Automated print inspection can help converters cope now, and be ready for growth tomorrow
The world as we know it has changed, and so has the way we all work. No industry has gone unscathed. While industries like hospitality and travel are suffering across the board from plummeting demand, that’s not the case across the packaging industry, in fact, we know that many converters are experiencing the opposite trend. They say the pandemic has increased demand for packaging and labels, especially for food products and pharmaceuticals. Yes, the uptick presents an opportunity; but, meeting the increased demand during a pandemic also poses unique challenges.
Today’s acute workforce challenges can impact production quality
Higher demand can be a mixed blessing when accompanied by staffing uncertainty, and the current pandemic has made the workforce especially volatile. Whether state-mandated or simply good practice, social distancing protocol requires that physical distance be maintained between workers, but it can be a challenge to distance workers while manning all machinery on the floor. Converters are often forced to reduce the number of workers onsite at a given time to avoid crowding, moving to half-shifts or other spacing solutions that make it much more difficult to maintain, let alone increase production levels.
In addition, many workers are unable to keep their usual schedules, or even come into work at all – whether it’s due to government-imposed onsite workforce reductions or because they need to take care of their families back home. Other workers may be unable to come to work if they are quarantined after being exposed to the virus, or if they become sick themselves. Whatever the reason, when skilled workers are absent, it can impact quality, slow down production or even bring it to a halt altogether.
With all those pressures to work faster and produce more with fewer people onsite, it becomes much harder to also maintain the needed production quality – to identify print mistakes and color inconsistencies and perform other quality control tasks. And that’s assuming the personnel who are onsite at any given time are skilled enough to properly handle print quality and print inspection systems.
Crisis can be a catalyst for improvement
Although it might not be intuitive, I believe that such a crisis can be the ideal time to boost automation and efficiency and improve work processes. For example, automated print inspection can help converters maintain top quality and have better control over the print and converting process, even with reduced staff and ability to focus on quality.
Once setup has been done, the automated print inspection system can free operators for other tasks and will alert them as soon as any deviation from standard is detected. Automated systems also provide important support for inexperienced and new operators. When skilled and experienced workers aren’t able to come to work, converters have no choice but to recruit new staff or allocate new responsibilities to existing staff. But new workers are more likely to make mistakes that lead to costly waste and higher potential for reprints. Automatic inspection mitigates the risk. It classifies process and random defects and notifies operators in a clear and intuitive way, making it simple for any worker to quickly identify production issues and apply corrective actions before costly substrates go to waste. Managers can track the inexperienced workers, and eliminate almost any human error, giving them the peace of mind they need.
Automation and connectivity further enhance Inspection “hands-free” operation
The latest developments in inspection automation bring connectivity to pre-press and ERP systems, so that the inspection setup is automated, and inspection begins automatically when production starts. This eliminates human errors and ensures that high quality standards and inspection parameters for any produced job and order are maintained.
AVT’s AutoSet is a good example of flawless connectivity of pre-press data, through Esko Automation Engine, to AVT 100% inspection platforms. All the relevant data, including the PDF file, are sent automatically to the inspection system, the inspection setup is done automatically, and it is verified against the approved PDF. Inspection starts automatically, with no delay and almost no human intervention, and the operator is only alerted if print quality begins to shift beyond needed quality standards.
For today’s crisis and for the future
With automated inspection, production managers can maintain social distance while still controlling and managing quality inspection on the floor and ramping up production. Investing in automation will help converters continue to produce quality packaging and support their clients in these challenging times.
And remember, the pandemic won’t last forever. Automation will also position converters for continued high-quality production and growth once the world returns to normal, whenever that will be. In good times, like the current tough ones, automated print inspection is vital to powering up production capabilities and strengthening competitive edge.
To learn more about how you can apply these latest developments in inspection automation please visit