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Web inspection technology is often the unsung hero of the packaging production process. But delve deeper and it becomes evident that there is a wealth of innovation taking place in a sector defined by intricacy, precision and detail. Tim Sheahan investigates

Launched last year, Tectonic International became one of the first manufacturers to combine digital camera technology and remote monitoring with a print inspection system. The Wales-based business has enjoyed ongoing success with its K3 inspection product, something the firm attributes to its low cost of entry for packaging printers with a modest budget. "The K3 offered printers more than just a camera, but a fully-fledged inspection system that provides high-definition images from a live run," says Sheila Harper, managing director of Tectonic International. "We’ve had a large number of K3 installations and we are now aiming to grow this further following the launch of K3WiFi system."

Despite its relative infancy, the firm’s K3WiFi offering is claimed to be the first system to couple web inspection with remote print monitoring through an iPad or tablet. The K3WiFi system enables the press operator to monitor the print quality at the press using the installed monitor as well as through an additional table or iPad device. According to Harper, the use of the tablet allows the print operator to store live images for quality assurance purposes or customer sign-off while on jobs.

Wireless innovation

On a convenience basis, the on-press installation of K3WiFi gives production staff the opportunity to monitor the live print run across the print plant, not just in the press room. Harper adds: "K3WiFi Print Inspection System is a low cost, clever quality control tool which is proving invaluable to our customers. WiFi image streaming is included in the standard specification along with a tablet so that the printer and any other person responsible for the quality of the product can monitor the live run from any location.

"The tablet supplied with the system can also be used to monitor the information supplied by a press manufacturer’s machine monitoring App, so the printer and quality assurance team have statistical and visual records of the print run to hand."

Colour perfection
Another manufacturer that has had a buoyant 2013 thus far is QuadTech, which had a positive showing at last month’s ICE Europe event in Munich.

Recording a marked 16% increase in visitors compared to the last show, 6,600 visitors from an impressive 64 countries descended on the Munich event to take in the latest developments in the field of web-based converting.

QuadTech placed particular emphasis on its Color Quality Solution, which is pitched as "uniquely capable" of both sharing and processing offline and in-line colour data.

This ensures a standard spectral colour measurement procedure is carried out through the ink dispensing and printing stages of packaging production. The system comprises in-line spectral data that is obtained from QuadTech’s SpectralCam, ink formulation data from X-Rite, and rounding it off is ink dispensing technology from Huber Group or other suppliers.

"For the first time, colour data can be shared in a common format and processed between in-line colour control and off-line colour measurement technology, says Stephan Doppelhammer, regional sales manager for QuadTech in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. "As a result, the packaging printer has an accelerated, assured means of arriving at colour perfection and maintaining it to the final print."

According to QuadTech, the process starts with customer-defined colour targets, with a spectral colour curve generated for each colour target. This is then loaded into the ink formulation software, which formulates an ink "recipe", that is based on the ink database. This is then sent to the ink dispenser, which prepares the ink batch for production. After successful quality control through the draw-down process, the ink goes to press.

The next stage involves loading colour targets into QuadTech’s Color Measurement System with SpectralCam. Following press start-up, colour measurements are automatically taken and any colour deviations are captured and reported in ?E values.

The printed work is then immediately compared with the original colour information, and if perfect colour is not achieved, a .CxF file is automatically created and sent back to the ink kitchen’s ink formulation software for "fine-tuning" of the recipe. During printing stage, the colour measurement system shows real-time ?E, solid density and dot gain values via an operator touchscreen.

"By simplifying one of the most time-consuming and complex stages of the make-ready stage, this solution offers potential for significantly reduced start-up waste and time savings," adds Doppelhammer.

Elsewhere, Erhardt+Leimer is another manufacturer that has continued its recent momentum in the tradeshow arena, with a strong showing at the ICE Europe 2013 exhibition in Munich.

The manufacturer invited visitors of the exhibition to bring along a material sample of their choice to the E+L stand and witness the staff measure the sample’s thickness in a live demonstration. Many visitors did so, and were impressed by the ELTIM system’s accuracy and by the fact that it is not necessary to calibrate it prior to the measurement.

ELTIM is a radiation-free solution based on ultrasonic technology for monitoring of material thickness, weight and other relevant properties of a product during different production processes.

It allows a precise measurement of the individual layer thickness with an accuracy of 0.5% to 0.2% – even in combination with other substrates. Precise recipe specification or repeated calibration will lead to even better values.

ELTIM has a large measuring gap, is insensitive against fluctuations in the height of the web and doesn’t affect the properties of the material. In addition, the measurement is independent from the colour and the material.

Erhardt+Leimer will also be carrying out live demonstrations of the new ELTIM machine at the forthcoming Converflex event in Milan, 7-11 May.

Web inspection installations
On the manufacturing front, Tectonic International and QuadTech have been enjoying solid traction on their new product lines. Elsewhere in the UK, CRP Print & Packaging, one of Europe’s major independent packaging groups, has benefited greatly from a recent Eltromat web inspection installation within its pre-print operation.

The Corby, Northamptonshire-based group, which has worked for Coca-Cola, Oral-B and Cadbury, undertook a significant investment programme that culminated in the installation of a three-camera web system from German manufacturer Eltromat.

The "state of the art camera" system is designed to constantly scan the press web and read each individual case as it is printed in real time. According to CRP, this is digitally measured for any deviation from the approved customer print sample. Following this, a full digital image log of incidents seen during the print run can be removed "at source", which helps ensure that a perfectly-consistent product reaches the customer.

"The continued investment in our pre-print operation underlines the company’s position as a market leader within the supply of flexo pre-printed liner," says Chris Shaw, pre-print business manager at CRP. "Brand owners and box makers have the highest quality expectations for print, so our ability to provide defect free reels to box makers linked with the latest colour management technology provides absolute reassurance for brand owners."

According to Shaw, the purpose of the system is not only about eliminating defects from material but also ensuring that consistency and output of the product are in line with exacting client demands.

"The installation is the next step in producing 100% certified defect-free printed material," Shaw adds.