facilities have recurring issues and one of the known constants is that color will change. Good printers know this and work hard to establish protocols for prevention. Great printers go one step further by arming their personnel with the tools and knowledge to tackle the situation when the preventative measures fail. Part of that toolkit is knowing how to build your troubleshooting strategies. There are broad-based approaches that can help one hone in on a more targeted strategy for resolving any print issue. Our session intends to address troubleshooting on both levels.

Jason Cagle: Having a plan for when things stray—and they will—will also allow you to handle problems in a calm and controlled fashion. Without a plan, troubleshooting can become a random, chaotic mess, leading you further from a final resolution.

FLEXO: What role do standards play? If we have to talk about troubleshooting, is that an admission some standard wasn’t adhered to well enough?

Jason Cagle

Cagle: No, but having standards allows one to recognize when it is time to start problem solving. Without standards, if your dot gain is too high, or if your density is too low, the operator won’t recognize there is an issue to troubleshoot. Having a standard will allow the operator to understand where the issue lies, and in turn, will help resolve it quicker.

Haynes: It’s not necessarily an admission there are no standards, though a lack of standards definitely makes it more challenging. I think another key point to address with standards is the tolerance of each system (and the systems supplying you). Even with standards in place, we will undoubtedly have to confront troubleshooting issues. Standards can help you understand the variability of your system and establish tolerances, but you must have procedures in place to enforce the application of those standards.

FLEXO: You’ve both seen your fair share of pressrooms. What is the most common issue you encounter when you are at a customer?

Haynes: Inconsistency. During my time on site, I often work with different individuals within that same facility. What I find is, it is common they all don’t necessarily have the same understanding of both what the target is and what constitutes a realistic range of error. Amongst the production team, they may each have a different perspective on when to move to action for prevention and the proper approach to handling things once there is a clear fail. This inconsistency makes it challenging to discover and repeat the right corrective actions.

Cagle: There are lots of different issues I encounter when I’m sent to a customer. While I understand every situation is different in some way, a lot of these issues fall into similar categories—it’s those categories we are going to address in “Troubleshooting Survival Guide.”

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FLEXO: Without divulging the “how” of your session, can you reveal the “what”? What are some of the common scenarios for which you’ll be offering troubleshooting tips?

Cagle: Our team selected six of the most mischievous print gremlins we encounter or are asked to help with on a regular basis. They are (in no specific order):

  • Dirty print
  • Poor solids
  • Slur
  • Matching color
  • High dot gain
  • Chatter/banding/bounce

Automation, done well, can help expedite routine tasks that bog down our decisions and time throughout the day. That said, we do not necessarily want to free operators from a deeper understanding of what the automated task is accomplishing.

Catherine Haynes

FLEXO: Who comprises the all-star team that will be on-stage to offer troubleshooting assistance?

Haynes: If our group was a famous rock bank, it would be Pink Floyd: Established in both philosophical and mind-altering depth of experience. Then there is the Dark Side of the Moon, an album cover clearly paying homage to our color-bound industry. Joel Engelberth reigns as our gentleman prepress guru. PJ Fronczkiewicz hails as our dynamic plate expert. Kevin Dittman dominates as our authoritative pressroom specialist. Bobby Congdon commands as our talented industry educator. Jason and I are the band’s agents and back-up talent. We just want the message of our music to reach the masses!

Cagle: Right on! [mic drop]

FLEXO: There are issues every printer faces, and there are issues that are unique to each and every plant. Should an operator tackle every problem the same way, or tailor their approach to the situation?

Without standards, if your dot gain is too high, or if your density is too low, the operator won’t recognize there is an issue to troubleshoot. Having a standard will allow the operator to understand where the issue lies, and in turn, will help resolve it quicker.

Jason Cagle

Cagle: There should be a generic problem-solving method in place to eliminate the basic gremlins that can attack every pressroom, but that doesn’t mean there is a “one-size-fits-all” solution to your gremlins. It’s true there are certain situations that require a more tailored approach, but hopefully this session will introduce tools and methodology to tackle those unique issues. As a supplier, we don’t mind our customers reaching out to us when those unique gremlins do pop up.

Haynes: There is almost never a simple or direct path to resolve an issue. Every problem requires you to assess your environment, know your input variables and know what elements you can influence. We will be presenting suggestions for a macro strategy that is applicable to any problem, then dive into the details of each specific print issue and potential influencing variables.

FLEXO: How can operators look back at optimization data/results to solve common color problems?

Haynes: This is a pretty challenging task. An area where our industry needs help—and a topic so important it was the subject of Fall Conference 2013—What to do with all the data?! Often a manual and subjective process of analysis, this data can be great for understanding the trends and tolerances for your operations and for seeing when there is a shift from the norms.

Cagle: When continuously collecting and analyzing data, it allows the operator to observe trends and affords time to prep or take corrective action before the gremlin hits the pressroom. For example, if your density begins to drop, but is still within your tolerance, you can take corrective action to troubleshoot during the pressrun before you have to stop production to investigate further.

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FLEXO: How does equipment automation factor into the equation? On one hand, automating tasks reduces what an operator might be responsible for, but it also creates a suite of potential technological issues that the same individual may not be qualified to handle.

Haynes: Automation, done well, can help expedite routine tasks that bog down our decisions and time throughout the day. That said, we do not necessarily want to free operators from a deeper understanding of what the automated task is accomplishing. They still need to identify when automation is not working properly. Automation is good for speed and consistency. It must also be held in check and periodically challenged or validated by the team.

Cagle: Automation works within certain situations in flexography, but we catch ourselves trying to automate too much. Catherine was spot on. Automation does need to be held in check and periodically validated by teams.

We mentioned documentation earlier. That should always be paired with automation to validate it. Operators, within the plant, must understand what is being automated because we haven’t got to the point where artificial intelligence (AI) can completely problem solve for us. Right now, automation can only take us so far. That’s important to remember.

Session Details and Panelists

“Troubleshooting Survival Guide” takes place from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Wednesday, May 9 in the Marriott Ballroom of the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown. The session’s co-chairs are Catherine Haynes of All Printing Resources Inc and Jason Cagle of MacDermid Graphics Solutions. The panelists who will be part of the on-stage discussion include:

Bobby Congdon headshot square

Bobby Congdon
Clemson University

Joel Engelberth headshot small

Joel Engelberth
Esko

PJ Fronczkiewicz headshot square

PJ Fronczkiewicz
Flint Group