Vince Balistrieri, president, Baldwin Vision Systems, and Isaam Lutfiyya, director global sales and marketing, monitor color’s application and control in the print industry on a daily basis. They are uniquely positioned to advise flexographers on the journey from hands-on production floor to fully automated print enterprise.
The team insists that the ability to define and print to a specific spectral target has resculpted the interactions and expectations CPCs have of their printers. They advocate for universal color communication to empower press managers to make highly informed production decisions. Here, the two outline the necessity to “Measure!” “Manage!” “Automate!”
FLEXO Magazine: In responding to FLEXO’s most recent printer flash poll, FTA members listed color management as their most pressing challenge. It was followed by short runs, shorter setup and process control. Does this reflect the current trends you are seeing?
Vince Balistrieri & Isaam Lutfiyya: Yes, definitely. The challenges of color management and the need for tighter process control are both closely related manifestations of the same phenomenon—brand and version proliferation—which is what is driving the trend toward shorter runs and the need for more efficient setup times.
Being able to ensure consistent and accurate color on press means standardizing and tightly managing all other decisions, inputs and processes related to the application of ink on substrate. The printers and converters best positioned to do this will be those that connect their entire color workflow—from initial color specification, to ink blending and correction, and management of press conditions—to real-time color measurement data of the printed product.
Achievement of absolute color fidelity in short-run environments is as much about managing people, processes and data throughout the workflow as it is about color reproduction on press.
FLEXO: Listed in the second tier of priorities were waste reduction and automated workflow. Why do you believe these are, and should be, a point of emphasis?
Balistrieri & Lutfiyya: Waste reduction and workflow automation are, in many instances, driven by the same efficiency improvements needed to manage increasingly shorter runs. Today, printers are forced to run more jobs while holding operating costs constant to ensure continued profitability. Any inefficiencies in their makeready and setup processes become magnified as the potential to generate waste multiplies exponentially.
Those who lack disciplined processes to root out inefficiencies and tools to measure, manage and automate improvements across the workflow will simply not be able to compete. In this regard, the selection of smart, connected tools can be as essential.
FLEXO: Can you describe the typical journey from a hands-on production floor to fully automated print enterprise?
Balistrieri & Lutfiyya: Generally speaking, manufacturing organizations are quite slow to adopt new technologies. G. A. Moore, in his book Inside the Tornado: Strategies for Developing, Leveraging and Surviving Hypergrowth Markets, reported on research that indicates only 3 percent to 5 percent of technology buyers within any industry proactively implement new technologies of their own volition. Early adopters who follow, due to initial market pressure, constitute only another 12 percent to 15 percent. Mainstream technology buyers—those whose choice is forced by competitive or survival considerations—comprise the clear majority, approximately 68 percent. The print industry is no different.
The goal of print, as with all other manufacturing processes, is to eliminate any variations that could hinder greater efficiency. The prospect of implementing sophisticated new tools—tools that can seem costly, have a direct impact on production efficiency, and dramatically reduce or eliminate the ability to manually intervene—can be terrifying. That makes many print businesses understandably averse to adopt new technologies.
Knowing how quickly you’ll realize a return on investment—and just how much automation can positively impact your bottom line—are important in an industry where margins are extremely tight.
The journey from a hands-on production floor to a fully automated print enterprise begins and ends with an internal technology champion—someone who is knowledgeable about technological advancements, understands the future goals of the organization and is capable of aligning today’s technology choices to the organization’s current processes, as well as its longer-term strategic imperatives. He or she is critical in helping the organization reinterpret any initial sticker shock as an important strategic investment that will provide far greater improvements in efficiency, capacity and savings down the line.
A champion manages inevitable early resistance to technologies, ensuring they are implemented throughout the operation. That way, the organization fully realizes the benefits of its investments. A champion takes ownership for making sure tools are used correctly and consistently, staff are regularly trained, and updated standards are implemented and documented.
Printers and converters must treat near-term capital spending projects as opportunities for strategic investment, rather than merely a chance to add or upgrade equipment. Piecemealing operations with multiple-manufacturer, single-function equipment purchases that work only in isolation and can’t communicate across the workflow is not viable long-term.
The first step requires printers to select technology and service providers with an ecosystem of integrated products capable of managing all their hardware, process control, data management, quality monitoring and support needs on smart, connected platforms. That move enhances their ability to communicate across workflows by conveying valuable data for LEAN initiatives, process improvements and standardization. Smart platforms eliminate dependency on the varying skill sets of a disappearing print workforce and, at the same time, serve as future-proof investments. How? By enabling quick addition of new capabilities and services through downloadable software upgrades without necessarily requiring further capital investments.
Smart tools by themselves cannot solve all printers’ problems. Process changes and standardization must accompany the implementation of any new technology to minimize press-to-press, run-to-run, shift-to-shift and operator-to-operator differences in the way these tools are used.
Smart, connected systems enable printers to get more out of their downtime by providing quantitative data valuable in identifying trends that impact production efficiency. This can include information about the effects of changing printing conditions and settings, operator performance, adherence to customer standards and quality measures, waste generation and much more. This information can then be used to improve operator training, more quickly set up jobs, preset systems, improve quality and predict how changes in press settings will play out during production.
FLEXO: Color and control is the focus of the November issue of FLEXO and it seems to be the critical link to continuous improvement in a plant as production continues to embrace the call to print to the numbers and guarantee quality, consistent, repeatable results. Can you shed some light on the evolution, introduction and modifications made to print fault detection systems, ERP devices and the like?
Balistrieri & Lutfiyya: These systems, especially as color management is concerned, have evolved rapidly over the last several years. Handheld densitometers and color management procedures adapted from offset pressrooms have been replaced with inline spectrophotometers and sophisticated software tools providing real-time colorimetry and the predictive power needed to achieve accurate, consistent color, even under a variety of changing conditions. Gone are the days when printers must walk to the other end of the press to see what impact a given change will have on their printed colors.
The ability to define and print to a specific spectral target has reshaped the interactions and expectations CPCs have with their printers regarding their brand colors. The impacts have and continue to be far-reaching, driving change at every point in the supply chain—from color specification, through printing to quality control at store shelves—increasing the urgency to remain faithful to international standards which establish a universal color communication.
The best color management systems now allow printers to import targets directly from brand owners, seamlessly communicate them across other systems used in the print process, provide color quality reports back to customers and store quality records in their own ERP systems.
Investment in color management software and inline color measurement systems is very strong.
FLEXO: Current trends and future solutions for quality color management have been driving both conversation and innovation in the print marketplace for years. Do you believe establishment of the International Color Consortium (ICC), other standards bodies, impact of Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) and like certification programs have contributed to industry advancement?
Balistrieri & Lutfiyya: All of those milestones in color management have played a significant role in advancing the packaging industry. However, updates to international standards, combined with the establishment of both a universal color communication (i.e. PQX and PRX) and non-proprietary standards for color measurement, are the next two most important imperatives for our industry.
FLEXO: Where will we be 10 years and 20 years from today?
Balistrieri & Lutfiyya: While it is impossible to predict with any accuracy where the industry will be in coming decades, it is safe to assume printing will follow a similar trajectory along the Technology Adoption Curve as other, forward-facing manufacturing sectors where humans no longer complete tasks, but instead monitor the machines that do.
Go Smart & Get Connected
FLEXO: When we talk about Baldwin Vision Systems, we often hear references made to “color expert in a box.” How did you win that reputation?
Balistrieri & Lutfiyya: The phrase refers to our suite of color management software products, which includes ColorTrack, InkWeigh and the soon-to-be-launched ColorTrack Analytics. It is an acknowledgement of the value these products provide to printers who are challenged to deliver consistent, accurate color at a time when quality demands seem to be increasing at the same rate their longest-tenured, most skilled color experts are retiring.
These products combine valuable color expertise, color management best practice and ISO compliance on a single platform through which a printer’s entire color workflow can be managed—from prepress, to the ink kitchen, throughout the printing process and beyond.
FLEXO: The establishment of Baldwin Vision Systems saw the joining together of former assets of QuadTech, PC Industries and Web Printing Controls under one umbrella. How does that strengthen product and service offerings? What does it mean to customers?
Balistrieri & Lutfiyya: By combining engineering talent and expertise, and with the infusion of more financial resources, we plan to expand automation capabilities to include and connect other workflows within print operations.
There is minimal overlap between the legacy brand product lines. This provides a great opportunity for printers, as our products complement each other far more than they compete. It gives printers the ability to choose between multiple options in a product class and select the one that best fits their specific needs and budget.
We offer prepress proofing, on-press and post-press solutions across narrow, mid and wide web applications—as well as sheetfed applications. Connected tools help customers monitor and manage much more than just the print process—inks, job data, production quality and reports.
FLEXO: What is the driving vision and mission statement behind the organization today?
Balistrieri & Lutfiyya: Connectedness! No other imperative will be more important in evolving print technology, advancing the industry and improving customers’ businesses than the need to “go smart.” Baldwin Vision Systems is positioned to provide connected products to the printing industry—from defect detection and color management systems, to UV/LED curing, drying and cleaning systems; even printing presses!