How Inspection Systems Provide the Key to Defect-Free Printing
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As the demands for quality and consistency have increased for brand owners, the need for inspection systems has gone from a luxury to a necessity for converters. When looking for an inspection system, converters should invest the same time in research that they would make for any big-ticket purchase. Not having an inspection system can have significantly negative impacts for a company, such as increasing the chance of errors, affecting print quality and increasing waste.
According to Guy Yogev, director of marketing for Advanced Vision Technology (AVT), it’s best to find an inspection system that not only meets immediate needs, but is flexible enough to address potential needs five years down the road.
“The inspection system should also address common defects like color variations, misregistration, misprints, spots, characters, registration, streaks and scratches, splashes, scumming and flawed edges,” he wrote in an email. “Therefore choosing the right inspection system can yield a marked increase in product quality, process control and — through these improvements — new business opportunities.”
Yogev notes that packaging suppliers with an inspection system are commonly at an advantage when brand owners are looking for a vendor.
“Many of our customers have said that, when pitching new business, they now make it a point to showcase their AVT inspection systems as a selling point,” he says. “As much as anything, brand owners want to be reassured by vendors, who in turn, need to market themselves as brand ambassadors more so than typical vendors.”
Though inspection has become important to a wide variety of vertical markets including medical devices, chemical products, food and the luxury good packaging markets, Yogev relays that the pharmaceuticals sector tends to have the most stringent quality control regulations. This is necessary because pharmaceutical manufacturers and packagers deal with controlled substances that require clear, flawless instructions to best ensure consumer safety.
“It’s not surprising that pharmaceutical companies are typically among the first to incorporate sophisticated, multi-faceted inspection and quality control systems into their production environments,” he explains. “For them, it’s a vital part of supply chain safety.”
According to Amir Dekel, VP, business unit manager print, ISRA VISION, when looking into an inspection system, printers should consider the substrates, print size, web width and speed it will be used for, along with desired options including PDF comparison, press control, finishing machine control and data gathering. He says to also consider the service capability of the vendor.
“Today’s inspection systems are providing a lot more than just print inspection and thus providing additional tools to help the operator and the management of the print house to control the printing machines, maintain consistent colors, gather production information and produce valuable statistics,” Dekel explained in an email.
Dekel says that the vast majority of package printers embrace the technology quickly, but in some cases, the operator might not take to the technology right away. “That concern is quickly dissolved once the operator sees how fast the system finds a defect,” he says.While all facets of defects can be detected by inspection systems, Dekel points out that the most instrumental benefit of the system is in catching defects that will be obvious on the end product, but difficult to catch on press.
“For example,” he notes, “suppose you print a sleeve for a white shampoo bottle, and the press is producing a very light contrast of black haze on some portion of this sleeve. It will be very difficult to detect it by the human eye on the web, but will be very visible on the bottle. So, the inspection system provides a very sensitive pair of eyes that can see a lot more than the human eyes and provides an early warning way before that web is considered a waste.”
When buying an inspection system, Jonathan Hou, director of technology at GlobalVision, advises package printers to look for the quality of the images, number of false positives, ease of use and the training/support offered.
“More and more companies are pitching a higher megapixel and DPI count, which on paper sounds great, but people don’t realize the quality of the sensors and optics have a greater importance in inspection,” he explained in an email.
Like all new technologies and equipment, he says, it takes a commitment from management and a good training and implementation program to get everything set up.
“It’s really an investment and you want to make sure the support, implementation and training structure is in place with the vendor to help you maximize and implement the use of the system in your print shop,” he relays. “You may be saving some costs on the equipment side with a cheaper system, but if you don’t take into account the implementation phase, then you may not get to maximize benefits in terms of long-term operational costs.”
The risk of not having an inspection system, he says, is having printers rely on the human element to help them find errors. Because every person is different, they may look for different defects, and they may be trained differently. He also adds that not having an inspection system leads the printer to a competitive business risk as well.
“More and more companies rely on automation and technology to help improve their businesses and reduce costs, and you need to constantly invest in new technologies to help adapt to the fast-paced environment in the print world.”
In terms of trends in inspection systems, Hou notes that it’s becoming increasingly common to have more technologies upstream in a process in prepress so that a company can prevent errors early on.
“Being able to spellcheck files, grade barcodes and compare text copy from our customers are new technologies being used in prepress to help find errors before it makes it to the final print,” he says.
Whether the need may start from a printer’s quality control department or from production, Hou says it’s becoming more important as part of a company’s overall continuous improvement effort to look toward other departments in how they can also improve quality.
“Building quality throughout your process and not just at the final stage will help get everything right the first time and save you costs in the long run,” Hou concludes. “Inspection systems are really an insurance policy for errors, it’s an investment not an expense.”