Controlling Press Characterization at Forum 2019

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Day three of Forum 2019 was all about process control, and that theme continued into its second session with “Gaining Control of Your Process: The Characterization,” chaired by Ellen Farrell, DuPont Advanced Printing.

Does This Really Work?

Bookending the session was Jennye Scott, VP creative services at Berry Global and who opened by recalling her company’s situation six years ago. In 2013, she explained, Berry Global was new to flexo and “had inconsistencies everywhere.” The company would go on to achieve FIRST Company Certification but before doing so, Scott noted, the steps in its process were separate, nothing was documented, and there was a not-insignificant amount of finger-pointing, downtime, scrap and waste.

Scott would return at the end of the session to reveal Berry Global’s transformation stemming from FIRST.

A Deep Dive into Color Profiles

Beginning the characterization-focused discussion, Mark Samworth, color specialist at Esko, dove into color profiles.

Samworth began with a quick run through the five steps of FIRST and elaborated on the difference between a fingerprint (which he referred to as a curves pressrun) and a characterization (which he referred to as a profile pressrun). The most common characterization question, he said, is asking what the purpose is of all the color patches on a profile. He discussed three levels of color samples: a patch set (a set of numbers), a profile chart (a patch set that can be printed) and a profile press form (one that’s ready for press).

Speaking to different patch sets like the ECI 2002, IT8.7-4, TC1617 and EDK 9 Stage, Samworth pointed out that there is logic to their organization. He then highlighted visual and random format charts, and coming down the road, 7-color clustered and 7-color scrambled charts. Continuing on that future outlook, he pontificated that quality control and color conversion will make use of profiles, as they evolve beyond being used in only the proofing stage.

Know Your Roll and Realize Your Highest Capability

Dan Uress of Colorware USA Inc followed and built on Samworth’s discussion by asking if printers truly know their rolls—the rolls leaving their facilities and destined to customers. He walked through how printers can get a better understanding of what’s on the trucks driving away with final, printed product, and the instruments, tools and software to get there.

In preparing, Uress offered six points to consider:

  • Setting proper expectations
  • Understanding the role of each team member
  • Communicate well between departments—no finger pointing
  • Confirm the proper inks and substrates are available
  • Determine aim attributes and values
  • Ensure aims and values are in a printer’s systems

Discussing exactly how to measure, he covered instruments (including handheld devices and inline measurement) and software, when to take measurements and the various things to measure. Once those measurements are taken, Uress urged the audience to record that data and use it as a means to increase efficiency and reduce costs. “There’s no Delta E knob on the press,” he said, noting press operators need to know how to use data gleaned from measurements to approach such a problem.

After discussions of how to obtain and visualize data on operator performance, daily production quality and ink behavior, Uress put it all together as a means to track crucial metrics like solid and overprint Delta E, delta dot gain and overall quality over lengths of time, tracking both improvements and worsening factors.

Wrapping up the data-drive discussion, Uress asked the audience: “So, will you use it?” He continued: “A process that isn’t measured can’t be controlled, and a process that isn’t controlled can’t be improved.”

Now. Next. New. Process Improvement in Action

“Why process improvement?” This was a question Bob Coomes, graphics, prepress and print specialist at Plastic Packaging Technologies LLC, sought to answer in his presentation.

Coomes defined process improvement as the proactive task of identifying, analyzing and improving upon existing processes for greater optimization to meet new quotas or standards of quality. He said that through process improvement, productivity, quality, safety, customer satisfaction and loyalty will produce greater profitability. “You can’t refine it unless you define it!” he exclaimed.

Coomes identified roadblocks to process improvement—many of which are overcome by the points Uress addressed earlier—that included employee attitude, not being proactive, a lack of vision, what he termed the “tyranny of the urgent” and an inability to understanding the real impact of waste. “It’s so easy for each of us to get stuck in our silos,” he said, “but the cross-pollination of ideas is so important.”

Harkening back to his presentation title, Coomes detailed how printers can move from their current process—the now—to choosing, testing and checking changes to that process—the next—to adopting and implementing those changes—the new. He offered examples of process improvement initiatives that included scorecards for PQM compliance rates, studying plate lifecycles and improving changeover times from job to job.

This Does Really Work!

Scott returned to close the session. “As you are sitting there listening to the Flexo 101 and now soon to hear what Flexo 102 has to offer, you are probably wondering to yourself, ‘Does this FIRST thing really work?'” she said.

Offering proof that it did work for Berry Global, she revealed that proofs are more accurate, problems are located quicker, repeatability is achievable and, by mixing new technologies with FIRST best practices, the printer has won a 2013 FTA Technical Innovation Award and numerous FTA Excellence in Flexography Awards—including, in 2019, a Best of Show in the narrow web category.

Scott closed by challenging printers to spread the knowledge internally, ask about the processes if they don’t understand them, and use FIRST tools. “Flexo has come a long, long way. There’s not a whole lot of ‘trade secrets’ anymore,” she admitted. “What I talked about today isn’t rocket science. Be thankful that there is a program and a book to follow in order for you to succeed.”