Welcome to the Small Ball Era of Marketing



By Bruce Levinson, Vice President, Client Engagement, SGK


Baseball gurus refer to the term “small ball” as a way of manufacturing runs by executing a series of well-timed plays. It might start, for example, with a leadoff walk that creates the opportunity to steal second base, setting up a sacrifice bunt situation. This approach is in contrast to relying on the “long ball” – basically swinging for the fences each time at bat. I mention this not only because the new baseball season is upon us, but also because it provides a cogent analogy to the way smart brands are winning in the rapidly changing marketplace today.

Brand management is evolving from an annual plan consisting of a few, often well-funded, major events (the long ball) to the more agile management of a stream of activity that is constantly reviewed, evolved and resourced to the degree of opportunity. Both resources and risk are dynamically allocated. Budgets are more fluid and decisions made in real time, not solely as part of an annual exercise.

This is, in effect, small ball marketing and there are important ramifications for brand managers looking for an edge. Small ball marketing tools certainly include social media both for listening to and for engaging with consumers of their brands and categories. Brands must connect with consumers on an emotional level to forge any meaningful relationship. This entails being part of their lives, part of the conversation that most likely isn’t focused on your brand’s features and benefits. It might be about a common belief, value or purpose that your brand can credibly support, demonstrate or contribute to. Generally this purpose is well-known and thoughtfully planned, however the best opportunities to engage are very often spontaneous.

A timely tweet with a meaningful message can be just as effective as a lavish ad campaign; especially one focused on the conversation as it is stood at the time the agency was briefed. Agile brand management goes beyond social listening and timely tweeting. It is also about finding new ways to capitalize on opportunities as they arise. This applies equally to brand communication as it does brand innovation.

Brands are finding competitive advantage in their ability to launch a new product in less time than a competitor. Two companies may have the identical insight or discover the same trend, but one company will better able to deliver on it. This is partly due to a more flexible supply chain and partly due to a mindset of corporate culture that rewards opportunistic marketing.

Two technological drivers are breaking down conventional models of agile opportunistic marketing: e-commerce and digital printing. Volumes have been written about the former, which is changing so much about the marketing landscape, but the area I want to highlight here is the ability for a brands to do three things: (1) carry less inventory; (2) lower their volume hurdle rates; and (3) rollout innovation faster, without awaiting the next shelf reset. These three things combine to effectively redefine a marketing organization’s need for scale and its evaluation of risk. There will be internal hurdles of course because resources are finite, however there is much greater flexibility today as a result of e-commerce.

Digital printing is on the verge of having a similar step-change impact on speed to market. What has for years been a pragmatic solution for quick-turnaround sales samples or other very limited production requirements is becoming increasingly viable for smaller scale production. Digital printing is beginning to change the way companies approach promotional packaging and could enable regionally specific packaging, retailer-specific items, and even consumer customized packaging.

Digital printing is a game changer because it gives brands a fast and efficient way to produce limited runs of unique, promotional, or opportunistic packaging graphics. Whereas conventional printing requires color separations and producing plates or cylinders, digital printing can be turned around quickly and inexpensively so long as the print runs stay below an ever-changing volume threshold and within the parameters of the press, substrates and form-factors.

What’s more, the combination of digital printing plus e-commerce provides the flexibility to, for example, sell a small volume of product to a concentrated, highly loyal fan base that would never be sufficient to meet the hurdles of the physical shelf. These are precisely the small-ball opportunities that large CPGs typically take a pass on, but no longer have to. Today a new model is emerging: one where innovation is brought to market at the point of opportunity, rather than limited to traditional retail or supply chain constraints.

Bruce_Levinson_2011About the Author:
Bruce is Vice President, Client Engagement at SGK, a leading brand development, activation and deployment provider that drives brand performance. Bruce is a passionate architect of brand strategy and is highly experienced in translating consumer insights and client needs. His experience helps clients meet market and regulatory demands while driving brand initiatives domestically and internationally. His previous positions include director-level marketing roles at Unilever in the US and UK, and as an advertising account executive. http://www.sgkinc.com

Bruce Levinson <bruce.levinson@sgkinc.com>
Twitter: @SGKInc (https://twitter.com/SGKInc)
Website: http://www.sgkinc.com
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/levinsonbruce

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Printing Corrugated Without Pressure



By Tom Kerchiss, RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd


Packaging designers and converters regularly need to pull more than a few white rabbits out of the hat if they want to keep consumers not only noticing their clients’ products but also purchasing them. A holistic approach is necessary, designers, marketing teams and packaging technologists must come up with a winning formula time after time after time and before any novelty value wears off and the consumers move on to something else. A winning packaging concept is made up of many elements but always includes the form in which the packaging will take (pouch, box, paperboard sleeve, etc.,), functionality and image/appearance. – Never forgetting what is creatively or physically possible given the chosen substrate and the print and production processes chosen.

Colour is a crucial factor; serving first and foremost as a brand recognition marker for the consumer but colour also provides an objective indicator of what to expect and how we perceive the world around us.

Colour and its appearance varies according to factors such as light but also the substrates involved.

In direct printed corrugated applications the substrate plays a major role in dictating how the ink is going to appear on the finished job. Absorption and surface tension are the two main factors that influence print density, drying, trapping, and dot gain.

When providing a customer with a colour match, it is important to use the same substrate as will eventually be printed on. Printing one colour on Kraft, mottled or even clay-coated sheets that have the same surface appearance will yield a wide range of shades from the same colour. The reason for this is that the sheets with a high level of absorption produce a weaker colour due to the ink being absorbed into the substrate; those sheets with a lower absorption however will produce stronger colours, and if clay-coated sheets are used the ink will not penetrate the surface. Surface tension therefore plays a role in determining colour strength.

When printing on clay-coated board, insufficient coverage or poor trapping may well be associated with poor adhesion, due to the materials in the ink having a combined surface tension that is higher than that of the substrate. This produces a cohesive effect, causing inks to shy away from some areas of the substrate surface and produce an uneven appearance to the final print. Inks with a higher level of polymeric additives, and incorporating water can be used with great effect; in this instance; the water is often added at the press side to reduce viscosity for faster drying and faster press speeds. Care has to be taken though as too much water causes an imbalance in the ink, reducing the rub resistance and gloss characteristics. A diluting vehicle can be used to maintain ink balance.

The rub resistance that printed ink exhibits has to be modified in some instances. For example, Kraft, mottled and bleach board tends to show more rub than a clay-coated board. Rub resistance is adjusted with waxes and specific polymers; colour communication devices are ideal for monitoring results as well as for product development (inks, adhesives, varnish, etc.). The FlexiProof designed and developed by RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd can be used for conducting tests associated with rub, wear resistance, scratch resistance, gloss and other parameters.

On a clay-coated board the ink supplier needs to be aware if the board is going to be overprinted with a varnish. Usually, complex graphic printing is undertaken on clay-coated board with the varnish added to serve barrier and gloss purposes. In this instance it would be counterproductive to add a wax additive, which would not only reduce the gloss but cause problems with solid over solid trapping.

The pH of inks used for graphic printing on clay-coated board is generally higher than for Kraft board. This is because the inks that print on clay-coated board incorporate more polymer and have a carefully balanced level of water. The higher pH helps to stabilize the ink, makes it stay open and slows the drying of the ink on the printing die. A lower pH range is advisable for Kraft type boards because these are generally printed at faster speeds and quick drying is necessary. Adjustment of pH is usually done with amines or ammonia. The former is more stable, while the latter poses health risks, requires more attention and leads to faster drying.

Irrespective of the method the ink pH must be checked occasionally to prevent changes caused by evaporation. PH stable ink is the best option, requiring less attention.

The printing of corrugated board, in this instance post printing is subject to many processing variables, striping being one of them. Striping is print density and/or print gloss variations that appears as stripes on the printed liner parallel to the flutes of the corrugated medium. These print density variations are caused by the printing pressure inconsistencies associated with the board, while the print gloss variations are caused by surface distortion of the corrugated board, such as wash boarding.

Whether direct printing, printing on linerboard, etc., flexography is often the dominant print process and as already indicated process inconsistencies

affect colour quality and result in excessive waste, machine downtime and rejects. Colour communication devices and other product monitoring tools are now common in many production environments and play an important role in maintaining commercial and product viability.

About RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd

RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd are headquartered in the United Kingdom but their colour communication and print/coat/laminate product development and quality control systems are sold worldwide. Further information is available by visiting www.rkprint.com

An advantage of devices such as the FlexiProof, the Control Coater or K Printing Proofer or any one of the many other colour communication devices developed and manufactured by RK Print Coat Instruments is that can and are used by everyone involved in supply chain from ink manufacturer to substrate producer to printer/converters, etc. This makes for greater collaboration; highlights problems quicker and speeds process solutions.

The FlexiProof 100, the FlexiProof UV and FlexiProof UV/LED can be used for a wide variety of purposes. They enable users to colour match off-press resolving ink and other related issues, easily and quickly – reducing on-press waste and providing savings in other areas such as time, energy costs, press downtime, etc. They can be used to determine printability – gloss, flexibility durability and rub resistance, prior to full-scale production. How inks/substrates interact can be determined while users can trial new or unfamiliar materials on the FlexiProof rather than tying up an income generating production press.

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Branding By Numbers: Making A Case For Colour KPIs

By Paul Haggett, Business Development Manager, Schawk

In the production of graphics for branded materials, whether it’s printed packaging, a label or even something as simple as a shipper, errors and inefficiencies always have root causes.

As in many other areas of business management, key performance indicators (KPIs) are great at helping us locate and identify the root causes of errors and inefficiencies, and provide us with the facts needed to correct them.

KPIs can also go further to foster collaborative dialogue and analysis amongst all stakeholders in the graphics supply chain, be they designers, production agencies, print vendors and of course brand owners themselves.

Ask the right questions.
When it comes to the production of branded materials, the key questions are what are the right KPIs and how can we implement and act on them? Surprisingly, many stakeholders in the graphic supply chain are not clear on these answers.

Set benchmarks.
As is the case with many things in business and in life, the old adage, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” applies here. So the first step is agreeing to a set of relevant benchmarks to measure against. When it comes to branded materials, outside of the actual packaging material or substrate, you can measure two crucial elements: content and colour.

Establishing KPIs for colour:
Defining KPIs for the capture and use of content, the actual pack copy and regulatory data itself, is a task for another article. Here we are going to concentrate on how setting KPIs for colour can deliver significant benefits to all stakeholders in the graphics supply chain – in particular the brand owner.

From the outset, it is crucial there is collaboration between all those involved. Arbitrary setting of colour KPIs by a design agency or a graphic production/pre-press agency will only cause angst for a printer. Likewise, applying colour KPIs defined by a gravure printer who prints on gloss while films to a litho printer whose common substrate is recycled board will be a waste of time.

The point here, is that engaging the relevant stakeholders at the outset helps to set realistic expectations for all concerned. Benchmarks are established, and if required, boundaries can be pushed.

A collaborative graphic production partner who can coordinate with all relevant print suppliers and the chosen creative agency can best achieve this task. Visibility of the entire project and accountability through defined KPIs ensures a consistent outcome of all branded materials, regardless of the printer’s geographic location. With sufficient preparation, costly and time-consuming press passes can be a thing of the past.

That’s where platforms like ColorDrive come in. With ColorDrive, the industry’s first and only supply chain-focused, cloud-based print quality management platform, stakeholders can monitor print quality parameters globally, in real time, and make calls on colour adjustments with greater confidence.

To learn how to improve print outcomes for all your branded materials and preserve brand equity download Schawk’s ColorDrive brochure.

Paul_HaggettAbout the Author:
Paul Haggett is business development manager in Australia and New Zealand with Schawk. Schawk produces brand assets and protects brand equities to drive brand profitability.

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Filed under Branding, Packaging

Strengthen Brand Equity Through Transparent Label Communications


By Bruce Levinson
Vice President, Client Engagement, SGK


The need for clarity is driving current EU and pending U.S. FDA regulations for more detailed and prominent label nutrition information. Clarity will help ensure that food is safe and make recalls – when they happen – faster and more effective. But perhaps even more important, more detailed and readable labels will help consumers make more informed decisions about products they buy and use. And this is just part of a bigger story about the consumer/brand relationship.

Consumers today are putting unprecedented pressure on brands and manufacturers through their ability to collect, compare and demand information, especially about the foods they eat. Brands and manufacturers must embrace this to sustain their own businesses. Smart companies are already reconsidering their own labeling philosophies and communications habits to better address consumer desire for honest and clear nutrition information – in advance of the pending government regulations.

Even before the current focus on label information, certain food categories had cultivated information-based relationships with their customers that show the inherent power of clarity.

Coffee is a perfect example. It’s not just the vast choices available to-go or for home brewing. Thanks to extensive information at coffee shops, on packages and online, we can develop and cultivate our own tastes. We can scrutinize caffeine content or country of origin, whether the bean is organically grown or ethically sourced. Starbucks has built its reputation on making the consumer a partner in this information. It does an excellent job of delivering the same “information experience” in every shopper context – and it now has more than 37 million “likes” on Facebook.

You could call this the “gourmet-ification” of food and beverages – in which categories that had a strong commodity component become more nuanced, differentiated and profitable. We’ve seen similar trends in beer, juice, water and yogurt. But it goes further than the taste and cachet. Consumers are now deeply informed on health. For example, gluten-free was a concern of a relatively small group of people ten years ago. Today, information on the subject is abundant, and the U.S. market for gluten-free food was estimated as high as $10.5 billion in 2013, reaching $15.6 billion in 2016.[i]

In the same vein, marketers can expect consumers to grow more aware that “Made With Whole Grains” is not the same as “100% Whole Wheat.” And you can expect more shoppers to buy not just on the basis of what isn’t in a product (looking for “0%” on the nutrition label) but of what IS in the product. In this regard a number of recent brands of natural juices and granola bars are simply stating their ingredients – often a list of a few whole foods we all recognize – in plain view and in stark contrast to processed brands.

The lesson is that successful brands are “out in front of” evolving government regulations, not looking for ways to skirt or challenge them. Early in 2014, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case involving a major global beverage manufacturer made it clear: even though a product meets FDA regulations for categorization, it can still be held as misleading consumers.

And the court of consumer opinion can dish out even harsher sentences, because they involve earning back trust. So the implication is clear: government regulations are, in some ways, the low bar – not the high bar – for accuracy and legality.

But by the same token, regulations don’t represent or create a demand where it doesn’t exist. It’s possible to be out in front of regulations but also too far out in front of consumer interest and demand.

For example, in the 1990s, numerous state governments set emission standards in a way that would encourage electric cars. But it wasn’t until Toyota made the Prius, fifteen years later, that a critical mass of consumers meshed with a product they could really embrace.

Prius has had commercial success not because the government said it would, but because Toyota built something that catered effectively to a need. And Tesla is perhaps an even more relevant example today. It’s the fastest growing car company in the world.

The examples offered all point to some important truths: The public and their governments are paying more attention to labels, and governments are becoming more regulatory where consumer products are concerned. But wise brands don’t mistake regulations for marketing plans or messaging strategies. Instead, regulations are merely a springboard toward clarity, transparency and a more profitable relationship for both the consumer and the brand.

If you would like additional information or resources regarding the impending label change, please visit Schawk’s Label Central for up-to-date news and insights.

Bruce_Levinson_2011About the Author:
Bruce Levinson is Vice President, Client Engagement at SGK, a leading brand development, activation and deployment company that drives brand performance. Bruce is a passionate architect of brand strategy and is highly experienced in translating consumer insights and client needs. His experience helps clients meet market and regulatory demands while driving brand initiatives domestically and internationally. His previous positions include director-level marketing roles at Unilever in the US and UK, and as an advertising account executive. http://www.sgkinc.com

[i] http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Markets/What-s-the-size-of-the-US-gluten-free-prize-490m-5bn-or-10bn



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Filed under Branding, Labels, Packaging, Printing

Dr. John Writes: A Blast from the Past – Flexo Print Fault Guides from the ’90s



During a recent ‘de-clutter’ session at home I came across my 1998 box of materials from the EFTA in England, and took a quick trip down memory lane with a printed copy of the “Typical Flexo Print Faults” guide from Sun Chemical. As I thumbed through it I was amazed at just how BAD the issues looked when viewed through ‘today’s eyes’. I know the guide contained truly bad cases for each defect to make sure the fault was visible, but to some degree these really were daily occurrences back then. It struck me how few of these we see today, and if we do see them, how they are never present to that degree.

The list of “Typical” Flexo Print Faults In 1998 included:

  1. Poor Trap
  2. Ink Smearing / Dot Bridging
  3. Dirty Print / Fill In
  4. Mottled Print
  5. Print Striations
  6. Uneven Colors
  7. Poor Ink Coverage
  8. Pinholes or Fisheyes
  9. Washboard Print
  10. Dark or Dirty Print Color
  11. Ink Foaming
  12. Weak Print Color
  13. Inconsistent Print Color
  14. Dirty Print / Halos
  15. Dirty Print / Feathering

 What’s with all the Dirty Print?

Did you notice that 5 of the 15 print faults involved the words “Dirty Print”, and several of the others could easily be considered in that type of category? It’s sometimes easy to forget that only 15 or so years ago Flexo had a LOT of issues, struggling with lower quality and a highly inconsistent process.

What is also interesting is that the primary causes of these print faults were not due to a single factor; they were due to issues with the ink, anilox, ink supply, plate, doctor blade, operator, substrate, tape and press combined. The improvements that have been made since that time, and that give us the flexo performance we enjoy today, have truly been across the board – though it’s true to say that they don’t always happen in perfect synchronization.

When one supplier comes up with the latest major advance, it often takes time to completely step the industry forward, because no one component is independent of all the others. As an example, and one that’s close to my heart, when new significant improvements in plate capabilities are introduced, they are supported in implementation over the following years by continuous improvements in the ink, anilox, tapes and the press, until they all come together to unlock the true capabilities of the plate – and vice versa.

The Supermarket Test

It used to be that you could walk down the middle of any supermarket aisle, and a wide one at that, and you could spot the flexo printed products on the shelf from 5 feet away. The typical Flexo halo was often the first giveaway, but now that is very much the exception, and you need to get a lot closer than 5 feet to see it!

As an industry we should be PROUD of what we have done, as suppliers, printers, and service providers, we are now as good, and on most days better than the other print processes that we could only dream of matching back in 1998, on a wider range of inks and substrates than ever before. It’s why we mustn’t stop collectively educating our end users, especially those ones that have long memories, about the capabilities of 21st century flexo.

We’ve come a long way in the last 15-20 years – but it’s important to not become complacent and accept that even the Flexo we are printing today is “good enough”. There is always room for improvement and I know that I, for one, will not stop trying.  J

OK, back to those boxes…

Dr. John’s Contact Information:

John-Anderson-AugFor anyone who does want to email me, please use john.anderson3@kodak.com and please don’t miss out the number 3 in the address, or you will reach another John Anderson in Kodak manufacturing!

Have a wonderful day,
Dr. John, WW Business Development, Packaging, Kodak

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Anilox Roll Cleaning Essential to Effective Ink Delivery


by Flexo Concepts

Anilox_Cleaner_300X298You spend plenty of time selecting the correct anilox roll for a job. Careful consideration goes into line screen, cell geometry and cell volume in order to guarantee that a precise amount of ink or coating is delivered to the substrate. Aniox roll cleaning is essential to maintain this precision. If you neglect to clean your rolls on a regular basis, you will not get the most out of your anilox investment. Plugged cells will affect print quality and cause you frustration, waste and downtime. An anilox cleaning program consisting of daily, weekly and deep cleaning will preserve the integrity of the anilox engraving and ensure quality, press efficiency and longer anilox life.

When a newly engraved anilox roll arrives from the manufacturer, volume is even across and around the surface of the roll. As the roll is used, however, a residual amount of ink or coating material is left behind in the cells after the transfer has taken place. The residue dries and creates build-up in the cells.  Over time, these deposits decrease the capacity of the cells and reduce their ability to carry and release the volume of ink or coating for which they were designed. This residue also raises the surface tension, or dyne level, of the roll and increases the tendency of the coating to “cling” to the surface. When this occurs, the roll will not release the proper volume or ink or coating to the plate.

Benefits of regular anilox roll cleaning:

  • The repeated transfer of a precise volume of ink or coating
  • Consistent coverage
  • Reduced labor and less downtime
  • Fewer job rejections and waste
  • Longer anilox life and lower re-working costs

Flexo Concepts recommends a 3-step anilox roll cleaning program:

1. Daily wiping to prevent ink or coating build-up
Applying a liquid cleaning agent by hand and wiping down the roll with a clean, lint-free cloth on a daily basis is the simplest and most effective way to prevent keep ink and coating from drying and building up in the cells. As a basic rule of thumb, the best time to clean a roll is as soon as it is removed from the press. The longer inks, resins, adhesives, etc. have been allowed to sit in the engraving, the harder these materials are to remove. To maximize cleaning performance, choose a cleaner specifically formulated to remove water-based, UV or solvent-based chemistries based on your application.

2. Weekly scrubbing with a paste-like cleaner and an anilox cleaning brush
Manually scrubbing the roll once or twice a week with a brush and a paste or cream chemical cleaner will mechanically loosen and remove any ink or coating residue that remain in cells despite daily cleaning. The cleaner is applied to the roll, vigorously scrubbed in a circular motion with an anilox cleaning brush and flushed with water while the roll remains in the press. It is important to remember that stainless steel brushes are suitable only for ceramic anilox surfaces and brass bristles should be used for chrome surfaces to prevent damage to the engraving.

3. Monthly deep cleaning to remove tough ink or coating deposits
Over time a residual amount of ink or coating material is left behind in the cells and the roll requires a deep cleaning to remove these tough deposits. The most common methods of deep cleaning are chemical wash and ultrasonic. The roll is removed from the press and placed into a chemical bath where it soaks in a powerful cleaning solution before being subjected to a high pressure rinse or ultrasonic vibrations to loosen and dissolve the deposits. These methods vary in cleaning effectiveness, risk of damage to the roll, and water and chemical consumption.

Like on other parts of the press, a maintenance program for anilox rolls keeps the ink delivery system running at its peak. Regular anilox roll cleaning will prevent anilox cells from plugging with ink and coating residue and stop build-up before it dries. Maintaining anilox rolls through a regular cleaning program can pay off tremendously in terms of maximizing print quality, press efficiency and cost control.

Click here for more information on our anilox cleaning brushes

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Filed under Anilox Rolls, Cleaning, Printing

Viscosity & pH Control: Increasing Productivity Through Automation


Paul Lancelle, Technical Solutions Group, All Printing Resources, Inc.

Ongoing control of ink viscosity remains as, arguably, the most significant variable in the flexographic reproduction process. If it is not controlled continuously and closely, uniform ink coverage and accurate color match cannot be achieved. Given the costs of solvent and water-based inks, printing operations of any size can save significant costs by controlling ink viscosity.

A good incentive for increasing your understanding of viscosity is to keep in mind that improper viscosity can cost money: a shift of one second on a #2 Zahn Cup can result in 50% excess ink laydown. Improper or high and low “spikes” in ink viscosity also result in ongoing color management issues, as this same one second shift can result in a change in color measuring dE 2 or greater. Viscosity affects not only the hue and strength of the printed color, but impacts other print quality attributes including ink lay, dot gain and trapping. Additionally, performance properties such as coating weight, drying speed and solvent retention are all affected by ink viscosity.

For water-based ink applications, equally important is the ongoing monitoring of pH, due to the interrelationship that exists between pH and viscosity control. Water based inks rely on precise pH control to maintain resin solubility and stability. While manual monitoring remains the “least expensive” means of monitoring pH and viscosity throughout a print run, it is quite common for these methods to quickly turn into a “tail chasing the dog” scenario due to several difficult to control factors:

  • Inconsistent measurement practices between operators
  • Accuracy of efflux cup
  • Irregular timing between monitor checks
  • Disruptive solvent/amine mix “shock” (too much at once)
  • Pigment differences between inks
  • Varying solvent/amine evaporation points

Whether running water or solvent based ink systems, checking ink manually with a stop watch and measuring cup or automatically with an unreliable mechanical system simply does not meet the demands of today’s packaging buyer in terms of color consistency within a job and from one run to the next.

Of equal significance lies the point of ink temperature control. Temperature is a critical parameter in the printing process, and is very often underestimated. Ink temperature is affected not only by ambient environmental conditions, but by press speed and run length, as well. With the ongoing trend toward higher press speeds, ink temperature control has warranted a greater focus. As ink temperature rises, viscosity drops and evaporation rates increase, resulting in another critical balance point. By controlling the ink temperatures, significant ink and solvent savings can be realized and color stability will improve, as well.

Automated control systems were developed to overcome shortcomings and limitations of manually measuring viscosity and pH. Although automated systems have been available for many years, a better understanding of ink, the printing process and the influence of viscosity and pH on print quality have resulted in improved and more reliable systems. Most new presses sold today, particularly in the wide and mid-web segments, come equipped with varying types of advanced automated viscosity, pH and temperature control systems. It is of common industry agreement that ink viscosity should not vary by more than +/- 5% throughout a run… a standard that is difficult to achieve with manual measurement practices. Most of today’s automated systems feature even tighter tolerances than that. The benefits realized by the printing operation are numerous, but primarily include:

  • Ink and solvent savings-often estimated between 25-60%
  • Print quality and consistency through consistent color reproduction
  • Ink quality is maintained throughout a run
  • Maximized press operating speeds
  • Minimized waste
  • A permanent record for quality control purposes

For these reasons, it is well worth the consideration and investment in retrofitting older model presses with automated control systems. Print managers must select a viscometer/pH control system based on their production needs, and this is dependent upon numerous factors, including operator acceptance, consistent measurement and control, fit with existing equipment, expected cost savings, and maintenance and repair.

FIGURE A “Falling Body” Inline viscometers

“Falling Body” Inline viscometers

The traditional and prevalently common method of automated viscosity control in the printing industry has been with “falling body” technology. The basic concept is to measure the elapsed time required for a ball to fall, under gravity, through a sample-filled tube. The measurement is taken periodically and is not a continuous measurement. See Figure A.

More recently, the flexo print industry has been moving more towards the adoption of “vibrating rod” technology, which consists of a straight metal rod maintained in resonant vibration by a continuously applied power source. Installed in-line to the fluid flow, the sensor is between the ink pump and printing deck. Using the integrated computer, the viscometer emits sound waves in the ink-much like a musical “tuning fork. “A detection circuit then analyzes the changes in these waves caused by the tiniest of

FIGURE B VISCOWAVE Vibrating Rod in-line viscometer

VISCOWAVE Vibrating Rod in-line viscometer

variations in the ink viscosity. See Figure B.

The advantages demonstrated with “vibrating rod” technology, particularly when choosing the VISCOWAVE technology offered by New Celio Engineering, are multiple when compared to “falling body” methods. Demonstrated improvements can be seen from:

  • High accuracy rate
  • No moving parts=cleaning not required
  • Easy in-line installation
  • No maintenance
  • No wearing parts
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Full stainless steel construction

In addition, the VISCOWAVE comes with built-in temperature measurement and has options for controlling ink temperature to provide a “complete package” toward automated ink control.

Consideration of the added benefits recognized from the higher accuracy and dependability combined with reduced maintenance and cleaning may lead to printers with previously installed versions of automated viscosity control systems recognizing a significant ROI when upgrading to these newer technologies. The same concept holds true for automated pH control, as earlier systems were often found to be challenging to clean and maintain.

APR represents New Celio Engineering, offering a full line of viscosity, pH and temperature control systems, as well as heat exchangers, wash up systems, mixing stations, solvent and/or ink distribution lines. Customized turnkey solutions can also be provided. To learn mopre about the New Celio System, click here, or contact one of our Technical Specialists.

For more information, call us at 1-800-445-4017, or fill out the Information Request Form.

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Filed under Ink, Printing, Viscosity

Polyester Containment Blades Win over Steel



Polyester_coil_knockout_300x135For such a seemingly insignificant part of the press, the containment blade’s job is an important one.  After all, it is a fundamental component of the doctor blade chamber.  By forming an enclosed system, the containment blade plays a key role in allowing the printer to maintain ink viscosity, minimize skimming, lower ink consumption and simplify cleanup.

In wide web applications, choosing polyester containment blades over steel is a smart way to save money, improve safety and reduce your environmental impact.  Unlike the metering blade, which has a direct impact on print quality, the containment blade only has to contain ink in the chamber.  This gives a printer more options to choose from with regard to blade materials.  Learn why polyester is a superior choice over steel.

Top 5 reasons to switch to polyester containment blades:

  1. Trail doctoring – Some printers experience trail doctoring at higher press speeds when using steel containment blades. Steel blades are too stiff to allow back-doctored ink to pass underneath the blade and back into the chamber.  Ink builds up on the back side of the blade, pools at the end of the chamber and eventually slings onto the press and web.  This situation not only creates a mess but also affects print quality.  Printers can eliminate trail doctoring by using polyester containment blades.  This material is equally effective at containing ink in the chamber but thin and flexible enough to let back-doctored ink return to the chamber.
  2. Cost – Polyester containment blades cost substantially less than steel blades. The price per inch for polyester typically ranges from one-third to one-half that of steel.
  3. Safety – By replacing one of the steel doctor blades in a chamber with polyester, you can reduce your risk of doctor blade injuries by 50%. Unlike steel, polyester blades are safer to handle than steel and won’t cut press operators when they are installing and removing them from the press.
  4. Environmental impact – During production, polyester blades emit a small percentage of carbon dioxide compared to steel blades. Using polyester containment blades can help printers meet requirements for reducing their carbon footprint.
  5. Anilox damage – Polyester containment blades will not score or damage anilox rolls. The material is soft and contains no sharp fragments which can break off, become lodged against the roll and destroy the engraving as the roll turns.  The material is non-abrasive and won’t cause excessive wear on the roll.  Replacing or re-engraving anilox rolls is expensive, so extending their life can be a huge cost savings.

Printers are always looking for ways to improve efficiency and save money.  Why not choose a containment blade that not only costs less but also has additional pressroom benefits?  Polyester containment blades offer a less expensive and safer alternative to steel that also reduces trail doctoring and environmental impact.  It’s amazing how such a small change can make such a big difference!

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6 Ways to Get Your Branded Materials to Market Faster

sgk_logo_pmsBy Jesse Moen, Director, Continuous Improvement Practice, SGK

Getting packaging, promotional, digital, and other branded materials to market quickly can feel overwhelming.

As organizations grow, additional layers of approvers and stakeholders become involved in the supply chain, accountability becomes decentralized and ambiguous, and workflows do not evolve quickly enough to accommodate the larger scale of work required.

What should be a relatively straightforward process becomes bogged down in a complex and time-consuming web of competing agendas, obsolete policies, and siloed communications. For example, some Fortune 100 clients require a four-month lead-time for FSIs and a six-month (or more!) lead-time to redesign a package. While these may be outliers, they are representative of the types of problems many organizations face, and they prove that agility and responsiveness are critical to achieving topline growth.

To become more nimble, marketing organizations need to think “lean” and remove non-value-adding tasks from their branded material supply chains.

Here are six proven practices:

1. Validate your inputs. While this may be considered a no-brainer, most organizations struggle with input validation because it’s actually pretty hard. Design managers, production managers, and agency PMs are under enormous pressure from Brand and Sales to “just go.” Projects are kicked off without briefs, die lines, approved claims, or formulas. While this “fix-it-later” mentality may work anecdotally at the enterprise level, it drives multiple rounds of time-consuming revisions into both the creative and production processes. This habit is the primary root cause of design and production revisions. Strong discipline and leadership are required to break it.

Once this practice has been abandoned, it’s time to organize. Sit down with your agency/production partners to logically categorize all the inputs required to create/produce your materials. Choose a taxonomy that makes sense for your organization. Then organize the information into a standardized form. This can be as simple as a spreadsheet or as advanced as a database. If you go the database route, you can begin experimenting with linking the data directly to artwork.

The difference between organizations who do this well and those who struggle is striking. Organizations who have stringent validation procedures in their packaging workflows see upwards of 85 percent of all packaging changes approved within two cycles or fewer.

Organizations with poor validation procedures perform much worse, with only 60 percent of changes approved in two cycles or fewer. This 25-percentage-point difference can translate into thousands of hours of lost workforce capacity, weeks added to each project, and significant change fees from agencies and production partners.

2. Streamline your routing and approval process. Assuming you have a formal routing and approval process, dig in and question why so many people need to approve your packaging and promotional materials. The more people involved in approving work, the greater the drain on your organization and your marketplace agility.

Approvals are a hot-button issue within any content-rich organization. There are often competing internal agendas demanding involvement in approvals, but there is often just as much support for improving this process. To do so, look for opportunities to take people out of the approval cycle, to establish parallel path approvers, and to create simplified processes for simple deliverables.

Streamlining this process can make a significant impact on cycle times. For one CPG, the number of approvers required across all packaging and promotions routing and approval workflows was reduced by 67 percent. This equated to 4,000 hours of annual labor savings and reduced average routing cycle times by over a week.

3. Eliminate redundancies. Analyze the duties and tasks performed by your marketers, marketing communications staff, and agency/production partners. Look for redundancies in project management, approval processes, and meeting attendance. You’re apt to discover that many of the redundancies will be tactical tasks; while each task may only take a few minutes, adding them up annually over thousands of packaging changes, promotional materials, etc. amounts to a significant loss of time and energy.

For example, an analysis of the duties and tasks performed by junior marketers and marketing communications staff at one CPG revealed task redundancies in the initiation and management of packaging projects. Post implementation surveys revealed a 15 percent capacity increase within the junior marketer role once these redundancies were addressed. 

4. Focus resources and time on what’s most important. Evaluate your mix of marketing materials and decide which consumer touchpoints are critical to your growth. Then critically evaluate all workflows that support the less critical touchpoints. Media that are not delivering should require little to no attention from marketing leadership in a$1B+ organization. Relentlessly pursuing this philosophy will free up staff to execute more efficiently on high-value activities.

A major CPG did just this and removed all tasks related to design initiation, review, and approval processes for FSIs from their Marketing team. Across all divisions, this freed up a collective day and a half of weekly status, review, and kickoff meetings.

5. Go digital. Requesting and trafficking files on CDs and printouts is the antithesis of a “lean” process. They need to be shipped, stored, and managed, and they can’t be indexed for searching on your computer. An all-digital workflow empowers your organization, driving speed, efficiency, and accuracy throughout the enterprise—a velocity that can provide a competitive difference.

For example, a client had been requesting disks and three sets of printouts for all of their final artwork files. These assets were then stored and scattered across expensive office space in midtown Manhattan. After working through the perceived needs of the organization, we helped establish a workflow and file management strategy to completely eliminate all of the disks and printouts. Doing so saved the organization thousands of dollars in shipping/courier fees, cleared up valuable office space, and mitigated the need to organize and store thousands of files annually.

6. Remove communication roadblocks. It’s a common occurrence: agency and production partners are often frustrated by the excessive communication pass-throughs by clients and the red tape around information required to create their branded materials. But trusting your partners and enabling them to communicate deeper into your organization provides them with a roadmap for information. Empower them to initiate approval routes inside your online approval tool. If you have serious reservations about this, spend a few minutes evaluating your concerns to understand if they are related to control, partner ability, or something else. The idea is to remove obstacles and simplify for speed.

To that end, the solution could be as simple as assigning multiple points of contact based on areas of expertise within your organization. One consumer promotions agency was required by a CPG to leverage a single point of contact within the CPG’s brand design group to field all questions and requests. While this strategy was intended to ensure brand consistency across marketing media, it was inadvertently tripling the number of queues within the workflow for tactical requests. Eventually, the agency was provided key contacts within the CPG organization for tactical requests, such as die lines, bar codes, legal copy, and offer codes. This simple empowerment eliminated two workflow queues as well as the redundant communication management performed by the brand design manager and agency project manager.

The speed at which branded materials are created and deployed can drive increased sales, enable organizations to respond to quick-turn opportunities with key retail partners, and free up resources to put against growth objectives. The increased productivity that optimization offers can drive your brand’s performance by delivering it to market more quickly, more efficiently, and more cost effectively. The successful implementation of the strategies outlined above will help your organization cut non-value-added time and energy from your branded material supply chains and streamline your processes.

About the Author: 


Jesse Moen brings 10+ years of expertise in brand development/deployment and in the practice of continuous improvement. He is the driving force behind the success of the SGK Continuous Improvement Practice (CIP) and has strategically led initiatives with CPGs and retailers such as Campbell’s, Dial, Diamond Foods, General Mills, Logitech, Merck, Proctor & Gamble, 3M, Safeway, and Titleist. Jesse earned a MA from the University of California, Berkeley and holds a Lean/Six Sigma Black Belt from the University of St. Thomas.

http://www.sgkinc.com | Jesse.Moen@sgkinc.com

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Are you experiencing Pin-holing and Production Pitfalls? – Part 2



In the previous Part I of this blog http://www.flexoglobal.com/blog/, I talked about the ink transfer process in flexographic printing and how it can introduce the problem knows as pin-holing. Over the years, manufacturers have tried to solve the problem in various ways with limited success. Likewise, flexo printers have tried to compensate for the pin-holes by applying more ink to the job, and more pressure on press, but that only drives up costs and introduces other complications.

The best way to solve the problem is to use a specific imager technology to apply a texture pattern on the surface of the plate that breaks up the surface patterns from the anilox roll. By breaking up the anilox pattern, it breaks up the pin-hole pattern, and significantly improves the ink transfer. As I noted in my last installment, that solution exists today and has been driving improved quality in flexo around the world.

Kodak’s innovative, award-winning KODAK DIGICAP NX Patterning is a standard component of the KODAK FLEXCEL NX System designed to address these ink challenges in flexo—specifically solid ink densities compared to gravure printing. Enabled by KODAK SQUARESPOT Imaging Technology, unique to the FLEXCEL NX System, the function of DIGICAP NX Patterning is to image a unique pattern into the surface of the plate.

Compared to traditional surface patterning technologies, DIGICAP NX Patterning is significantly smaller and finer. It is a true micro surface texturization of the plate surface, applied to the 1-bit TIFF in the RIPing process, and utilizing half-pixel imaging at 10.6 x 5.3 microns size, or 2400 x 4800 dpi.

With the ability to create unique patterns in the surface of the plate that overcome production challenges with heavy solid areas, or the application of white ink for flexible packaging, users are seeing dramatic quality improvements. Because of the improved ink transfer, printers are able to more easily achieve their target densities and eliminate the need to chase density with more ink, more pigment, and more pressure. For flexo printers, the result is greater color gamuts, cleaner brighter colors, better print quality, higher print speeds, and greater consistency.

Why are color gamuts improved with this solution? Because the solids are clean rather than being pin-holed, which results in light and dark variation in the colors, often the cause of the term “muddy” colors associated with Flexo. Also, when overprinting to build colors such as in 4- or 7-color process, the results are cleaner and brighter. Having the ability to build cleaner and brighter colors enables flexo printers to do more of their work with process printing instead of having to rely on more expensive spot colors. It also improves the printer’s ability to standardize ink sets, whether for 4- or 7-color process printing.

DIGICAP NX Patterning has been one of the lead technologies in the “flexo revolution” over the last five years, truly allowing printers to achieve the densities of gravure printing, and helping to stop the chase for density caused by excessive pin-holing with traditional flexo. It has been a key enabler in brand owners increasingly accepting that flexo is no longer a second-class print process, easing the transition from offset and rotogravure to flexo.

Innovation in flexo is an ongoing process, and one in which Kodak maintains a passionate commitment. R&D teams continue to explore additional areas where differentiated plate imaging technology can further increase print quality and reduce or eliminate production obstacles. As we look to the future, Kodak technologies such as DIGICAP NX Patterning, SQUARESPOT Imaging Technology, and KODAK HYPERFLEX Imaging Software will provide the foundation for technical advancements in flexo.
Printers are certainly benefiting from these innovative imaging technologies, but they are not the only ones. Brand owners are constantly looking for ways to design packages that catch the eye of the consumer and set their products apart from the competition. Print quality, color vibrancy, and reproduction accuracy are top of mind for marketers—it’s the job of the printer to make it happen and to keep costs in line.

Dr. John’s Contact Information:

John-Anderson-AugFor anyone who does want to email me, please use john.anderson3@kodak.com and please don’t miss out the number 3 in the address, or you will reach another John Anderson in Kodak manufacturing!

Have a wonderful day,
Dr. John

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