Training Is a Must
Operator training is key to optimizing inspection system effectiveness for every printrun. The fact is, a system might need to be adjusted for different pressruns. Older operators may not embrace such technology as readily as younger, more tech-savvy ones (and this industry is known for having a mature operator population). Regardless of operator age, all the good training received when the system was first installed can be forgotten not long afterward.
There’s definitely a learning curve to properly operate these inspection systems. Our approach is to conduct system training over three to five days after the system is up and running. Then, go back in after six months to provide refresher training. This not only maintains the effectiveness of the customer’s investment, but helps minimize subsequent service calls to the manufacturer.
Trends & Tipping Points
More and more today, smartphones and high-definition televisions have created an appreciation and expectation for higher quality graphics and imagery. This factor has driven inspection equipment to be capable of seeing greater detail by the camera(s) or on the system screens.
Additionally, the ever-present interest to print as fast as possible without sacrificing print quality is also driving the development of cameras, as well as system software. These advances ultimately have a practical “tipping point”—seeing more detail vs. the cost for higher-end systems.
The interest in 100 percent inspection has been slowly growing among wide web commercial flexo printers. There also seems to be a strong interest among sheetfed offset board printers. At BST, we’ve found more extensive use of 100 percent inspection for labels, narrow and wide web flexo for flexible packaging, and paperboard package printing on either flexo or offset.
Pharmaceutical inspection is huge today—everything from medication instruction documents produced in 6-pt. type to package labels. Think about that drug information—there’s a big difference between a 10-mg. and a 1.0-mg. dose. If that “dot” is missing, the manufacturer wants to catch it.
There are many niche industries needing 100 percent inspection. Sometimes we find them and sometimes they find us. Companies have asked if we can inspect printing on non-wovens, like diapers. The more unusual materials often get sent to our lab for analysis and trial. Bottom line, anything that is printed on a web of any kind, we can inspect and detect it today.
Interestingly, printers with older presses sometimes hesitate to invest in inspection equipment. Yet, even a 20-year-old flexo press can still possess plenty of mechanical life. Foregoing that investment means losing out on additional profits that a more capable process could offer.
Printers are maintaining their older presses longer and longer today. With so many older presses in use, inspection system retrofits are still the primary growth area for this technology.
Ready to Retrofit?
Every inspection system retrofit is a custom installation. It requires a complete examination of the customer’s equipment and understanding of what the customer really needs to inspect.
A good sales engineer can help the customer identify those needs, how closely it needs to be inspected, and what system features will best fit that need.
Most web inspection systems can capture more resolution or detail than any printer needs. The higher the resolution, the greater the system sensitivity, the higher the cost. That’s why we often recommend starting with a basic system. Get your operators comfortable with it. You can always add more capabilities later.
When researching possible OEM sources, understand that training and customer service support is critical to optimizing that investment. Does the manufacturer have 24/7 support from trained service technicians? How many service technicians are in the US? Can the OEM connect to any customer’s system remotely and troubleshoot the system electronically, see malfunctions, and make system adjustments?
The depth and timeliness of training and service support should be compared among your choices before signing a contract. And by all means, give serious consideration to investing in web inspection for your existing presses. It’s time to move beyond color to ensure consistently higher quality.
About the Author
BST’s US customers can get hands-on experience with the company’s systems, and test run their rolls, at its Technology Center just outside of O’Hare airport in Chicago, IL.