Inspection Equipment: Quality-assurance technologies can pay big dividends for label printers.

Author:Hrinya, Greg

When printing labels, inspection might not be the process that jumps to the forefront of everyone's mind--but the results can be monumental. A mistake on a label can run the gamut from insignificant to life altering. A mild smudge on a graphic might be unpleasant to the eye, but no harm will be done. A mistake that leads to an incorrect dose or direction on a pharmaceutical or food label, however, can be deadly.

The other pitfall can be lethal from a business perspective. Repeated labeling mistakes can lead a brand to seek a different converter. Frequent mistakes can also lead to poor efficiency, increased waste and slower turnaround times. Developing a quality assurance program, complete with a set of standards, can make all the difference in the bottom line.

"To deliver improved economics, converters need to reduce waste and optimize their label production processes, shifting from their overall practice of web viewing inspection toward 100% print inspection technologies," states Yael Cooper, marketing manager at AVT. "At the same time, they need to implement quality standardization methods across jobs and applications in order to meet brand owners' expectations for quality and repetitiveness across their SKU portfolio--a challenge that requires a more comprehensive approach to their quality assurance practices."

Inspection equipment seeks to remedy all these hazards of the trade. Not all products are created equally, either. Some label converters might need a basic form of quality assurance, while others will require more advanced systems. Converters do need some form of quality assurance, though.

"The consequences of not having a robust, 100% inspection process can be severe," explains Craig Du Mez, global branding, PR and communications manager at Baldwin Vision Systems. "Missing or broken text on a pharmaceutical label can be a matter of life and death. Inaccurate variable data on security print can result in massive costs and litigation. Even if you're not printing in those high-accountability scenarios, everyone should consider the high cost of returns if you fail to ensure that no defects get into the hands of your customers."

"I find it difficult to understand how some label printers don't use inspection," says Robert Buongiorno, president, BST North America. "In the pharmaceutical world it's not even an option, since a missing dot can make the difference from a .10% solution to a 10% solution."

Inspection equipment can encompass several different technologies such as area cameras and line-scan cameras. An area camera would not be classified as true 100% inspection, as these cameras are positioned on a traverse, where they move and zoom to an identified location of the printed web. Meanwhile, line-scan cameras will identify even the smallest defects and notify the press or rewinder operator.

"With 100% inspection, the operator must identify a baseline printed repeat or image, which we call the 'Golden Image," notes Buongiorno. "Once this is established, every millimeter of the printed web is compared to the Golden Image, and when something is identified that was not on or part of the Golden Image, it will notify the operator of a defect."

The latest inspection equipment must also take into account a wide range of technologies and guidelines. "Modern inspection solutions must be able to perform variable print inspections independent of material and format," says Nico Hagemann, product manager, EyeC. "They must also be easy to integrate into existing workflows and be able to securely process production data from other information systems in use. These systems must be developed and produced in accordance to applicable guidelines and standards, such as ISO 9001, GMP, GAMP 5 and 21 CFR Part 11."

When thinking about ROI, converters often focus on press speeds and changeovers times. While those are critical, they might forget about the benefits of inspection equipment.

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