Top marks: how printers can be five-star performers

By Helen Dugdale, Monday 17 September 2018

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Everybody makes mistakes, but for a market where margins are already supermodel slim, even the smallest of errors can have a big impact on profitability.

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Hence, the possibility of eradicating mistakes from production processes altogether is an alluring one: this is the philosophical basis of what has become known as zero-defect manufacturing.

In the simplest terms, zero-defect manufacturing means taking steps to ensure errors cannot occur – or at least reduce the possibility to negligible levels. 

And both printers and printing equipment manufacturers see it as a way to maximise the return on the cost and effort they put into production. But what’s the best way of doing this?

For Duncan Smith, director of Industrial and Production Solutions at Canon UK, some mistakes are unavoidable, but implementing a zero-defect mentality in production can reduce them. 

“As humans, we all make mistakes, but when companies invest time and resources in significant print orders or oversized signage, even the smallest of errors can prove incredibly costly. Zero-defect production is a movement that aims to minimise these mistakes to reduce waste and cost while achieving perfect print output. 

“With quality top of the agenda, this philosophy guides print manufacturers in following clear and distinct steps in the path to accuracy and quality.”

Donald Lewis, business development manager at Meech International, a specialist developer and manufacturer of static control and surface cleaning solutions, says that zero-defect printing is what everyone in the industry should be aiming for, making the point that being able to print without creating unsaleable output will always be more cost-effective than printing excess to account for mistakes and only delivering the non-defective sheets. He says: “A print shop probably wants to minimise correction in the first place. They are looking at ways to check that what is actually going out through the door is defect free. 

“Zero-defecting printing is the holy grail. Ultimately, it’s about finding the issues that you do have and removing them.” 

Meech’s portfolio of products is used extensively within a wide range of industries, not least printing, but also packaging, converting, plastics, automotive, pharmaceutical and food production.

How achievable is it?

Lewis believes it’s a focal point for the industry, but points out that there will always be a sweet spot beyond which ‘completed’ will inevitably trump ‘perfection’. He explains: “At the end of the day, there is a lot of pressure in the production area to minimise defects in general. How we get there and whether we can do that economically is a different matter. 

“Being able to reduce issues on press and in the finishing department is relative to the cost that we can afford. We can all plod along at a super slow rate making sure that everything is hunky dory, but obviously that isn’t efficient. 

“Being efficient is where most companies are focusing their attention to ensure they get the highest quality end-product.”

However, for big brands and and certain sectors in particular – notably pharmaceuticals – perfection is the only acceptable outcome option when printed packs appear on the supermarket shelves. Smith says: “It takes consumers three seconds to make a buying decision in the supermarket. Brands spend vast amounts on advertising, and product staging, so there is no question they expect packaging that is aesthetically pleasing, functional, and most importantly, legally unobjectionable.” 

And that means every pack delivered to a client has to be completely defect-free.

“To reach this goal, packaging printers must deliver solutions for quality assurance, optimised workflows, and intelligent connectivity across the entire supply chain. In pharma pack printing, technological developments continue to play a vital role in its advancement. 

“As this area of specialism continues to grow, successful printers are investing in technology that offers improved production capabilities and enhanced security throughout the process. 

But as a sector, pharma faces some additional challenges. For one, most products must be able communicate a lot of information clearly in a number of languages. Often that information is reproduced on 36gsm to 50gsm paper, where ink showthrough is a real problem. Here Canon says a robust monitoring system is critical, “such as the camera systems integrated within our Océ ColorStream 6000 Chroma printers,” says Smith. 

“Through assessment and auto correction, these help ensure failure free production processes. And the use of full colour printing now also allows manufacturers to highlight warnings or allergens clearly on packaging.” 

Meech’s Lewis adds that product authentification devices, such as holograms, add to the challenges, for the pharma sector, as well as being a critical aspect of identification documents such as passports. “When you have holographic laminations and digitally printed photographs, these can then go off onto readability issues.” 

This is a big deal, whoever you are. No matter how innocent, we’ve all felt a touch of nerves when confronted with the steely gaze of the immigration official; what if your new passport fails to meet approval?

“Plus, if the print isn’t correct then you’re compromising security,” adds Lewis. “So, when you’re working with holographic imagery it just has to be perfect.” 

It can be a life and death issue: “When it comes to pharmaceuticals it’s often about variations of the same product just with different dosages. Is the dose correct? If it’s not, then you’ve got a serious issue. In pharma their quality levels are extremely high and so should their zero-defect printing regulations. 

“Web cleaning technologies are vital. When we touch on security printing you’re working with highly embossed laminates, hot stamping foils and threads – all these areas can bring contamination into the production process. It’s about removing static charges, ensuring that webs being converted on or printed on are as clean as possible. That’s the main issue, that, and being able to do it in a controlled way.” 

There are other threats for pharma pack printers, such as counterfeiting. Smith adds: “If the supply chain is not secure, an unauthorised person could have access to raw materials to create fraudulent packaging and products – the repercussions could be business critical for all parties involved. Therefore, security standards and zero-defect regulations are pivotal – vision scanners, barcode scanners, and glue detection systems should be at the top of any pharma pack printer’s shopping list.” 

New-age developments

For Canon, digital transformation is driving big changes in print manufacturing as the company enters a new age of innovative advancements. 

Smith says that this ongoing transformation enables manufacturers such as his to harness new technologies that can boost automation and, ultimately, improve process fluidity, production speed, and product quality control. But, with varied connected technologies and systems – such as big data and augmented reality – used by print manufacturers across verticals, there is high risk for cyber security threats. 

He says: “Protecting today’s print environment can be a challenging task, and the key defence against attacks is authentication, intrusion detection, and regulation – all factors of zero-defect print. 

“As the printing industry faces increasing requests for higher quality products, shorter marketing runs, and print-on-demand services, any print manufacturer looking to be successful needs a digitalised, automated control system, that goes beyond manual assurance.

“Plus, by striving for stringent standards, printers can streamline processes to reach optimal productivity, greater efficiency, and ultimately, manufacturing excellence.”

So what improvements can these manufacturers offer to help printers achieve zero-defect production? Canon points to the integrated camera systems within the Océ ColorStream Chroma 6000 series: any issues can be detected and corrected automatically, without manual intervention. Smith adds: “Our Océ VarioPrint iSeries boasts inline quality control for automated detection and correction of nozzle failures, ensuring the highest levels of productivity and quality integrity.”

Meech’s specialism may be more prosaic, but no less important for that, as Lewis points out: “Sometimes what we do isn’t always the sexiest part of the digital world. It’s all very well having this high-end camera technology, so customers get exactly what they want – but if your web processes aren’t clean and static free then you’ll just be moving a lot more defective product than you should be. 

“It’s not super rocket science to get a zero-defect print product but being able to get there as efficiently as possible is the key. What is important is that there are preconceived ideas of what is available in cleaning static control in the market and print manufacturers needs to step back and share with customers what is available, as we’re being approached more and more by end users to find out how we can help them.” 

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