Ink Management Systems

By Jack Kenny | August 31, 2007

Tools for productivity, waste reduction, inventory control, and in-house production of custom colors.

Managing inks in a printing plant can be an onerous task or it can be a streamlined operation. Producing special colors for the demanding customer can be accomplished through an order for custom blends from the ink supplier, or the inks can be created in-house. Leftover inks from a print job can be stored or disposed of on the one hand, or re-used in a new batch on the other. Printers decide which of these either-or groups they belong to. Some are advanced enough to adopt techniques that modernize the ink dispensing operation, while others are comfortable with age-old methods.

Joe Schlinkert, director of technology at Color Resolutions International, inspects the ink on finished labels in the lab.
Ink management systems have been around for years, though not everyone in the narrow web converting industry has them. Even those who do have such systems generally don't make full use of the benefits that they offer, according to ink company representatives. "The capabilities of ink management systems are rarely used by many converters," says one ink vendor. "They don't take the time to use them."

The systems are generally composed of a scale, a computer with special software, and a blending unit. The advantages, say the marketers, are many: They permit the creation of custom colors in exactly the quantities needed for a job; they reduce ink waste; and they improve productivity by virtue of the speed to press. They also can allow for ink inventory management.

Mike Buystedt, director of new market development for XSYS Print Solutions, Plymouth, MN, USA, says that about half of all narrow web converters use some type of ink management system. "It takes a certain discipline to manage ink," he says. "People can make the process difficult, but we work with them to make it less complicated."

Following are details of a selection of ink management systems and products provided by several vendors. A list of companies that offer such systems appears on page 70.

Sun Chemical

Sun Chemical's IDS10 Inplant Dispenser
The Integra ink blending system offered by Sun Chemical incorporates Windows Ink Manager and incorporates accurate weigh down with comprehensive formula storage and numerous color and stock control features. The Integra Ink Manager ensures that colors are mixed quickly, accurately and consistently, with the goal of saving time and ink and improving quality.

The software controls the IDS10 Inplant Dispenser, a compact, high performance unit with a small footprint. The dispenser will hold up to 20 colors and will dispense batches of ink up to 11 pounds. It is suitable for flexographic inks and varnishes as well as for UV screen inks.

Water Ink Technologies

As with most systems, the Ink Miser Batch System from Water Ink Technologies features a CPU and monitor, scale, printer, keyboard, mouse, software, scanner, and hardware and software support.

"With this system you can mix your own PMS colors from base colors," says Marketing Manager John Signet. "You can stock a range of nine to 13 base products and match custom PMS colors. You get excellent matches with our inks, and you can mix only what you need. It helps reduce waste and you get to press much sooner. It's a lot cheaper to mix inks on your own than to have to order each one, and then wait for the shipment to arrive.

Water Ink Technologies' ink management system
"Part of the system is an inventory program, which also stores custom formulas. You have to have good control of your ink room, weigh the inks when they go out, and also weigh them when they come back in. The system has features that will help prevent waste. For example, if you make a mistake in the mixing, the system will self-correct."

The waste reduction aspect of the program involves re-use of leftover inks. "If you bring ink back from the press," Signet says, "the system will help match it to create another color. For example, if you bring back four pounds of a light blue custom color, the program can help you use that to create a darker blue.

"You have to keep track of these," he adds. "You have to log in all that information. It's detailed paperwork, and you have to keep up with it."

Fujifilm Sericol

Fujifilm Sericol markets ink management systems by GFI, designed for different sizes of printing operation. The Color Serve IMS Dispenser is for large volumes of ink. Other units are the OPT-1600 and OPT-1800 fully automated dispensers.

Sericol's OPT-1800 ink dispenser
According to Segment Marketing Manager Jon Fultz, "The systems provide cost savings by reducing labor costs, reducing inventory, decreasing environmental disposal costs, and decreasing the floor space allocated to inks. They improve inventory control by helping the printer get a better handle on ink costs, by decreasing inventory items on the shelf, by decreasing the frequency of too much ink being made, and by reducing shelf items through ink work-off.

"The quality of the inks are improved as well through increased accuracy and repeatability from batch to batch," Fultz says. "And finally there are productivity improvements: Unattended dispensing frees up the press operator; there is reduced press downtime, and improvement of consumption."

Color Resolutions International

"Ultimately, you can dispense inks on an as-demanded basis," says Joe Schlinkert, director of technology at Color Resolutions International. "Most dispensing systems in use today have software packages that help to handle re-work, and inventory management systems, so if you have press returns coming back to the ink room, you enter the information into the database, and the formulas are known. When you go to produce another color — say you have some reds that are slow moving — when another red comes up for mixing, the system will mathematically balance the formula to use up the older ink."

Color Resolutions' systems also use base inks which are used to create a multitude of colors for printing. "Depending on the application, some use 12, and some use 16. These are concentrated dispersions, perhaps two or three times concentrated. They are thinned out with balanced extenders."

Schlinkert says that one of the company's label converter customers, PCM in Mexico, has seen greater than 20 percent improvement in overall ink efficiency.

XSYS Print Solutions

The ink management system from XSYS is called THink 2000. "The software gives the user the possibility to dispense the correct formulation the first time," says Mike Buystedt. "Say you want PMS 186 red, which is exactly the same as 185 except with a little bit of black in it. And you want to make seven pounds. The system will tell you how to do so using the 185 that you have, so you aren't using fresh base ink but something you already have, and possibly have written off. That's a basic example.

"Surplus blending can be returned to the software and will be reused," he adds. "Formulas are automatically re-calculated if the user should happen to over-pour a color. The dispensing function is user friendly, showing clearly on the screen the formula and the amount of product needed."

Another method of ink management, one that is a great deal more basic but still critical to performance, is the proofing device. "You can reduce waste and improve productivity by using a proofing device that is tied to a press; it can save thousands of dollars," he notes. "The proofing system has to match the anilox roll." Buystedt is also active in XSYS Supplies, which markets the Perfect Proofer, manufactured by Integrity Engineering. The device has a built-in anilox roller to produce the proof color in the same manner in which it is reproduced on press.

Harper Scientific

Phantom Hand Proofer
Along similar lines is the Phantom Hand Proofer from Harper Scientific. "It's a laser engraved anilox roll that more closely simulates what the printer has on the press," says Jim Harper, vice president. The device is about three inches in length and 0.75" in diameter. "If I were a converter, I would insist that a proof be made every time in my lab with ink that is going to run on my job. The worst time to find out that you don't have the right ink is when the job is running. It is so much less painful to proof it.

"It's like changing the oil every 3,000 miles," Harper says. "It's the same philosophy, so often ignored."