Best practices for flexo printing. This may be, at first glance, a daunting topic. There are so many places in the flexo workflow where variables can impact the final product that the list of best practices is surely longer than the list of converters practicing them. There are, however, common elements in all “best practices.” These will be discussed in this article.
The term “best practices” is defined as “processes and activities that have been shown in practice to be the most effective.” The predicament is how we show in practice that these activities are most effective. This will require a system of measurement and verification that can establish if, in fact, a practice or process is indeed “most effective.”
Therefore, in order to identify any workflow process as a best practice, these questions must be answered with certainty.
1. Can the process be repeated?
2. Can the process be measured?
3. Are there measurement tolerances that determine pass/fail?
4. Is there a calibrated device or system to measure the success of the process?
5. Does measuring and controlling this process element positively impact the overall workflow?
If these questions can be answered with “yes”, then this process is controllable and can be identified as a best practice, or an "opportunity for improvement." Opportunities for improvement are simply best practices that have not previously been measured or controlled to identify and correct weaknesses in them. It is the measurement and control of a process element that allows for identification about its success and impact on the entire print, pre-print process.
Let’s analyze each of the questions listed above. The first question is can the process be repeated? There are many variables in flexographic printing. Can a certain process be repeated exactly each time it is performed? The answer can be different depending upon the market segment (i.e. flexible packaging, narrow-web label, corrugated, etc.), the type and age of the printing press and the type of jobs being produced. Regardless, in order to control and improve the process it must be repeatable.
Once repeatability is determined, a process of measurement must be established and tolerances must be formed in order to establish objectivity in the process. Once established, this objectivity can be used to create a specification or standard. It is important that the tolerance extremes have a clear pass/fail for user-friendliness and to remove any opportunity for human error in the measurement process. The specification and parameters for pass/fail should be simple and directed toward their target audience(s). Many companies run multiple shifts at multiple plants that may include facilities in different countries. Simplistic instructions will ensure smooth implementation no matter the size of the company. Pass/fail should be black and white, no shades of grey that will only allow for subjectivity in validation. It is the creation of this specification or standard and adhering to it that leads to improvement and success.
The use of a calibrated device or system will ensure an un-biased analysis of the effectiveness of the workflow. A calibrated device is a constant and remains the same regardless of environment variables. Measuring and verifying a process with a device such as this will determine whether the “opportunity for improvement” can graduate to a “best practice.” It is through measuring and the identification of a process or practice’s success in staying in tolerance that lead to qualification as a best practice.
The key question you must answer is if measuring and controlling this process element positively impacts the overall workflow? The goal of “best practices” is to increase efficiency in the workflow. The definition of efficiency is “the ability to do something well or achieve a desired result without wasting energy or effort.” At times, implementation of too many measurement tasks can add so much to the overall workload of an operator that it has an adverse effect on the efficiency of the workflow. Therefore, to be defined as a best practice, the benefit of improvement and control of a process element must have positive impact on the rest of the workflow.
Best practices can occur anywhere in the workflow. They can be unique to a specific print environment, and they do not necessarily need an industry standard to define. They are simply those processes in any workflow where measuring, tracking, and controlling their output results in fewer errors, more efficient production, and verification of success prior to proceeding in the workflow.
When implementing best practice systems, seek the guidance of suppliers and manufacturers. They have often worked with other customers that have implemented systems of their own. Suppliers and manufacturers also have knowledgeable staff trained specifically in implementing best practices with their product lines. They can be a valuable resource in the establishment of best practices within your company.
Anderson & Vreeland
Justin Green and Tyler Harrell are with the Training and Technologies Division at Anderson & Vreeland.