Improve Pressroom Efficiencies – Part 3
Two weeks ago, we kicked off our 3-part blog series looking at “Good”, “Better”, and “Best” upgrade options for packaging printers to reduce their make-readies, improve their color matching process, and attain more consistent color throughout their pressruns. In part 1, we examined the benefits of switching from densitometers to handheld spectrophotometers in flexographic pressrooms. In part 2, we looked at the benefits of adding press-side color quality software solutions to further increase the efficiencies of press operators. This week in Part 3, we explore the “Best” option for slashing press make-ready times, increasing color accuracy, and maintaining color consistency.
Best: Automating Color Measurements With Inline Spectrophotometers
Imagine taking all of the benefits we have outlined in the first 2 parts of this blog series regarding the switch from densitometers to spectrophotometers and the benefits of using color quality software and coupling them together with an automated color measurement system that is integrated directly inside the press. Inline color measurement systems exist today for packaging printers and can be retrofitted to your current presses. Also, these systems are much more affordable than you might think and offer an easy ROI if you take a close look. While some older systems utilize cameras to synthesize color measurements, true spectrophotometer based systems are available and offer excellent agreement with handheld instruments. These systems can be used during make-ready or at full production press speeds and by eliminating the need to stop the press, cut out samples, and take measurements by hand, productivity is greatly increased for press operators. Finally, with automated systems, color measurements occur more frequently and more regularly which can further ensure adherence to the job specifications.
Building on the job-based workflow of software color quality solutions, inline measurement systems allow specific measurement locations to be defined either ahead of time (in Prepress) or by the press operator at run time. During make-ready when the operator is adjusting the color on press, these systems have a measurement mode that constantly and repeatedly measures the color locations in the job and reports the data back in real-time. This allows operators to see the effect of their color adjustments and know immediately when the tolerances have been met for the job which greatly reduces wasted materials and make-ready times. Then, once the press is up to color and in “production”, the measurement frequency of inline systems is typically reduced by the operator based on either the number of impressions or the length of material printed.
- Inline measurement systems can greatly reduce press make-readies which reduces wasted materials and frees up valuable press time.
- Automation ensures that color measurements occur regularly throughout the entire press run and eliminates the measurement burden for the operator.
- While color on a flexo press tends to shift over time due to changes with ink viscosities, anilox rolls, doctor blades, etc., with more frequent color measurements, inline systems are predictive and can detect when color begins to drift, alerting operators to take corrective action before color goes out of tolerance.
- Inline systems have the ability to traverse across the entire web width, measure color bars on both the “operator” & “gear” sides of the web, and display measurement data independently for each side of the press to ensure uniform color.
- Because inline systems can move across the web, some offer the ability to measure color directly from in-image locations (in addition to operator and gear side color bars).
- Live web viewing and bar code grading are also features on inline solutions which extend their value beyond just automated color measurements. Monitoring registration and bar code readability in real-time can further reduce waste and save printers money.
- Inline solutions have the ability to provide CPGs many more color measurements during the press run without stopping the press.
The trends are clear. Brand owners will continue to place ever increasing demands for color accuracy and color consistency on their print supply chain. For packaging printers, achieving these requirements is not only challenging, it can also mean turning away, or losing business if existing processes are not able to achieve these tighter color quality specifications. However, thankfully, newer technologies are available today to help us measure color more efficiently, remove the color guesswork for our operators, reduce make-ready times, improve our color accuracy & consistency, and transform our print production environments so they are highly reliable, and most importantly, more profitable.