Me & My... AVT ColorQuick

Jo Francis
Thursday, August 4, 2011

Managing colour accurately on long web offset runs over multiple shifts can be difficult, but this system is designed to do just that

Communisis is a business that’s in the process of changing the way it manufactures printed products. Dave Rushton, managing director of specialist production and sourcing at the £193m-turnover 1,300-employee PLC, recently stated that the business plans to migrate all of its litho-printed direct mail and promotional print over to high-volume digital printing in the next five years or so.

But such a change won’t happen in the blink of an eye, as evidenced by the fact that currently only around 10%-15% of its work is printed full-colour digital. The company still operates a chunk of much-needed conventional printing firepower, and at its Leeds facility this comes in the shape of two Manroland Rotoman web offset presses, along with two complex Scitex inkjet personalisation systems. This kit looks like it will be kept busy for a while yet, and as long as that’s the case it’s imperative that quality meets the exacting standards of Communisis’ blue-chip customers.

The decision to install an Advanced Vision Technology (AVT) ColorQuick closed-loop colour control system on one of the Rotomans came about as part of the group’s continuous improvement programme, aimed at reducing waste and improving efficiencies as well as quality. Print director Adam Walker takes up the story: "To achieve the targets set by senior directors, we needed to reduce our makeready and production waste, improve quality and be able to accurately audit our performance," he says.

After looking at products on the market that would potentially fit the bill, including the QuadTech colour control system, Communisis opted for the AVT ColorQuick system (Israeli firm AVT purchased ColorQuick developer Graphic Microsystems in 2007).

"We had the option to purchase the PressXcontrol software from My Press Xpert with the ColorQuick system, and because that sat alongside ColorQuick it swayed our decision because we could do so much analysis of the colour. This was a unique selling point at the time, the other systems were using densitometers whereas this is spectrophotometric analysis of the colour," Walker says.

"With that add-on we can look at dot gain, LAB values, we can see how the press is running live – the whole package sat much better with us in terms of what we wanted to achieve."

The ColorQuick system was duly installed onto one of the Rotomans in December 2008. An obvious question is why didn’t Communisis put the system onto both of its Rotoman presses? The answer lies in the configuration of the press in question.

"On that particular press we are running reel-to-reel and we had some concerns about being able to control the colour within the reel. To do that we needed automation and the ColorQuick system fitted that requirement perfectly," Walker explains. "You have deviations within the reel itself, and we run a three-shift pattern and everybody sees colour differently. By taking this route we could control the colour and run to numbers, knowing there was consistent quality in the reels."

Walker says the installation process was "superb", with no glitches. "They provided a Gantt [project schedule] chart and it actually came in ahead of schedule. It was very clean and tidy, with no issues. Commissioning was also very good."

Up and running
The press crews were ready to hit the ground running as soon as the ColorQuick system was operational, too. "We implemented a training scheme before it was installed, because we thought that was a better method of application. People were ready and trained, and we had on-site support for the following two weeks, so that covered all the shift patterns. It was just like a duck to water really, it’s a very easy interface to use despite the fact that it’s a complicated and sophisticated system."

By using the ColorQuick system and PressXcontrol software, Communisis can "print to the numbers", by hitting targets for different paper types that are built into a history system. Settings can be stored for repeat jobs. "PressXcontrol analyses the paper, the ink, the trapping and the LAB results on particular paper types. I can audit that trend and input the values into the ColorQuick in order to achieve ISO. I put those densities in and we run to it," Walker explains.

Another useful feature is the audit trail facilitated by using the system. "We have an inflight system that audit-trails every scan. I can see things like the blanket wash spikes. If we were to have an issue with a job it is very easy to pinpoint the problem, so it’s easy to pick up."

Walker confirms that print quality has increased through implementing the system, and it has also enabled Communisis to cope with changing trends in paper use. "The quality of the print has increased because the systems are advising us to run to what is called ‘best density’ to achieve LAB on every single paper type. In the marketplace the trend has been towards lower-cost papers, and also those with a recycled element. For example, a few years ago the paper went very yellow and lots of people complained about flesh tones, so the system analyses that and tells you what to do to achieve the correct LAB.

"Now what’s happened is people are putting optical brighteners in some papers which have gone very blue – like a xenon headlight compared to a normal headlight – so the system tells us what to adjust in order to correct for that."

Speedy service
Any criticisms of the system have been relatively minor. Walker’s request for a ‘live’ button on the PressXcontrol software in order to make it simpler to go back to the live production screen after reviewing job data was actioned promptly. "They changed that within four weeks of my request. So that was done very quickly."

And niggles with finding the precise centre point of the web, required for the ColorQuick system to make its initial scan, have been fixed by a bit of home-grown intervention. "Sometimes we had problems getting it to scan if we were running a narrow web, or because of web movement in the ovens. It has to find the centre point to start and it can be problematic. We’ve resolved that ourselves by putting a visual marker for the centre point of the web onto the press. The operators can see very quickly where it is to align the web."

David Naisby, regional director for GMI solutions at AVT, says: "The ColorQuick control strip runs down the centre of the web, so if the web is not at the centre of the press then the operator has to tell the system what the offset is. What Adam has done is a very good idea and all praise to him for resolving it."

The only other problem of note has been a recent failure of one of the scanning heads on the ColorQuick. "We had to recalibrate it, but it didn’t work. It turned out we needed a new head which would have been a lot of money by itself. After speaking to AVT we took out a service contract which covered all that. But that’s the only problem we’ve had with the system so far, otherwise it’s been very reliable."

AVT’s Naisby says head reliability is typically very good in the field. The system comes with a 12 month warranty, but in common with other manufacturers he recommends that customers should take out a service contract to cover such eventualities and ensure suitable preventative maintenance takes place.

From Walker’s point-of-view the system has fulfilled Communisis’ requirements "100%. It has given confidence to the printers and to the management team that we can turn out better quality, more efficiently. We’ve reduced waste and we’ve also gained a better depth of knowledge around colour management from using the tool."

Would he recommend it? "Yes." Would he buy another one? "Yes."

AVT ColorQuick
On-web closed-loop colour control system using spectrophotometric measurement
ColorQuick Clarios:
circa £120,000 plus installation
Advanced Vision Technology
+32 155 60 380

Communisis is a £193m-turnover business that bills itself as a ‘marketing services provider’. Its operations encompass a wide range of print and data services. The firm’s client list spans everything from charities to major retailers and brand owners to blue-chip financial institutions. Communisis’ in-house print operations span specialist production, such as cheques, through to volume production of statements, direct mail, marketing print and customer loyalty programme collateral. The Leeds facility that is home to the ColorQuick system and Manroland Rotoman web presses is also home to two HP T300 high-speed inkjet webs, the centrepiece of the group’s burgeoning digital print production operation.

Why I bought it...
The investment was part of Communisis’ continuous improvement programme, aimed at reducing waste and improving efficiencies and quality.

How it has performed...
Print director Adam Walker says the ColorQuick system, together with My Press Xpert’s PressXcontrol software, has fulfilled the firm’s requirements "100%". As well as enhancing quality, waste has been reduced. The audit trail is also a valuable tool for tracking production.


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