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

Utovac: There are a few different aspects that need to be considered here. One of the aspects is just simply the logistics with scheduling the training for all the crews you are trying to get familiarized on the new equipment. It can be challenging to cycle, for example, 20 people through training and to make sure that everyone is at a consistent knowledge level, while at the same time you are trying to run a day-to-day operation. That is why it is advantageous to include training in every project to make sure that our customer can understand the machines and be able to take full advantage of all the features. It’s important that a press manufacturer is flexible with the training schedule so that customers’ needs are met.

Another aspect to consider is how to structure the training sessions. Like with any learning process, it can be helpful to break down training in clear parts, beginning with the core machine function and features, then moving on to the process part, during which adjusting to the new equipment and optimizing the internal processes to be able to take full advantage of the new machine and the latest features and trends in the industry, are the focus points. At the end of the day, printers need to understand every aspect of their new press. Once a printer gets into production, it’s time to pivot to maintenance training.

The Koenig & Bauer EVO XG affords easy access to the print decks, where plate mounting sleeves can be deployed nearly effortlessly.
Photo courtesy of Koenig & Bauer

Neetzel: Once the press has been officially turned over to the customer, it is the customer’s responsibility for maintenance and the upkeep of the new machine. The OEM has a responsibility to inform the customer of updates or modifications of the PMS and of required changes due to safety reasons. Maintenance staff should receive some training as well on the press; they need to understand the PMS of the equipment and how to perform the tasks at hand. They also need to understand how the remote maintenance/support through the VPN works, in order to take full advantage of the 24/7 support offered, should it be needed.

It is good practice to schedule preventative maintenance time on a regular basis, in order to keep the press at its optimal running condition. Today’s presses often have the PMS built into the software and it is accessible at the operator’s human machine interface for easy access. To ensure your press delivers high reliability and print quality, even after years of operation, regular mechanical maintenance is essential. Preventative maintenance considerably reduces the risk of malfunction and therefore, the risk of time-consuming and expensive production delays.

Ask if the press manufacturer has specific training options for your maintenance staff. Also, consider service contracts and/or annual or semi-annual wellness visits by the press manufacturer to check the machine’s condition.

In order to take full advantage of your press purchase, invest in the education and training of your staff and optimize your processes. We give your staff practical training on your modern, central impression (CI) flexo press during the startup period and can offer optional customized operator training with one of our print specialists.

You may have and most likely do have operators with different skill set levels. For this reason, continuous training and documentation/SOPs are critical to achieving the safe operation of the press, while achieving a constant level of high print quality and utilization of the press. There is more to training a press operator than just teaching him or her how to run the press. They need to understand the ink system and color, the effects of different mounting tapes, and which type of doctor blade to use on which anilox roller. Encourage operators to communicate with each other, as well as with staff upstream of the press, such as plate mounters and ink staff; and downstream of the press, such as converting operations.

Most supply vendors like ink, mounting tape, doctor blade and end seal manufactures are willing to conduct training onsite. Take advantage of these as well as FTA’s FIRST (Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances) Certification program.

“Like with any learning process, it can be helpful to break down training in clear parts, beginning with the core machine function and features, then moving on to the process part, during which adjusting to the new equipment and optimizing the internal processes to be able to take full advantage of the new machine and the latest features and trends in the industry, are the focus points.”

Vladmir Utovac, product manager, printing presses, Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp

Lichon: Retroflex recommends the buyer work with us to arrange for on-site training at the time of initial startup, as well as a few weeks after startup. This helps to answer questions on day one and questions that will certainly come up during the first few weeks. A training visit, at least once per year, is also a good idea. Of course, at all times, the supplier should be available via email, phone or video conference to handle any questions or concerns. We believe in providing a recommended spare parts list. Having these parts available certainly helps to reduce any unanticipated downtime.

Retroflex strongly recommends the buyer have operators and maintenance people visit us prior to shipment of the equipment. This gives them a hands-on and heads-up look at exactly what they will be working with. They can get a more relaxed look at the equipment, interact with the machine assemblers, ask questions and learn early on, before they are under the pressure of an on-site install that needs to be up in production yesterday. Depending on the operators’ existing knowledge base, they should start to feel comfortable with the new equipment within a few days.

Typically, if the purchase was for a state-of-the art machine, the buyer should see reduced setup time and, overall, more production compared to an older, manually operated machine. However, even if the machine was not purchased with state-of-the-art features, they should see increased production by simply including small features, such as hinged bearing caps for faster roll removal, better tension control, toolless doctor blade cavity removal and a more user-friendly design.

Pennings: It is always best to invest in formal maintenance training to allow the converter’s upkeep team to support the new press and keep it in like-new condition. Prior to leaving the converter’s plant, the press technicians should have performed any early maintenance required on the machine, such as initial lubrication.

Additionally, the press technicians should have trained the maintenance staff on the weekly, monthly and yearly preventative maintenance tasks associated with the new press. PCMC offers an interactive preventative maintenance tool, built into the press, to aid with tracking and documentation on the tasks required.

When purchasing a new press, most OEMs include some type of training services in the price. Often, the price includes machine-side training immediately after the equipment startup. It is always good to optimize the time the press technicians are in house by dedicating operators to training with the press technicians.

The touchscreen interface affords simple operation of Uteco’s Onyx press.
Photo courtesy of Uteco

Operators should be comfortable on their own after printing a gamut of typical jobs to be run on the press in normal operation. It is important to stage the initial print jobs to try to give the operators the widest range of variation possible, allowing them to experience the most while technicians are on site.

Once the technicians leave the plant, it is good for the operators to have a period of time to gain their own experience on the press. After the operators have gained some real-world personal experience, it is then good to bring back the press technicians (one to three months later) to help fill in any gaps and questions.

Kusa: The most important thing is to set well-defined standards and expectations. Reality check: There is no way that if there is any problem, small or large, you can expect the press vendor to send a service person. In fact, for many presses a good internet connection will be one of the most important requirements, because remote service will be the most efficient and effective way to be supported.

Press technology is so complicated now. The software inside the press is much more complex than the mechanics. In the past, you would expect that a mechanical piece had been damaged and replaced. Now, 80 percent of issues come from software, owing to its increased complexity. These programs are very demanding. Even if a local service person is nearby, it does not necessarily mean he or she can fix the problem.

Unfortunately, one must ask where the experts are. Are they at company headquarters, or at a call center in India? Would these people understand the intricacies of press software? Our company utilizes remote diagnostics. Our engineers can sit on a hot link and view a live video of the press. More often than not, they can resolve the problem remotely. If not, they can certainly direct the local support people as to how to fix it.

All of this goes back to the question of price negotiation. A printer must not only look at the initial price of the press, but also the cost of repair. How much less is the price of remote diagnostics than an engineer’s visit? What is the cost and quality of spare parts?

It is important to define different people for the two posts—the operator and the in-house technician—and it is necessary to send these two experts for training. You don’t want to send a service engineer who can run the process from a technical point of view.

While this is not significant in the US, it is important to discuss the language that will be used for training. It truly affects the end quality of the product when training is complete. If the training language is not perfect, the printed results going forward will reflect that. If needed, determine who will be available as a translator.