Purchasing a Flexo Press: Machine Maintenance, OEM Support and Operator Training

FLEXO Magazine’s 11th Annual Press Buyer’s Guide looks at the path to purchase from multiple steps:

In this article focusing on maintenance, support and training, find out why post-purchase training (immediately and down the road), as well as maintenance and general support, are critical pieces.

FLEXO’s Questions: To become familiar with their new press, what does the converter need to do? What should a printer ask of on-site install technicians? When should the production team feel comfortable on its own? Is there a typical maintenance schedule detailing exactly what the OEM will do, and when? What responsibilities fall to, or are shared with, the converter over the course of the first weeks, months and year?

Consensus: Training is essential for any new press purchase. Set well-defined standards and expectations. During on-site training, it is imperative for operators to feel empowered to ask questions and use that time to extract as much knowledge as possible. Leverage as many of the productivity-driving features as possible to maximize uptime and run speeds, while minimizing waste:

  • Assign a lead trainee
  • Videotaping of training is suggested as a good practice
  • Put Standardized Operating Procedures (SOPs) in writing for ready reference
  • Take advantage of remote connectivity
  • Utilize OEE software in monitoring functionality of the press
  • Insist on flexible training schedules
  • Once a printer gets into production, then pivot to maintenance training
  • A Preventative Maintenance Schedule (PMS) considerably reduces the risk of malfunction and therefore, the risk of time-consuming and expensive production delays
  • Consider service contracts and/or annual or semi-annual wellness visits by the press manufacturer to check the condition of the machine

Offering Commentary: Paul Teachout, vice president, sales and marketing, Nilpeter USA; Jeff Cowan, director of business development, Mark Andy Inc; Todd Kotila, director of business development and Simon Gross, president, Converting Equipment International (CEI); Kregg Albrecht, sales manager, label market, Matik Inc; Mike Weyermann, vice president, sales and marketing, MPS North America; Olof Buelens, vice president, North America, Comexi; Tom Hatzilambros, sales associate, North America, Uteco; Kurt Flathmann, North American sales manager, Allstein GmbH; Vikrant Tandon, project manager, printing and Vladmir Utovac, product manager, printing presses, Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp; Preston Neetzel, technical sales manager—flexo, Koenig & Bauer (US); Perry Lichon, president, Retroflex Inc; Rodney Pennings, director of sales, Paper Converting Machine Co (PCMC); and Pavla Kusa, commercial director, SOMA

Left: Nilpeter FA press. Right: Mission control—a clean-hand approach to operation appeals to a younger workforce, thanks to automated and autonomous operation.
Photos courtesy of Nilpeter

Teachout: We continue to see the proliferation of digital printing technologies that provide clean-hand operation and engage with a younger workforce. By the year 2022, it is predicted that 75 percent of narrow web presses sold will be some level of hybrid platforms and the younger workforce will shift toward it. Digital technology will never replace flexo, but there will come a time when it is commonplace that they co-exist together, providing a complete printing and converting workflow to meet any brand owner needs, all inline and in one pass.

It is critical for us to apply the science of flexography to the automated flexographic platforms that are now available. These new conventional offerings, managed by a “work by the numbers” methodology, provide a clean-hand approach and appeal to a younger workforce with automated and autonomous operation.

Both sides of our hybrid offering, conventional and digital, will soon have the same level of science applied, to be more efficient, more productive and ultimately increase our production and profitability. Once we have a complete production workflow that is managed as a science and not a craft, we can enter the world of Industry 4.0—big data. The Internet of Things (IOT) will open new doors to streamline the entire operation and customer experience.

Cowan: During on-site training, it is imperative for operators to feel empowered to ask questions and use that time to extract as much knowledge as possible. Mark Andy offers technical training through Mark Andy University (MAU)—both on-site and at its St. Louis, MO headquarters. In-person MAU classes cover various OEM-based training courses, regardless of experience.

That feeling of “comfort” is relative. We like to compare it to going from training wheels to riding on your own. Some converters need a little more time with us holding and steadying the back of the bike; some only think they need it; nearly all are ready when it’s time for us to let go.

It’s important to understand that in-house processes need to be adopted to get maximum efficiency from new equipment. Leverage as many of the productivity-driving features as possible to maximize uptime and run speeds, while minimizing waste. In addition to utilizing press capabilities, if you’re not already measuring Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), the installation of a new asset is a good time to start to ensure each piece is producing sellable product for the highest amount of time possible.

Kotila: A one-year, bumper-to-bumper warranty is offered on both printer and finisher. After that, service contracts are available. Buyers need to ask about the costs of these before making a purchasing decision, as this expense should be considered in the overall cost of ownership.

With the CEI BossJet, Domino provides service exclusively on the N610i printing module, which is its expertise, while CEI services the rest of the system. When an operator has a question about setting up the artwork for files, they call Domino; if the questions are about semi-rotary die cutting, or any other component, they contact CEI. It’s definitely a collaborative corporate arrangement.

The vendor typically provides training for up to three people over the course of four to 10 days; in some cases this is done in a classroom, such as at Domino’s headquarters in Illinois; it may also be done at the customer’s location, or some combination of both.

“Both sides of our hybrid offering, conventional and digital, will soon have the same level of science applied, to be more efficient, more productive and ultimately increase our production and profitability.”

Paul Teachout, vice president, sales and marketing, Nilpeter USA

Install technicians do not typically do operator training; often these are specialized functions.

It’s important to sit down with your vendor’s consultant and look carefully at the total cost of ownership in three scenarios: traditional flexo, digital roll-to-roll and digital hybrid.

Many converters neglect to calculate in their total cost of ownership to include the cost of finishing. Depending on the specific details of your jobs, sometimes flexo is more efficient, sometimes digital. What is surprising is how game changing the hybrid system turns out to be. It dramatically expands a converter’s profitability footprint and consistently produces less waste, significantly more jobs, almost no downtime, and with few resources—especially the ubiquitously elusive experienced pressman.

Gross: The CEI BossJet, powered by Domino, displays both simplicity and complexity. The system has become so automated, so elegant, that my grade school daughter can run it. Well-thought-out features, often the result of customer demands, including CEI’s rapid reload dies and flexos, and push-to-start-in-registration capabilities, make simple operation standard. We’re now at the point where you can take a completely inexperienced new hire and train the person within days. It takes only one person to run the CEI BossJet. The only limitations will be your own creativity. To some print salesmen, it’s a dream come true.

Albrecht: Training is essential for any new press purchase. But prior to a purchase decision, an assessment should be made of the press and how it operates. Is it designed to be inherently easy to operate and setup, or is it a complex machine requiring special skills? Recent advancements in automation and closed-loop feedback systems have allowed companies to move away from the “craftsman” model to one that utilizes modern automation and embraces the science of printing. One such advancement is the development of autonomous inking, impression and registration, with all three variables controlled by the press without operator influence.

During the training phase, it is important for the printer/converter to assign a lead trainee. While several operators could be trained at the same time, it is still recommended to have a lead designee to take ownership of the press and through whom communication can be funneled. There are several techniques that can be used to help ensure the best training and retention of information. Videotaping of training is often used and suggested as a good practice. This would also be a good time to develop basic SOPs to guide operations once the training is complete.

Another interesting technique is to schedule two training periods: the initial training at startup and a follow-on training several weeks or months later. This allows the operators to experience the press for a period of time, work through some issues, and build a list of questions and additional support needed that might otherwise go unrecognized during the initial training period.