The Path to Zero Defects With Print Inspection Systems
For businesses competing in the printing market, disappointing or losing customers due to poor production quality is unacceptable. To avoid potential pitfalls, printers are installing ever-evolving inspection systems that feature capabilities including automated job setup functionality, dynamic learning, barcode decoding, barcode ANSI/ISO grading, PDF verification, variable data verification, and much more.
“Today’s print inspection system is preferably scalable to higher levels so that it can grow with the constantly increasing quality requirements of the market,” Herwig Lutz, key account manager for ISRA Vision AG, a supplier of machine vision systems, says. “This requires a system architecture which is designed from scratch to be modular and expandable.”
Print inspection systems are an important investment for printers and converters because they provide full control over the production process, vendors contend. This allows users to communicate and quantify the level of print quality to their clients.
“This, in turn, allows [users] to implement commercial models to sell superior quality levels at a different price,” Lutz explains. “Higher demands require systems with ever-higher performance.”
As an example, Lutz adds that in-line color measurement systems not only must be able to provide color process control, but also quality assurance capabilities, including generating quality reports.
“Our customers are pleased with the functionality to inspect print and coatings with one system, allowing for monitoring the register between them,” he says. “The current trend calls for the integration of the system in a professional quality management environment. This requires adequate tools for deep analysis of the production quality, identifying the root cause of quality deviations.”
He notes that while inspection systems have already reached a high level of performance, end-users are constantly looking for new features.
“New systems need to consolidate a huge amount of information, making them a quick and easy tool to navigate and keep the overview in all aspects of production and quality control,” Lutz says.
According to Craig Du Mez, global branding, PR, and communications manager for Baldwin Vision Systems, it is vital that printers strive to eliminate defects rather than just identifying and minimizing mistakes.
“Advanced inspection systems go beyond identifying defects by monitoring your processes to prevent defects from occurring in the first place,” Du Mez states, adding that a feature such as advanced defect mapping allows users to track and manage defects throughout the entire printing process while making appropriate adjustments in real time.
Meanwhile, object-based inspection systems ensure tighter tolerances and fewer false defects. Du Mez points out that connecting data to monitoring and reporting technologies is also an important step to take.
“Consider the high cost of customer returns because of defects like poor color register, missing or broken text on pharmaceutical labels, or inaccurate variable data on security print,” Du Mez says. “Then think about the cost of customer rebates, or liability exposure, or labor and materials required to redo a print run. It doesn’t take many of these situations to realize that preventing them with a robust, data-connected defect management workflow will deliver a very fast return-on-investment.”
Du Mez suggests that printers have systems in place to ensure process efficiency and deliver process data. This allows operators to make informed decisions quickly, while comparing historical quality and efficiency information.
“There is a significant difference between adding an inspection system to the press and having complete print quality verification through production, reporting, and archiving,” he says. “The latter requires an elegant, data-connected ecosystem of both hardware and software components. If you purchase technology from multiple sources, and those technologies don’t talk to each other, you don’t have a complete, closed-loop defect management system.”
Du Mez contends that inspection systems need to share data through prepress, defect detection and disposition, waste management, quality reporting, data storage, and archiving.
“Once you have a truly closed-loop system in place, the combination of technologies ties together how you manage your processes, your print customers, and even your people,” he explains. “You’re empowered to quickly identify any mechanical issues, process inefficiencies, or even tailor your operator training to eliminate defects.”
Guy Yogev, marketing director – packaging for AVT, a provider of quality assurance and process control solutions, says that the usability factor of an inspection system should not be overlooked. He suggests looking for an easy-to-use system that sets up fast and offers clear indications of critical issues in real time.
“The operators on the press have very limited time to set-up and deal with inspection,” Yogev says. “They need to attend to a printing press running and producing at very high speeds. The system needs to provide clear alerts in real time and point to the source of the defect in order to resolve issues as soon as possible and mark the wasted segment for removal.”
Additionally, setting up inspection and quality standards are essential in order to get the required results. Due to variances in operator knowledge and experience, the new generation of inspection systems need to be very easy to learn and use, Yogev says. This includes identifying all necessary data: complete statistics of roll quality, exact location of all defects, high resolution images of the defects, size and contrast and information on color variations, barcodes, and other features on the package.
Yogev suggests finding an inspection system from an experienced company that can provide positive customer references. Strong local and responsive service is also a key.
“You are buying a system that needs to serve you 24/7 for the next few years,” Yogev points out. “Make sure you have the best support.”
The ability to upgrade the system is also important, Yogev says. Any inspection system a company considers should have the ability to upgrade features to meet future needs.
Yogev suggests that printers consider where their business will be in the next three to five years when making a decision on purchasing an inspection system. He adds that buyers need to find a vendor that will be able to support any future expansion including adding new locations, increasing the number of manufacturing lines, introducing a variety of new applications, and potential workflow automation upgrades.
Companies should also think about the best location to install an inspection system, including how it will fit into the current production workflow, he adds.
“Do I need it to control my process, quality control, or both?,” Yogev says. “How does it affect my decision on what to buy and where to install?”
Eying the future, vendors agree that the next wave of inspection systems need to have Industry 4.0 connectivity and automation, with a focus on shorter runs, reduced waste, and greater efficiency. Sustainability and environmental accountability will also play a role, as will additional food regulations and customer usability concerns.
Du Mez, of Baldwin, adds that based on current industry trends, his company has focused research and development efforts on more efficient, accurate, data-connected inspection workflows.
“We’ve developed new technologies that enable press managers to monitor changes as they happen, and make highly informed decisions about print quality, defect management, and even operator-to-operator performance,” he says. “We’ve developed solutions that simultaneously collect data for multiple presses, jobs, and even across multiple plants to meet the challenges of increasingly sophisticated packaging techniques.”