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.
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's IDS10 Inplant Dispenser
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
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 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
"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.
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.
Phantom Hand Proofer
"It's like changing the oil every 3,000 miles," Harper says. "It's the same philosophy, so often ignored."