Why Print Inspection? And Why Now?
Label converters today are being squeezed between two seemingly opposing forces: increasing pressure from brand owners on value chain optimization and sustainability on one hand; and increasing competition, high production overhead, and high employee turnover on the other.
To deliver improved economics, converters need to reduce waste and pollution and optimize label production processes, shifting the market form overall practice of web viewing inspection towards 100% print inspection technologies.
At the same time, they need to implement quality standardization methods across jobs and applications in order to meet brand owners’ expectations for quality and repetitiveness across their SKU portfolio – a challenge that requires a more comprehensive approach to their quality assurance practices.
What to consider when choosing an inspection system
The first consideration: what are the print inspection goals?
Option 1 – Basic Inspection for Quality Assurance
Some converters need only very basic inspection – the ability to detect large and obvious defects (typically between 0.3mm² – 1mm² defect size), to prevent customer rejections. This can be handled well enough by a relatively low-cost solution, typically a 100% inspection system installed on a rewinder or similar finishing equipment. But that kind of low-cost solution does come with disadvantage that can have a hefty price tag: problems can be detected only after the job is printed, often requiring large portions of the printed material to be thrown away. Sometimes the entire job has to be discarded and then completely reprinted.
Option 2 – Upstream Inspection for Process Control
A more advanced type of solution provides upstream quality control for waste reduction. These automatic 100% inspection solutions are typically installed directly on the press. They vary in price based on their overall quality, robustness and the breadth of options and features.
With an inspection system on-press, converters can detect print defects in real time. They can then apply corrective actions to defects caused by equipment malfunction, such as inconsistent pressure, a broken blade, or worn-out plates, or even due to simple human error such as accidentally using the wrong plates. This allows them to save waste that would otherwise be printed and thrown-out.
However, having a system installed solely on the press is not enough. Converters still need to be able to replace specific defective labels on the roll or to remove certain portions in specific lanes – something that in most cases can only be done on finishing equipment.
This could potentially be solved by placing a second inspection system downstream on the rewinder; a setup that can both save waste and allow the roll to be properly cleaned up. But that approach would double the capital equipment cost, without really optimizing the inspection workflow stages. In this setup, the rewinder will stop at every single defect detected by the inspection system, even if many of these defects have already been reviewed on the press and dismissed by the operator.
Option 3 – Smart Factory Inspection for Accelerated Business Growth
A more comprehensive solution is to implement an end-to-end automated inspection workflow, also known as smart factory inspection. These solutions have been adopted by many leading converters, especially those serving tier-one brands, and are now starting to gain more traction among smaller companies that are looking to strengthen their competitive edge and win larger accounts.
One element of smart factory inspection relates to automating the inspection process between the press and the finishing equipment. These are typically more high-end 100% inspection systems, offering greater speed and resolution, that are placed on the press. They automatically link to the entire downstream workflow in a way that allows the operator to print the roll under real-time inspection, edit the roll based on a pre-defined quality threshold, and only then run it through the rewinder to remove irrelevant defects from the job. Beyond reducing waste and assuring quality products, saving time is the main advantage of this automated workflow. This is because the rewinder will not stop at every single defect, but only at the relevant defects defined by the operator during the editing stage.
Currently, only a few vendors, among them AVT, offer this automated configuration. Solution stability varies greatly, based on the vendor’s R&D capabilities, the length of time the solution has been on the market, and the vendor’s ability to successfully service and support advanced workflow configurations. That ability depends primarily on the vendor’s overall market experience in advanced inspection solutions and workflows for the high-end labels market.
Automating inspection between the press and finishing equipment is only part of the story. When looking into next-gen developments for smart factory inspection, market-leading converters are constantly seeking to expand their automation capabilities to other workflow stages. The goal: to fully automate the entire production process from prepress to finishing. Which brings us to the second element.
This kind of end-to-end automation is uniquely available with AVT automatic 100% inspection systems, due to the company’s co-development synergies with Esko and X-rite as a part of the Danaher Product Identification Group.
For example, AutoSet is an automated job setup module that allows each job to be quickly uploaded from prepress directly to the press – essentially a “plug & inspect” process. This unique feature reduces dependency on the operator’s skills, eliminates human error and saves valuable job setup times.
Another example is the ability to create a digital link between X-rite’s ColorCert color quality control solution and AVT’s Spectralab inline color measurement device. This automated process automatically sets up a job for inline color measurement and generates color scorecard reporting on color quality performance after printing.
The main advantage of automation-driven solutions of this sort is that converters can now set cross-plant quality standards and ensure that, regardless of the print equipment, the operator’s skills, or the complexity of the print application, brand owners’ quality demands are 100% met for all jobs at all times, without exception.
Converters are continuously challenged with increasing competition, high production overhead, manpower turnover and brand owners’ ever-tougher quality requirements. The need to reduce material waste, optimize production efficiencies and reduce overall printing costs are driving label and narrow-web converters to embrace new and advanced methods for automating their production workflow and quality control processes across their manufacturing lines.
Positioned at the forefront of vision technology, AVT is the ideal inspection partner that label converters need at this time, with leading inspection solutions and proven market experience, AVT brings a holistic approach to driving value for converters within the context of their own market ecosystem.