Converters have always focused on creating high-value labels as efficiently as possible. That has become an even greater focus recently as label and packaging converters have experienced the upset of global supply chain disruptions.
Labels are critical. Products are not able to ship without labels. With some converter suppliers, shops have dealt with delivery delays for critical label construction components – substrate, coatings, liners, laminates and ink.
With converters and print-service providers (PSPs) having issues getting substrates and ink, now more than ever, it’s important to be able to use materials on hand and get the greatest value from the resources available. Rather than worrying about volume, attention can be paid to getting the most revenue per amount of raw material.
It is an opportune time to consider how the technology you have can best help deliver for customers, regardless of supply chain issues. Following are several tips and considerations to keep in mind for those converters looking to streamline workflow and be more efficient with their ink and substrate usage.
One of the first, and perhaps most obvious, steps to efficiency in a time where you want to be able to use everything you have is to eliminate waste.
With each step in the printing process, there is potential for waste – pre-press proofs, press calibration, color management, registration adjustment and web tension adjustments. Traditionally, with legacy technology, many of these processes must be attended to all at once by pre-press and press operators.
Evaluating workflow with a keen eye can help uncover opportunities to reduce waste. For example, when it comes to press calibration, a press or printing device must be brought to a stable state before calibration or other process control for color management can be implemented. A great tip here is to use the right technology. Unlike many technologies which use substantial amounts of heat, processes like inkjet need minimal time and interaction before reaching a stable state.
Eliminating the need for lengthy test prints and judgments of color can help reduce wasted time and materials. To minimize the time spent managing color, a digital press must be engineered to print predictably. Judging color by eye is a notoriously poor way to manage color and will always result in diminishing efficiencies and opinionated arguments on the production floor. Inkjet presses can provide a reliable, predictable and consistent print from the first copy of a job to the last, due to the inherent stability of piezo-inkjet technology.
An embellishment process can increase the value of a label and provide a “premium” feel to an otherwise normal label. A digital embellishment process can increase the value of a label without the required time and resources that are needed for a similar analog embellishment process.
An in-line digital varnish can be used to create spot varnish effects, tactile printing or simulated metallic foils. Rather than creating and mounting multiple plates and preparing multiple ink stations, digital varnish can be controlled via software, eliminating plate costs and reducing make-ready and clean-up times drastically. The digital application of these “premium” features results in higher values per label and enables embellishment to be offered for short-run sizes, without significantly increasing the burden on the production operators.
Converters can reduce operator and shop burden by using modern label presses that leverage robotics to provide automation capabilities. Automation can help save time and reduce waste, and digital label presses should use robotics to provide precise control of mechanical and electronic components to ensure consistent and reliable operation.
From calibrating more quickly and allowing for greater stability, automation can equate to less waste and increased available operator time, allowing shops to focus on efficiency and productivity and maximizing revenue per label. With simple and automated label press maintenance, required operator intervention is minimal. With these advancements helping to ease the burden of a press operator, fewer operator errors occur and fewer real-time decisions need to be made on the production floor.
With easy setup and useful presets, an automated digital label press can also reduce downtime and drastically simplify maintenance. Features like automated inkjet nozzle cleaning/verification and automated printhead flushing and wiping can free operators to perform other tasks without the risk of a large repair bill or delays in production. Consistent print quality and automatic color-to-color registration adjustments can reduce the variables and the chances that a job will need to be re-printed again.
Smart digital machines leverage sensor arrays which can allow for “clean” failure modes. Sensors can watch for debris or uneven tension in the web, pause the job and notify the operator via email or an audible alert. Rather than incur major downtime or damage to the machine, these capabilities can enable quick and easy recovery from errors and can reduce the potential for a major web break and the associated production delays.
Ultimately, a print shop can ease its human resources burden and optimize revenue if its label printing solutions are reliable and offer thoughtful and creative engineering solutions. Label presses should, ideally, increase the capabilities of their operators by helping to tackle monotonous processes.
Though this type of supply-chain instability can be disheartening, it makes it all that much more important to be partnered with a manufacturer that has control of its own supply chain. While having a reliable press is paramount, replacement parts like printheads, pumps, filters and electronic components are key to minimizing downtime and keeping customers happy, and they are more likely to be available from a company that manufacturers their own supplies.
Partnering with a manufacturer that has a strong service reputation and organization that is available to you when you need it can make or break profitability. From color to technology experts, find a press manufacturer that is there to support you at every moment – one with a clear roadmap that will not be gone tomorrow.
Now is an opportune time to take a second look at the existing workflow to help ensure you are able to make the most of the technology at your disposal and take full advantage of the ink and substrates in your supply. Considering waste produced at every step of the printing process, automation capabilities and support from OEM partners are good starting points to determine efficiency improvements to best offset current market disruptions.