The Value of Fixed Colour Palette Printing




by Dr. Dieter Niederstadt, Technical Marketing Manager Asahi Photoproducts




Anytime colour experts gather, you can be sure a topic of discussion is fixed colour palette printing, also referred to as Extended Colour Gamut printing. This process replaces the need for spot colour inks by using a fixed ink set, typically CMYK or CMYK/OGV.  The 7-colour process enables achievement of more than 90% of the Pantone colours.

Belarus-based Uniflex has been on its fixed colour palette printing for eight years, and sees it as the next milestone in quality and efficiency for flexographic printing. The company worked to assemble a suite of industry-leading solutions to position Uniflex in the forefront of modern printing techniques to better serve its existing customer base and to expand its global footprint.

“The decision to use fixed colour palette printing was not taken lightly,” Eugen Lungin, Production Manager of Uniflex said. “It required many changes in both our equipment and our staff. We tested many different types of polymers, inks, mounting tapes, plates, platesetters and prepress solutions in order to come to the best possible configuration. Our implementation process, which took about 1.5 years, also required proper training of our prepress engineers, press engineers, technologists and ink technologists. We also significantly changed our quality control processes. Asahi was a key partner in this journey.”

fixed colour palette printingUniflex chose to use Asahi’s AFPTM-TOP and AWPTM flexographic plates with Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer, finding them to be the ideal plate choice for this new production methodology. “Our customers have strict requirements relative to the quality of their printing,” added Lungin. “We are always striving to take advantage of the latest innovations in flexography in order to meet and exceed customer expectations, and fixed colour palette printing is definitely one of those innovations. High quality, eye-catching, yet functional packaging is what our brand owners are looking for, and plates from Asahi Photoproducts are a vital enabler for us to achieve that and more. We began our fixed colour palette printing journey with Asahi’s AFPTM-TOP plates after a thorough market review, and found they had the best and most consistent ink transfer from start to finish during production runs. We subsequently added AWPTM water-washable plates to take advantage of their precise plate-to-plate register, fast platemaking time and environmental benefits to round out our plate portfolio, for the best of all worlds in fixed colour palette flexographic printing. We are now able to achieve quality at up to 200 lines per inch.”

Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer is a unique plate technology specifically engineered to transfer all remaining ink to the print substrate due to the photopolymer plates having a lower surface energy than other plates on the market. It is an ideal technology for fixed colour palette printing. Not only does this deliver stunning graphical quality, but it also improves overall production efficiencies due to reduced make-ready waste and fewer press wash-ups. In fact, independent testing reflects that Asahi plates with Pinning Technology for Clean Transfer deliver at least a 26% improvement in Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE).

To learn more about the Uniflex journey and the cost, quality and productivity benefits the company achieved, read the full story here available in 9 languages.

About the Author:

Dieter_Niederstadt2Dr. Dieter Niederstadt, Technical Marketing Manager Asahi Photoproducts, is married with two children and has 28 year’s experience in the printing industry. In 1986, he started his career with an apprenticeship as a phototypesetter in an offset repro house in Dortmund Germany. In 1992, he began study at the University of Wuppertal/Germany print engineering and continuation at Watford College/UK with a B.Sc. (hones) degree in Graphic Media Study. He completed an M.Phil./PhD  in relation to screening technologies applied to flexographic printing at the University of Hertfordshire/UK in 1999.

From 1999-2003, Dieter worked at BASF Printing systems in Germany in the department of applied flexo plate technologies of which 1.5 years was spent with BASF printing systems in South America as a regional technical manager for photopolymer plates. Since 2003, he has worked for Asahi Photoproducts (Europe), and from 2014 in charge as a Technical Marketing Manager. He is a member of the FTA and DFTA, and a past forum speaker and participant in various association working groups.

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2017 Trends for Printing, Packaging & Graphic Design

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by Ray Cheydeur, Printing and Imaging Product Portfolio Manager

It’s now time to look into my crystal ball and see what printing trends converters, commercial printers and graphic designers should be following in the next 12 – 18 months.

Extended/Expanded Gamut

2017 could be the year where extended gamut printing really breaks out. This year both industry professionals and standards organizations have been taking a look at printing beyond traditional 12647-2, FOGRA 51, and GRACoL CMYK print processes. Idealliance is now recognizing XCMYK as a first start method for a litho printer to step into a larger gamut using higher ink loads. Energized by the release of the PANTONE Extended Gamut Guide, we see lots of testing of CMYK/OGV printing, showing both its promise for the designer in predicting a match and for the printer in extending gamut; as well as the tendency of this process to decrease variations over the print run. Since printing is accomplished with a fixed set of inks, it also offers production efficiencies, reducing the need for spot color inks and press wash-up between jobs, and offering less waste and press downtime. Our recent blog explains more.

Trends for Printing

Proofing Refined

Dare I say it? This may be the year where proofing of high OBA press stock is finally no longer a challenge! Most of the tools have been in place for a while (M1 for instruments, new definitions for viewing booths, characterization data sets ISO, Idealliance and FOGRA), but at least one element has been elusive: good brightened proofing stock that was also stable. This year these have started to emerge, and many organizations and consultants have proven that the combination of a whole system provides high quality proof-to-print matches without compromises.

Strategic Print 4.0

… or perhaps better titled “Collision of High Speed Digital and Traditional Offset.” At drupa 2016, we saw a raft of new high speed digital presses, all with either inline or near-line integrated color control systems. Maybe not as noticed, but equally important for existing printers, were the retrofits for existing analog and digital presses offering complete color control and direct press closed loop control in new near-line solutions. Either path offers the savvy printer a strategic path to “Print 4.0” to bring further automation to the print process.

Print Redefined

The expansion of print to non-traditional markets (wide format, signage, ceramics, textiles, electronics, etc.) is exciting and offers significant growth markets for printers. They also play to the strengths of printers by allowing them to execute on customer requirements and be a solutions provider to these markets. Attendance at shows, the excitement of printers who have invested in these technologies, and big YOY growth helps put the saying “print is dead” to rest.


Image courtesy of

End-to-End Color Communication

Better color communication along each step of the process from creation to execution has always been key to X-Rite’s DNA. Because we play in many verticals where color, appearance and quality are key, we recognized early on the need for good communication among trading partners. In the print space, we see the continued expansion of X-Rite’s CxF Color Exchange Format, now embodied in a number of established ISO standards, and new work like PQX – Print Quality Exchange and PRX – Print Requirements Exchange which mix CxF/X with additional metadata all in XML.

Internet 4.0

Internet 4.0 is bringing a lot of excitement to color management, like PQX, iccMAX, mobile control and new materials. Keep an eye our blog. These innovations are all on our list of upcoming topics.

About the  Author:

Printing and Imaging Product Portfolio Manager

In addition to his role as Portfolio Manager for Printing and Imaging Products at X-Rite Pantone, Cheydleur is also Chairman of the U.S. Committee for Graphic Arts Technical Standards (CGATS), Chairman of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group to ISO TC130 for Graphic Arts Standards, and Vice Chair of the International Color Consortium for Color Management (ICC).

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Manufacturing Trends to Watch in 2017

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by Shoshna Burgett

With 2016 behind us, it’s time to look ahead to 2017 and the upcoming manufacturing trends that will influence how we do business in the New Year. With rapidly changing technology, it’s difficult to know exactly what’s coming next, but we can definitely make some predictions.

Over the past year, I have interviewed many customers across a variety of manufacturing industries to learn more about their industry concerns, the design and manufacturing challenges they face, and the technologies that excite them. As I look into my crystal ball for 2017, here are some manufacturing and business trends to follow over the next 12-18 months.

Manufacturing Trends

Image courtesy of


Increased labor, transportation and energy costs coupled with stricter regulations and environmental concerns have lead many manufacturers to rethink offshore manufacturing strategies. While we are likely to see new government and trade policies that encourage local manufacturing, on-shoring has been a growing trend for the last three to four years. This is likely to accelerate as manufacturers adopt digital technologies that allow products to be designed once and produced locally.

The combination of standard operating procedures and integrated manufacturing systems to analyze performance and quality control will enable the adoption of local-to-local manufacturing across a range of consumer goods industries.

Transparency to the Supply Chain

Brands will continue to work towards a higher level of transparency in their supply chains, driven by the continuous pressure to reduce costs and innovate. Transparency is also a trend valued by many consumers, especially millennials. These consumers want to know where something is manufactured, what materials are used, and how long it takes.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP), management information systems (MIS) and product lifecycle management (PLM) systems are all evolving to provide more transparency and visibility into the supply chain process. Systems will be more connected, bringing supply chain data upstream where it can be analyzed. As a result, the product design to manufacturing process will become highly digitized. Brands that review hundreds or thousands of samples daily will be able to analyze them digitally, speeding up the entire processes and making more informed decisions when issues arises.

Custom Manufacturing

In 2017, we will see more custom manufacturing in textile and fashion. Short run custom manufacturing began with the photo market, and now extends to unique gift offerings. Advances in digital printing and 3D printing are creating new opportunities for short run and custom run printing. It will enable large and small brands to create unique “short run fashion,” which creates new opportunities for the apparel industry as well as the commercial printing industry.


Image courtesy of

Changing Face of Brick and Mortar Shopping

The Amazon Go announcement drastically rethinks the way people shop for groceries. It combines online and brick and mortar shopping using innovative technology to create a new shopping experience. More importantly, Amazon is recognizing that that the customer journey is both physical and digital. Rumors of 20-2,000 stores by 2018 have been surfacing.

In order to own the point of purchase for consumers, Amazon will need to partner with brands to expand this concept. Imagine a BestBuy partnership with a simplified show room that allows consumers the opportunity to touch and experience an appliance, then click to order it. Pop-up store partnerships would allow both Amazon and a brand to trial new markets and products while sharing the costs. Brick and mortar drives brand loyalty, and Amazon loyalty is built through their Prime service. Together, the two offer a unique way to both lower costs and drive customer engagement.


Image courtesy of

M&A Activity

We will see further consolidation of the fragmented plastics market. There are a number of smaller independent plastics companies that offer excellent opportunities for larger players to create inorganic growth through acquisitions. In addition, I see a lot of M&A opportunity across vertical markets, such as commercial printing and plastics used in packaging. Through mergers and acquisitions, companies will be able to expand their reach into a specific application. We have already started to see this happen with VisiPak’s acquisition of National Plastic, expanding the shapes and sizes of thermoform packaging, and Nanogate’s purchase of Jay Plastics to expand their high-tech plastic and coatings. For companies where M&A many not be the right strategy, they can instead invest in new injection molding plants such as Nissei is in Texas.

Designing for 3D

In December, Adobe rolled out its new Felix Program which will simplify 3D design process. This announcement has a significant impact on the graphic design community and will allow graphic designers to expand their skill set and enter 3D. Graphic designers are the largest group of designers and they design for a slew of products. The software and ecosystem of Adobe Creative Cloud will make learning 3D easier, and integrating 3D with Adobe’s tools like Photoshop and their stock library will help to centralize the creative process.


Composite created in Project Felix. Image courtesy of

Solar Coating

Solar coating technology will be commercialized to turn everyday objects into energy sources. Over the next few years, this technology will mature and be used on windows, roof tiles, phones and cars. Companies to watch include NanoFlex’s Photovoltaic coating for automotive, and Tesla’s recently unveiled solar tiles for homes. Since they look like regular roof tiles, the investment is visually appealing for homeowners who did not like the look of larger mirror mountings.


Image courtesy of

Stay Tuned!

Only time will tell if these prediction and trends come true, but it will be interesting to see how they evolve over the next few years.



Soshana Burgett
Director, World-Wide Marketing Communications


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January 23, 2017 · 8:24 am

UV Refresher

RK Print UV Refresher

By Tom Kerchiss, RK Print Coat Instruments

Energy curing technology has, though it’s taken some time – become one of the leading contenders for environmentally friendly and economically efficient methods for print processing and for associated spin off process technologies including for example, the production of RFID, OLED displays and other electronics.

It’s worth looking at how far its come. In many respects the advance of ultra-violet curing has been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The first patent for UV curable inks was granted to General Electric as far back as 1946. At the time General Electric was experimenting with ionizing radiation for the cure of solvent-free coatings. Now, some 70 years on UV systems are installed and in use on all of the major print processes and on converting machines with countless systems employed in industries as diverse as automotive, wood finishing, cosmetics and in situations where decorative and functional surface coatings need to be applied quickly and with minimal disruption to production line processes and product dispatch.

When comparing for example, water based and UV ink systems, it is necessary to compare the basic components inherent in any inking system, that is the diluents, resin and additives.

The diluent in ink have one primary function and that is to regulate/reduce the viscosity of the ink. In altering the viscosity it is possible to improve transfer and optimize printability. In water-based ink water is used as the diluent. The water facilitates ink transfer from an anilox roll to the plate, and then ultimately onto the substrate at which point the water evaporates off performing no other function.

UV inks differ in that reactive monomers are used as diluents. The primary function of the monomers is to reduce viscosity, however there is a difference from a water-based ink where the water diluent simply evaporates. The monomers used in UV ink do not evaporate after the ink is printed but play a part in the curing process, becoming part of the polymerized ink film. After polymerization monomers additionally provide gloss and surface hardness

The second component of the ink is the resin, which regardless of whether the ink is water-based or UV forms the backbone of the printed ink film. The properties of the resin determine ink characteristics such as durability, flexibility, chemical resistance and adhesion.

In a UV system the resin is referred to as an oligomer, a reactive resin that takes part in the polymerization process. In addition to contributing to durability the oligomer also plays a part in determining the speediness of the cure.

The third area, which will only be mentioned briefly here are the additives, a broad category that includes waxes, flow agents, pigments and so on.

It goes almost without saying that the evaporation process is involved in the drying of a water-based ink. The ink typically being printed on the substrate, run through the dryers where water and amine combination, evaporates leaving behind the pigment and resin. UV inks on the other hand are printed and exposed to a high intensity light source; the photoinitiator in the ink absorbs UV energy and initiates the polymerization chain reaction. The key here is that no evaporation process occurs only the transformation of a liquid to a solid.

Although this article focuses on UV it is worth looking at problems that can arise at this stage with water-based inks and then look at variables that can influence the way UV inks perform, particularly temperature.

It used to be said that with water-based inks as much as 40 per cent of the ink film printed could be lost due to evaporation. This is not necessarily as disastrous as it sounds, the real challenge arises when the ink inadvertently and often unbeknown to the operator dries either in the pan or dries on plate, impacting on ink lay down quantity and quality. If the evaporation in the ink pan is significant enough, once printed an ink colour can shift dramatically. This problem can be mitigated somewhat through the utilization of amines. In reality as the amines evaporate off a water-based ink, the ink begins to dry on plate and dot gain begins to steadily increase until a point is reached where plates need to be washed. Plate wash results in dot gain dropping and the evaporative dot gain cycle begins once again.

While evaporative drying systems have some drawbacks variables such as temperature can be problematic for UV. As with all inks the viscosity of UV flexo inks drop as temperature increases. Sometimes, depending on colour and temperature differences, viscosity variations can become quite large. As the viscosity of an ink changes the transfer of the ink from anilox to plate to substrate also changes. With doctor blade systems, ink viscosity and print density decreases. This relationship becomes very important when we look at the differences between the conditions, humidity, etc., inside a pressroom compared to those of ink kitchens and proofing areas.

This temperature variation may become more extreme during hot and humid weather conditions. If the ink store and pressroom conditions are not monitored, density and dot gain issues can arise as pressroom temperature fluctuates.

Advances in many areas associated with UV including inks and lamps have minimized or eliminated many of the variables associated with UV inks and curing, It is still worth bearing in mind though that when UV ink is cold and fresh on press the initial densities will be lower than after a running in period. As the ink is agitated the temperature in the pan may rise, viscosity will then drop and density will increase. This can result in tonal changes at the start of the run, which will then settle now when a state of equilibrium is reached. For these reasons it is important that all components are bought into a state of equilibrium when the press is fingerprinted.

Benchmark testing and peer group reviewing together with better pre-press support technology has made implementing ultraviolet curing of inks in the real world production environment less troublesome than it once was.

The developments that made UV inks and coatings feasible for many printers took time to evolve. In the past applying them could be tricky. Let’s leave flexo to one side and consider the problems associated with running oil-based litho inks on conventional presses. Those printers often experienced a dulling phenomenon, sometimes referred to as a gloss-back or dry-back, which could occur as standard inks dried underneath their UV veneer, this could mar one pass inline coating. Running inline with full UV inks was an alternative but only on presses equipped with special rollers optimized for the inks. Coating dried inks in an off-line unit was another approach but here an issue was the offset spray powder. The granules of this drying agent, unnoticed in normal production sometimes became magnified under the UV coating and imparted a pebbled look and texture that could spoil the desired effect.

Fortunately printers, formulators in time found ways round the various problems including to some extent the problems associated with the heat delivered by lamps and through general build up of heat in the press, which severely limited the type of material that could be processed. Water-cooled UV systems extended possibilities and in recent years a better understanding of light manipulation has facilitated the development of lamps that could deliver optimum cure of specific heat sensitive substrates.

A significant development is the introduction of LED (Light Emitting Diode) lamps. A benefit of LED UV is that there is minimal heat/energy transfer to the substrate. UV LED also provides uniform and consistent radiation across the width of the web. With regard to the LED UV solid-state system utilized by RK Print Coat Instruments on the FlexiProof LED UV colour communication device is that the lamps offer a tailored output at the important 385 or 395 nm wavelengths. The lamps are energy efficient, require little in the way of maintenance and being both ozone and mercury free meet ‘Green’ working objectives.

In the area of prototyping or trialing the FlexiProof makes it possible to create accurate prototypes without taking a production press off line or without recourse to outsourcing. Because the Flexi Proof with LED UV can print directly onto a substrate and cure inline the customer ‘proof of concept’ is made much easier and speedier.

LED UV curing is of course not right for every application, consequently it will be an optional alternative to the dichroic mercury arc vapor lamps currently provided with the FlexiProof UV.

The FlexiProof UV and new variant FlexiProof LED-UV is designed to enable producers and users of flexographic UV inks to resolve colour communication and print/process issues including: colour matching, printability, gloss, scuff and chemical resistance, and so forth off-press; quickly and with minimal waste.

Incorporating flexo critical components such as doctor blade and anilox roller the FlexiProof’s integrated miniaturized UV system addresses the issue associated with typical UV conveyors and that is the detection of pin holing.

Conventional UV conveyors are unable to detect pinholes because as the proof is taken to a conveyor chemical changes take place that make pinhole detection difficult if not impossible. Printing and curing in-line on the FlexiProof highlights pin holing and other problems, enabling corrective action to be undertaken quickly.

RK Print Coat Instruments Ltd
Litlington, Royston, Hertfordshire SG8 0QZ

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Filed under Ink, Printing, UV

The FDA Nutrition Label Update Is Your Opportunity to Gain Competitive Brand Advantage


Carol Best, Senior Vice President, Client Engagement, SGK

The Nutrition Facts label is widely regarded as the most reproduced graphic design of the past century,[1] appearing on more than 6.5 billion packages. Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given the label its first major redesign in more than 20 years, and CPG brands sold in the U.S. must comply with the new requirements by July 26, 2018.

The new requirement was formally announced by the FDA on May 20, 2016. In the years of deliberation leading up to the final ruling, many CPG brands actively opposed requirements such as more realistic serving sizes, disclosure of added sugars, and other changes that could influence consumer choices. Brand owners and managers have argued that they shouldn’t be required to devote time, budget, and resources to providing information that may turn some consumers away.

We’ve seen this opposition before. Brands also campaigned against the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, contending that government had no business influencing consumer choices. But in the years since the original regulation took full effect in 1994, hundreds of millions of shoppers have come to rely on the Nutrition Facts label, and leading CPG brands have come around to embrace the value it adds.

However, there’s one important difference between then and now. While redesigning their labels in the early 1990s, few brands regarded the mandate as an opportunity to compete more effectively on the shelf. Then, as now, the new label requirements were giving consumers exactly what they want: Clear, useful information to guide nutritional choices. But today, consumers are speaking much more loudly about what they want.

We see the Nutrition Label update as an opportunity to listen to consumers and give them even more of what they want – going beyond simple compliance to deliver a real brand advantage.

An Instructive Tale

Around the same time brands were scrambling to comply with the first Nutrition Facts label mandate, automotive manufacturers were scrambling to comply with strict new fleet emissions requirements in California.

GM responded by creating the EV1 and offering it through leasing only – meeting the letter of the law without giving much thought to what consumers actually wanted. In fact, some claim that GM’s true goal was to prove a lack of consumer demand for such vehicles.[2] Toyota responded with the RAV4-EV – but more importantly, with a commitment to develop technology and vehicles that would satisfy unmet consumer needs.

When the regulation was substantially scaled back due to pressure from oil, automotive, and other interests, GM canceled EV1 production in 2002, repossessed all the cars they had previously leased, and crushed them. Toyota also ended production of the RAV4 EV in 2003, but continued to develop their battery and electric drivetrain technology until they had the vehicle consumers really wanted: the phenomenally successful Prius.

Two companies facing the same regulation, but with very different attitudes. Toyota won by looking beyond the regulation to the underlying consumer demands that gave rise to it.

Burdensome Mandate? Or Strategic Opportunity?

The automotive emissions mandate came about because Californians wanted to breathe cleaner air. Similarly, the Nutrition Facts label reflects a growing consumer desire to eat more consciously for better health, making informed decisions based on clear, trustworthy labeling. Understood in this way, the new FDA rules aren’t an imposition on brands so much as a renewed fulfillment for consumers.

Many brands have understood this trend for years and have already been adapting their labeling and communications to better address consumer needs – well in advance of regulatory mandates. Product recipes are also changing to make sure that a clear label is also a clean label. High-profile examples include the disclosure of GMO ingredients by ConAgra Foods and Campbell’s; and the pledges by Nestlé, General Mills, Kellogg’s, and others to eliminate artificial colors and flavorings.

It’s not only about incremental change and adaptation. Over the past decade, growing consumer demands for simplicity, sustainability, and wholesome nutrition have led to the creation of entirely new categories, have radically shaped established ones, and have even helped smaller natural and organic brands take significant market share from larger, more established brands.

Smart companies see the Nutrition Label update as a powerful signal and a rare market opportunity to create meaningful changes that consumers want to see, driving significant new growth. The entire industry must make labeling changes. The big winners will be brands that see this as a strategic opportunity, not just an imposed burden. 

Seizing the Advantage

Here are seven ideas to help transform the packaging redesign that you’re required to make into new opportunities for your brand to connect with consumers who care.

  1. Look to Europe.

Brands in the European Union are leading the way, as EU Regulation 1169/2011 requires more transparent disclosure of ingredients and nutritional facts. The EU regulation goes beyond the Nutrition Facts label update, affecting front-of-package claims that could be the next target of regulation in the U.S. Learn from the brands that are most successful in turning new labeling mandates into new market opportunities.

  1. Know what consumers expect from your brand.

What role does your category and brand play in the life of your consumers? These dynamics may be changing rapidly.

Does your brand provide basic nourishment or indulgence? How involved is your shopper in reading labels? Is this consistent across all channels? How do consumers think of your competition in terms of health and wellness? Are better-for-you options growing in your category? How does your brand deliver on the nutritional expectations of older and younger consumers?

Understanding consumer attitudes within your category can help you claim a position of strength against your competition and adjacent product categories.

  1. Consider the implications of larger serving sizes.

Serving sizes are increasing to reflect actual consumption habits rather than the manufacturer’s suggested serving. For example, a serving of ice cream is increasing from 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup. Think about how consumers are likely to respond.

What current claims need to change? What new claims can be enabled? For example, can a low-fat claim be replaced by a high-protein claim? How can you educate retailers, shoppers and consumers through on-shelf, digital, social, and other channels? How do you compare with competitors?

Remember that small differences between products will be amplified with increased serving sizes. Think through what claims you can make and how to position your brand as a champion of transparency.

  1. Identify opportunities to lead.

Use the Nutrition Facts label update as an opening for your brand to take bold, decisive action ahead of the competition. This could mean reformulating an existing product to better align with consumer expectations. It could mean repackaging your existing product to promote more responsible consumption. New product innovation could also deliver better-for-you mixes, with fewer ingredients, tapping into consumer reactions to the heightened visibility of nutritional information.

  1. Understand your true design equities and assets.

The new Nutrition Facts label is in many ways bigger, bolder, and more eye-catching, yet it retains familiar design elements. To incorporate it effectively, you may need to redesign and reposition packaging artwork. What elements are required? What can you afford to change, move, or remove?

Now is the time to make these decisions – not later while in the process of building mechanical art. This is a smart time to revisit and republish your brand guidelines so these decisions are clear and well-known in advance.

  1. Touch packaging only once.

Make every touch count! With all the artwork going through your internal supply chain – plus your agencies, printers, and the rest – efficiency is critical. Plan to update the Nutrition Facts label in tandem with any other changes you’ll be making. Conversely, consider what other opportunities you have to improve package design while touching the Nutrition Facts label.

The important thing is to avoid making multiple artwork changes to the same SKU within the regulatory compliance window. The same principle applies to secondary packaging, POS materials, and other brand touchpoints.

  1. Assemble the right cross-functional team.

Coordinating all the components and stakeholders requires an informed, agile, experienced team. Assemble the right people now and begin planning to conduct an impact audit, define processes, assign task owners, establish governance, estimate budget requirements, and formalize success metrics.

Are You Ready to Be the Change Consumers Are Looking For?

All of your competitors are wrestling with the same regulatory requirements. Not all of them realize that consumers – not bureaucrats – are the real driving force behind the change. Consumers want transparent labeling to help them make healthy choices.

The Nutrition Label update is a minimum requirement. You have to change your packaging by July 26, 2018 in order to comply – but you have an opportunity to do so much more. Are you ready?

We can help you comply. More important, we can help you transform your required package redesign into a true brand advantage. Learn how and get started today. To assess your preparedness, get resources and talk to our brand and label experts, visit Label Central at

About the Author:

carol_best_hiresAs Vice President, Client Engagement, at SGK, Carol Best has fifteen years of expertise in brand strategy and client management guiding the development and stewardship of some of the world’s most well known brands. Carol’s ability to articulate a clear, insightful strategy has helped leading marketers strengthen their agency partnerships, brand portfolios, improve brand performance, and empower brand management support through a disciplined program. Prior to joining SGK, Carol worked with Interbrand (New York and Cincinnati), where she helped build a strategy department to service Procter & Gamble, and was part of the firm’s innovation team. She holds a B.S. in Economics and Marketing from The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

[1] Linyee Yuan, “On the FDA Nutrition Facts Food Label Redesign,” MOLD, May 17, 2014.

[2] Who Killed the Electric Car? Directed by Chris Paine. New York: Sony Pictures Classics, 2006.

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Who says quality is not a top priority?

Asahi AWP water wash plate

Flexoshop, a growing repro and platemaking house based in Colchester, Essex, UK, has a great story to share.

Managing Director Simon Drane acquired the business five years ago with the intention of developing a strong clientele in the label industry. Flexoshop had a thermal Flat-Top-Dot plate-making system as well as a water-wash letterpress system. The company is running an Esko workflow using a Spark 4735 CDI laser platesetter as well as a solvent platemaking workflow.

When Simon Drane heard from one of his printers that the highest quality work had to be outsourced to a digital printing firm, he set about finding a better solution for this valuable customer.

Drane had been intrigued by the Asahi AWP water wash plate, but he initially felt that it was commercially out of his reach. “I had my eye on Asahi’s water-washable plate systems,” he says, “but I thought they were unaffordable for my business. But when this customer explained his challenges to me, it spurred me to reconsider.”

Drane brought in an Asahi Photoproducts AWP 2530 plate system using AWP water washable plates, and has never looked back. Not only did this solution enable his printer company to bring all of the work back in house, delivering high quality at competitive prices with great turnaround, but Drane was so pleased with the results that he has made this solution the centerpiece of his new business acquisition strategy.

He says, “The Asahi AWP water washable plate is the best plate on the market. We were not getting anywhere near this quality with our previous Flat Top Dot plates.”

And his efforts to educate customers and prospects on the benefit of these plates is paying off. Largely due to its adoption of Asahi AWP water washable plates, Flexoshop has recently seen increasing interest from printers in working with the company, and the team is confidently looking forward to continuing a growth path into the future.

Also important Drane, or anyone running a busy shop, is the quality of service and support from partners. Asahi has not disappointed in that regard. The high quality of the AWP plate and the support Asahi delivers, from equipment service to working directly with press operators at its customer sites is incomparable, Drane states, adding, “This company is providing the best support I have ever had from any supplier.”

Largely due to its adoption of Asahi AWP water washable plates, Flexoshop has recently seen increasing interest from printers in working with the company, and the team is confidently looking forward to continuing a growth path into the future.

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Filed under Plate Technology, Printing

Don’t compromise, optimize your Anilox selection!


by David Parr,Technical Sales Manager, Pamarco Global Graphics

Since the creation of Flexo printing, Anilox have been at the core of the flexo printing process and remain at the heart of the process today. Every major technology advance with flexo, from the introduction of reverse angle doctor blades and laser engraved ceramic anilox, through to the recent developments of H.D. (High Definition) flexo, printers have needed to consider, what changes in anilox are necessary, to get the best out of the process. For flexo printers, the choice of anilox has never been greater. Not only can they choose from many different anilox suppliers, but the developments in laser engraving technology, mean that each anilox supplier, can produce and promote a range of different cell shapes & profiles, EFlo, IPro, GTT, to name a few. However, this can sometimes lead to confusion about what is best for YOUR specific printing.

Optimize your Anilox selection

Standardising on one specific cell profile can sometimes be successful, but often, what works for solid and tone printing, doesn’t always give the best results for process colours. In trying to establish a single, universal, the so called “one size fits all” anilox for your range, of flexo printing, does it mean that you have to compromise on quality or performance. Unfortunately the market is littered with expensive casualties, where this has been attempted. We offer some ideas as a solution.

Let’s keep it simple and consider the fundamental task of the anilox. The anilox’s sole function is to transfer a consistent film of ink on to the flexo printing plate. Nothing more. Nothing less. Too little ink can cause printing defects such as low print density & pin holing. Too much ink can cause problems such as dot gain, dot bridging and dirty print. Flexo is generally a forgiving print process, allowing printers to do things in a variety of ways, therefore having the wrong anilox in your press, isn’t always immediately obvious. However as the demands of the market mean that you have to print higher quality, print faster, change jobs more frequently, reduce your downtime and costs, just to remain competitive, it is vital for flexo printers to understand and control every part of the flexo process, to suit the exact needs of their customers. The means correct anilox selection, remains fundamental to the flexo process. The first two questions are still the same. Which line Screen?

Which Cell Volume?

So what are the steps to correct anilox selection, what controls the ink film thickness delivered by the anilox roll and which cell shapes give the best ink transfer? To use an analogy, let’s take a coffee break and imagine the anilox cells as the cup and saucer of a large cappuccino. If both cup and saucer were filled to the top with coffee, which would be easier to carry to your table without spilling? For sure, the cup. You would only have to tip the saucer a couple of degrees, for a significant amount of coffee to spill. So by definition which anilox cell shape, cup or saucer, would have the ability to quickly release or transfer the most amount of fluid. Logically, the wide, shallow saucer shape. Secondly, if you wanted a large coffee, would you have it dispensed into an espresso or cappuccino cup. Of course, you would select the cappuccino cup. Selection of Anilox is exactly the same. Bigger cells carry more ink. Wide shallow shaped cells, transfer more ink, but are more difficult to control. This is critical to understand to try and establish the correct ink film thickness.

optimize anilox

Like coffee cups, big anilox cells, carry more liquid and wide shallow cells release greater amount of fluid. Unlike coffee cups, a high percentage of fluid stays in the anilox cells during use

One other important factor is how much liquid is actually transferred from the anilox during the printing process, the “ink transfer”. Many people imagine that, just like with a coffee, you can empty the anilox cups, leaving just a small liquid residue in the bottom. This myth is sometimes magnified by enthusiastic, but totally false claims that anilox can release 70- 90% of the ink from the cells. The reality is very different, with ink transfer measurement, demonstrating that, depending upon anilox cell shape, ink viscosity and press speed, ink transfer rates in flexo printing are typically between 25-50%. This unfortunately means that 50-75% of the ink can remain in the cell; little wonder that anilox cleaning and maintenance is a continuous fact of life, and significant cost factor, in flexo printing.

So after the coffee break, let’s get back to flexo printing. If you want to a large ink film, for higher density and better coverage, you need to either have bigger cells, or have cell shapes that transfer a high amount of the ink. In contrast, if you have too much ink, causing defects like dot bridging and dirty print, you need to reduce ink film by reducing the size of the cells. A simple concept, but increasingly complicated by the fact that the demand for higher resolution printing, means that flexo plates dots are getting smaller and smaller. For example, flexo plate screens of 150 l/in (59 l/cm) have highlight dot diameter of 19 um. By a general rule of matching anilox cell opening to plate dot diameter would mean the selection of an anilox of 1120 l/in (440 l/cm).

optimize anilox

Matching anilox cell size to suit the smallest highlight dot on the plate is one method of anilox selection.

Of course, the finer the anilox screen, the smaller the anilox cell opening. However with the reduced cell opening, there is generally also a proportionate decrease in cell depth, with the resulting reduction in Cell volume range (shown in the chart). Even with latest multi-hit anilox laser engraving technologies, there is a logical limit to the range of cell volumes, that can be achieved with each anilox screen. Most high quality anilox manufacturers have their own anilox screen selection charts, each giving a range of cell volumes for every anilox screen count. The cell volume ranges are generally specified to ensure that the anilox Depth:Opening ratios (depth of cell/opening at top of cell measured in microns) remain in the region of 25-30%. This ensures good ink transfer rates from the cells, but what happens, if you need a higher cell volume, a common occurrence when using low strength inks or high absorbency Paper or board substrates which requires more ink? For example, can you get a 1120 (440 l/cm) screen anilox with a cell volume of 5 or 6 cm3/m2? It is tempting to push the boundaries of what cell volume is possible with a particular anilox screen. The drawback, however, is that as the cell depth is increased, in an effort to achieve higher cell volume, the anilox Depth:Opening ratios, also increases. It is already a highly proven fact that maintaining good Depth:Opening ratios is essential to good ink transfer and with every increase in Depth:Opening, there is a proportionate reduction in ink transfer from the cells. Result, more ink remaining in the cells, faster plugging of cells, quicker loss of print density and leading to defects, downtime and cost.

optimize anilox

Pamarco’s solution to this problem has been the development of extended cell technology, aptly named EFlo. The EFlo cells, have double length cells in the direction of printing, which offer several advantages for flexo printing. First the elongated cells of EFlo can carry and deliver to the printing plate, a much larger amount of ink, than with conventional 60 deg hexagon cells. Secondly, the cells are engraved at a consistent angle of 75 degrees to ensures no moire clash with flexo plate screens. Finally and most significantly for the printer, the “saucer” shape of the EFlo cell opening in the direction of printing, gives a substantial increase in ink transfer to the printing plate. This means that screen counts can be increased, without compromising Depth:Opening ratios, maintaining good support to flexo plate dots and providing excellent ink film thicknesses on to the printing plate. It also helps to keep anilox cells cleaner for longer, helping to reduce downtime, loss of print density and quality.

optimize anilox - EFlo

Extended anilox cells (EFlo) are able to carry and transfer more ink, but still maintain good support for the highlight dots.

Since EFlo’s introduction in 2010, extended anilox cell technology has been extensively proven in all flexo printing disciplines and is now widely adopted as an industry standard for a substantial number of high quality flexo printing applications. This includes both brown box and high graphic post print corrugated and HD flexo, currently being used extensively in flexible film and paper printing. Most recently, Pamarco’s European team, in collaboration with a major global flexible packaging company, conducted a recent study to optimise print quality and performance, together with driving down the cost of their products. The project, in addition to helping to establish the client’s vision for future print, had targets to utilise Pamarco’s unique Eflo technology, to reduce the number of different anilox screens being used for short run printing and to take “right first time graphics”, to a new level.

The client conducted a series of print trials, utilising 2 banded anilox test rolls from Pamarco, one for improving dot gains and solid densities on high graphic flexo process work up to 200 l/in (80 l/cm) using HD flexo plates, the other for optimising combination solid, fine line and mid-tone vignettes printing, for the clients full range of packaging work. The EFlo anilox screens ranged from 360 to 1200 l/in (140 to 390 l/cm)

One of the stand-out results of the trials was the ability of EFlo, to release high solid densities of ink, on to flexible film, even at anilox screens up to 700 l/in (275 l/cm). The increased advantage of Plate cell patterning also gave some startling results, with solid printed areas being completely free from pin-holes and having densities of at least 30% higher than conventional 60 degree anilox and non-patterned printing plates.

The conclusion of the trial was to reduce the number of different anilox specifications to just 3, for all the clients short run flexible packaging work, as follows:

Printing requirement                                         Eflo HD Anilox specification

4 col Process up to 200 l/in:                          1200 l/in (475 l/cm) x 3.8 cm3/m3

Light solid, half tone and fine lines:         700 l/in (275 l/cm) x 6.5 cm3/m3

Heavy solid & line:                                               360 l/in (140 l/cm) x 9.5 cm3/m2

Of no surprise to anyone, was the fact that the three different plate/cushion tape packages, used in the trial, had a significantly greater impact on variations in density and dot gains, than any of the differences in the anilox screens and cell volumes. This is an important fact to remember, that it is useful to optimise and standardise on your printing plate package, before making any significant changes to your anilox inventory.

Even with the outstanding success of EFlo, Pamarco refuse to stand still and are constantly challenging the industry perceptions, to establish the real facts about what is the best anilox to suit YOUR printing. For example, it sounds counter-intuitive to consider lowering your anilox line screen to improve the performance of your Flexo printing process. For years, anilox producers have been recommending that printers increase the anilox line screen to provide adequate support for smaller and smaller flexo plate dots. One of the down-sides of smaller anilox cells, can be anilox durability, with the smaller cell walls, providing less resistance to scratching, scoring, and premature wear. The experiences gained with EFlo, have demonstrated, that is not essential to support 100% of the dots on the plate, in order to print clean vignettes and process colours. Why, therefore, increase anilox screen counts, when actually what your print needs, is just a lower ink film thickness.

To prove this concept, recently Pamarco collaborated with a major flexible packaging printer in North America, to make print trials on a range of different plate screens using conventional 60 deg hexagon anilox screens engraved on a banded test roll. The customer’s existing anilox rolls were 600 l/in (240 l/cm) x 6.5cm3/m2, for combination half tone/line/solid printing with solid density 1.65 to 1.7 and a 900 l/in (360 l/cm) x 4.0cm3/m2, for process print with a solid density 1.4 to 1.45. The target was to establish if it was possible to utilize a more durable, lower screen count anilox, without sacrificing print cleanliness.

The end result was, that by reducing both line screen and volume, it was possible to produce nearly identical density and dot gain results to their existing rolls, but using lower screen count and cell volumes This clearly demonstrated that the reduced Depth:Opening advantage of utilizing the lower screen and cell volume, resulted in improved ink transfer, acceptable dot gains, clean print and good solid densities, even when using a lower screens and cell volume.

optimize anilox - denisty & dot chart

Printing trials using different plate and anilox screens, demonstrate it is possible to reduce anilox screen and still maintain good density and dot gains

In conclusion, some final advice for anilox screen selection as follows:

  1. Review your existing anilox inventory to establish what Cell volume are giving you the correct, defect free solid densities using your chosen plate, inks, tapes and substrate
  2. If you don’t have any existing references, consider a banded roll trial to establish them.
  3. Chose the lowest possible line screen for your selected Cell volume
  4. If you need to increase screen count for finer print, consider EFlo extended cells as a way to increase cell volumes and maintain good ink transfer

The anilox’s sole function is to transfer a precise, predictable, and consistent ink film to the printing plate. The ink film is substantially determined by the cell volume, not the line screen, but lowering the screen count, could help to improve ink transfer rates. It may be time to re-think and optimize the specifications of this essential part of your printing equipment, for greater long-term printing performance, consistency and durability.

About the Author:

After training as a mechanical Engineer, David Parr has worked in the European and North American flexo printing markets, since the mid 1980s, having 28 years working with companies for the production and sales of anilox rolls and laser imaging systems for flexo.

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Statistical process control of color difference data, part 2

By John Seymour, John the Math Guy

A couple weeks ago, some stark raving mad heretic grabbed my blogging pen, spouting out some blasphemy about how the classical approach to process control is doomed to fail for color difference data. Asteroids laying waste to heavily populated areas, cats sleeping with dogs, my local Starbucks being out of chai… all that doomsday stuff.

Well, perhaps the guy who was using my blogging pen wasn’t stark raving mad. Maybe he was just stark raving “mildly annoyed”? And maybe the heretic wasn’t just some other guy? I don’t want to point the finger, but it might have been me who wrote the blog post. So, perhaps I need to take his contentious assertion seriously?

Here are the sacrilegious assertions from last week’s blog post:

Part 1 – Color difference data does not fit a Normal Distribution.

Part 2 – Classical SPC is largely based on the assumption of normality, so much of it does not work well for color difference data.

I submit the chart below as evidence for the first assertion.


This is not normal data!

I need to give some provenance for this data.

In 2006, the SNAP committee (Specifications for Newspaper Advertising Production) took on a large project to come to some consensus about what color you get when you mix specific quantities of CMYK ink on newsprint. A total of 102 newspapers printed a test form on its presses. The test form had 928 color patches. All of the test forms were measured by one very busy spectrophotometer. The data was averaged by patch type, and it became known as CGATS TR 002.

For this blog post, I had a close look at the original data. For each of the 928 patches and for each of the 102 printers, I compared the average L*a*b* value against the measured L*a*b* value. As a result, I had just short of 100K color difference values (in ΔE00).

Of the 94,656 color differences, there were 1,392 that were between 0.0 ΔE00 and 0.5 ΔE00. There were 7,095 between 0.5 ΔE00 and 1.0 ΔE00. And so on. The blue bars in the above chart are a histogram of this color difference data.

I computed the mean and standard deviation of the color difference data: 2.93, and 1.78, respectively. The orange line in the above chart is a normal distribution with those values. Now, we all like to think our data is normal. We all like to think that our data doesn’t skew to the right or to the left. The bad news for this election season is that our color difference data is not normal. It is decidedly skewed to the left. (I provide no comment on whether other data in this election season is skewed either to the right or to the left.)

The coefficient of skewness of this distribution is about 1.0, which is about 125 times the skewness that one might expect from a normal distribution. “The data is skewed, Jim!”

 data is skewed

The data is skewed, Jim!

Ok. So Bones tells us the data is skewed?  Someone may argue that I have committed the statistical equivalent of a venial sin. True. I combined apples and oranges. When I computed the color differences, I was comparing apples to apples, but then I piled all the apple differences and all the orange differences into one big pile. Is there some reason to put the variation of solid cyan patches in the same box as the variation of 50% magenta patches?

Just to check that, I pulled out the patches individually, and did the skewness test on each of the 928 sets of data. Sorry, nit pickers. Same results. “The data is still skewed, Jim!”

data is still skewed

The data is still skewed, Jim!

Yeah, but who cares?  The whole classical process control thing will still work out, right? Well…. maybe. Kinda maybe. Or, kinda maybe probably not.

I looked once again at the data set. For each of the 928 patches, I computed the 3 sigma upper limit for color difference data. Then I counted outliers. Before I go on, I will come up with a prediction of how many outliers we expect to see.

One would think that the folks doing these 102 press runs were reasonably diligent in the operation of the press for these press runs. The companies all volunteered their time, press time, and materials to this endeavor, so presumably they cared about getting good results. I think it is reasonable to assume that on the whole, they upped their game, if only a little bit just to humor the boss.

Further, back in 2006, several people (myself included) blessed the data. No one could come up with any strong reason to remove any of the individual data points.

So, I am going to state that the variation in the data set should be almost entirely “common cause” variation. This is the inevitable variation that we will see out of any process. Now, let’s review the blog post of an extremely gifted and bashful applied mathematician and color scientist. Last week, I wrote the following:

If the process produces normal data, and if nothing changes in our process, then 99.74% of the time, the part will be within those control limits. And once every 400 parts, we will find a part that is nothing more than an unavoidable statistical anomaly.

There were 94,656 data points, and we expect 0.26% outliers… that would put the expectation at about 249 outliers in the whole bunch. Drum roll, please… I found 938! For this data set, I found four times as many outliers as expected.

To put this in practical terms, if a plant were to have followed traditional statistical process control methods on this set of color difference data, they would be shutting down the presses to check it’s operation four times as often as they really should. This is a waste of time and money, and as Deming would tell us, stopping the presses and futzing with them just causes additional variation.

Traditional statistical process control of color difference data is dead

Traditional statistical process control of color difference data is dead, Jim!

I should remark that this factor of four is based on one data set. I think it is a good data set, since it is very much real world. But perhaps it includes additional variation because there were 102 printing plants involved? Perhaps there is some idiosyncrasy in newspaper presses? Perhaps there is an idiosyncrasy involved in using the average of all 102 to determine the target color?

I would caution against trying to read too much into the magic factor of four that I arrived at for this data set. But, I will hold my ground and say that the basic principle is sound. Color difference data is not normally distributed, so the basic assumptions about statistical process control are suspect.

In next week’s installment of this exciting series, I will investigate the theoretical basis for non-normality of color difference data.

About the Author:

john seymour john the math guyJohn Seymour is a consultant, working since 2012 as an Applied Mathematician and Color Scientist. He has been doing research in printing, color theory, and imaging since 1992. He currently hold twenty patents and have authored over thirty technical papers. John is an expert on the Committee for Graphic Arts Technologies Standards, and is Vice President of Papers for the Technical Association of the Graphic Arts. Prior to consulting, John was an applied researcher for QuadTech. He has a very popular blog ( which is usually about color, math, general science, but is always entertaining.

Twitter: @John_TheMathGuy

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10 Reasons Your Anilox Sleeve May Not Mount Properly

Apex International Blog

by Doug Jones, Apex International

Perfectly constructed anilox rolls should mount and dismount without any issues.  They should slide and rotate easily on the mandrel.  However, if an anilox sleeve will not mount because the necessary air film cannot be established between the sleeve and the air mandrel, here are 10 tips to help you troubleshoot the issue:

Potential Issues with the Air Mandrel:

  1. Check the air pressure measured at the air cylinder.  This should typically be between 6 and 8 bar (87-116 psi).
  2. The air volume flow should never fall below 12 liters (0.42 cubic ft.) per second.
  3. Make sure the compressed air system and cylinder surfaces are free of moisture, oils, lubricants, inks and solvents.
  4. Check for blockages in the air outlet holes.  This should be routine as all air holes must be open in order to establish an air film between the anilox sleeve and air mandrel.
  5. Make sure the air mandrel diameter is within the original STORK tolerance (see drawing below).
  6. Check if the air mandrel diameter in front of the the first air holes is within the original STORK tolerance and not damages (see drawing below).

Potential Issues with the Anilox Sleeve:

  1. Inspect the inner liner making sure it is clean and not damages as deep scratches can cause air pressure to fall.
  2. Ensure that the sides are not damaged and that the inner liner is intact.
  3. Check if the sleeve will mount more than a quarter of its total length without air pressure.  Doing so should not be possible.
  4. While placing an anilox sleeve onto the mandrel, wait a few seconds after passing the first set of activated air holes to continue mounting.  This will the inner liner enough time to expand.

Apex International sleeve technology is engineered to be perfectly constructed.  The result is the industries most stable sleeve with no vibrating or bouncing, precise TIR values and a perfectly straight and round construction.  To learn more about our sleeve technology or any of our products, please download our brochure.

Download the Flexographic Solutions Guide

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Statistical Process Control of Color Difference Data, Part 1

By John Seymour, John the Math Guy

Statistical process control (SPC) of color data—specifically of color difference (ΔE) data—can be done, but there is a bit of a twist. Color difference data doesn’t behave like your garden variety process control data. Since ΔE doesn’t follow the rules, the classical method for computing control limits will no longer work.

In this blog post, I review classical process control to provide a footing for next week’s blog, where I pull the rug out from under the footings of the classical approach; explaining why it won’t work for color difference measurements. Hopefully, by the time I get around to the third blog post in this trilogy, I will have thought of some new footings on which to erect a new SPC specifically designed for ΔE.

statistical process control outlier

Process control – Do we have an outlier?

 Review of process control

The premise of statistical process control is “more or less simple”. I say that in the sense that it’s not really that simple at all. And I say that because I want to make sure that you understand that what I do is really pretty freaking awesome. But really, the basic idea behind SPC is not all that tough to comprehend: You only investigate your widget-making machine when it starts to produce weird stuff, and you shouldn’t sweat it when the product isn’t weird.

The complicated part lies in your algorithm for deciding where to draw the line between “normal” and “weird”. The red dress on the far left?  Elegant, chic, and attractive, and pretty much in line with what all the women at my widget factory are wearing. The next one over? Yeah… I see her in the cafeteria once in a while. But I’m just not getting into the outfit on the far right. Sorry. I’m just not a fan of horizontal stripes. But in between… how do you decide where to draw the line?


Where to draw the line????

Statistical process control has an answer. You start by characterizing your process. As you manufacture widgets, you pull out samples and measure something about them. Hopefully you measure something that is relevant, like the distance between the threads of a bolt, or the weight of the cereal in the box. Since you are (apparently) reading this blog post, it would seem that the widget’s color might be the attribute that interests you.

Next, you sadistically characterize this big pile of data. Open up a spreadsheet, and open up a bottle of Black and Tan, a Killian’s Red, a Pale or Brown Ale, a Blue Moon, or an Amber Lager. And unleash the sarcastical analysis.

The goal for your spreadsheet is to come out with two numbers, which we call the upper control limit and the lower control limit. Then when you saunter into work the following day, after recovering from a colorful hangover, you can start using these two numbers on brand new production data. Measure the next widget off the production line. If it falls between the lower control limit and the upper control limit, then relax and pull another Black and Tan out of your toolbox. You can relax cuz you know your process is under control.


The yellow crayon is just a few nanometers short of a full deck

When a part falls outside the control limits, the camera doesn’t automatically cut to Tom Hanks saying “Houston, we have a problem”. We’re not sure just yet whether this is a real problem or a shell-fish-stick anomaly. The important thing is, we start looking for Jim the SOP Guy, since he is the only one in the plant who knows where to find the standard operating procedure for troubleshooting the widget making machine.

Note that I was careful not to start the previous paragraph with “when a part is bad…” Being outside of control limits does not necessarily mean that the part is unacceptable for the person writing out a check for the widgets. Hopefully, the control limits are well within the tolerances that are written into the contract. And hopefully, the control limits that are used on the manufacturing floor were based entirely off data from the process, and the SPC code of ethics has not been sullied by allowing the customer tolerances to be used in place of control limits. That would be icky.

Identifying control limits

But how do we decide what the appropriate control limits are? If we set the control limits too tight, then Jim the SOP Guy never gets time to finish the Blue Moon he opened up for breakfast. And we all know that Jim gets really ornery if his beer gets warm.


You don’t want to get Jim the SOP Guy angry!

If on the other hand, we humor Jim the SOP Guy and widen the tolerances to the point where Tom Hanks can fly a lunar lander through them, then we will potentially fail to react when the poor little widget making machine is desperately in need of a little TLC.

So, every time we encounter another measurement of a widget, we are faced with a judgement call. Setting control limits is inherently a judgement call where we balance the risk of wasted time troubleshooting versus missing a machine that’s out of whack.


Why is it so bad to spend a little extra time troubleshooting?  It is, of course, a business expense, but there is an insidious hidden cost to excessive knob gerfiddling. It makes for more variation in the product. If we try to control a process to tighter than it wants to go, we just wind up chasing our tail.

Well, lemme tell ya about when I worked with Deming. This was back in the late 1940’s, just after the Great War to End All Wars. Oh wait. That was WW I. Deming did his stuff just after WW II – the Great War After the Great War to End All Wars. I was about negative thirteen years old at the time. A very precocious young lad of negative thirteen, I was. Deming learned me about the difference between normal variation and special cause. Normal variation is the stuff you can expect with your current process. You can’t get rid of this without changing your process. Special cause means that something is broke and needs attending to.


Try this joke at home with Riesling and with Kipling!

Deming traveled to Japan after the war to help rebuild their manufacturing system. He did that very well. I mean, very well. Deming became a super-hero for the Japanese in much the same way that I have become a super-hero for my dogs. Except, of course, that the Japanese came to revere Deming.

In a nutshell, Deming preached that all manufacturing processes have a natural random variation. We should seek, over the long run, to minimize this by improving our process. This is important, but it is not the topic of this blog series. I want to concentrate on the day-to-day. In the short run, we need to understand the magnitude of our variation. This is done by collecting data, and applying statistics to it. This is used to identify subsequent parts that fall outside that range. When this happens, there is a call for identifying the special cause, and correcting the issue.

A part is identified as being potentially bad if it is so far from the norm that it is unlikely to have come from the same process. This is important enough to repeat. A part is identified as being potentially bad if the probability of it falling within the established statistical distribution of the process is very small. So, it’s all about probabilities.

Enter normality

If we assume that the underlying distribution is “normal” (AKA a Gaussian or bell curve), then we can readily characterize the likelihood of a part being bad based on the mean and standard deviation of the process. In a normal distribution, 68% of all samples fall within 1 standard deviation of the mean, 95.5% fall within 2 standard deviations of the mean, and 99.74% fall within 3 standard deviations of the mean.


Folks who have taken credit for DeMoivre’s invention


The characterizing of our process is pretty simple. You know, when you opened up the spreadsheet and took a long drink of the Amber Lager?  You don’t have to tell your boss how simple it is, but here it is for you: Compute the average of the data. That goes in one cell of a spreadhseet. Compute the standard deviation. That goes in a second cell. Then, multiply the standard deviation by the magic number 3. Subtract this product from the mean (third cell in the spreadsheet), and add this product to the mean (fourth cell). This third and fourth cell are the lower and upper control limits, respectively.

If the process produces normal data, and if nothing changes in our process, then 99.74% of the time, the part will be within those control limits. And once every 400 parts, we will find a part that is nothing more than an unavoidable tansistical anomaly.

The big IF

Note the sentence that predicated assigning the numbers to the likelihood of false alarms: If the underlying distribution is normal…

Spoiler alert for next week’s blog post. Color difference data is not normal. And by that I mean, it doesn’t fit the normal distribution. This messes up the whole probability thing.


Sadly, differences of color don’t live in this city!

Here is a scenario that suggests there may be a difficulty. Let’s just say for example, that the average of our color difference data is 5 ΔE, and that the standard deviation is 1 ΔE. That puts our lower control limit at 2 ΔE.

Let’s say that we happen to pull out a part and the difference between its color and the target color is 1 ΔE. What should we do? Classical control theory says that we need to start an investigation into why this part is outside of the control limits. Something must be wrong with our process! The sky is falling!

But stop and think about it. If the part is within 1 ΔE of the target color, then it’s pretty darn good. Everyone should be happy. Classical control theory would lead us to the conclusion that something must be wrong with our process because the part was closer to the target color than is typical!

The obvious solution to this is that we simply ignore the lower control limit. That will avoid our embarrassment when we realize that we fired that incompetent operator for doing too good a job. But, this simple example is a clue that something larger might be amiss. Stay tuned for next week’s exciting blog post, where I explain how it is that color difference values are really far from being normally distributed!

About the Author:

john seymour john the math guyJohn Seymour is a consultant, working since 2012 as an Applied Mathematician and Color Scientist. He has been doing research in printing, color theory, and imaging since 1992. He currently hold twenty patents and have authored over thirty technical papers. John is an expert on the Committee for Graphic Arts Technologies Standards, and is Vice President of Papers for the Technical Association of the Graphic Arts. Prior to consulting, John was an applied researcher for QuadTech. He has a very popular blog ( which is usually about color, math, general science, but is always entertaining.

Twitter: @John_TheMathGuy

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