- March 01, 2001, Edward Boyle, Contributing Editor
Consumers often judge the quality of a food product by its package. Without visual appeal, they might never get to the taste at all. That's just one reason that Amgraph Packaging Inc., Versailles, CT, is using the latest technology in printing inks and inspection to help its end users pass the sight tests of shoppers.
Amgraph operates a total of ten flexo, gravure, and web offset presses at its converting facility. Those include two Stevens MS 1000 six-color web offset presses, as well as presses from manufacturers that include Waldron, Rotomec, and Wolverine. Those presses deliver product in up to six colors in widths from 30-60 in.
VP of marketing Kenny Fontaine says it must be a combination of quality, service, and price that attracts customers in the food, nutriceutical, confectionery, and health/beauty markets. To enhance quality, Amgraph reports that it began working two years ago with Unilux to help it make those customer-critical impressions.
Four Times Brighter
Working hand in hand with Amgraph, Unilux developed the Lith-O-Light LOL-15, a hand-held inspection light designed for the long repeat patterns encountered in food package converting.
By combining the lightweight LOL-5 lighthead with Unilux's LOL-10 power supply, the new light reportedly is four times brighter than the LOL-5 and has a slow enough flash rate to make viewing at full production speeds less fatiguing for press operators.
“Offset lithography has a much shorter and more cost-effective makeready process than gravure, but it still requires close inspection,” explains Charlie Grant, Amgraph's lead maintenance person. “You have to be able to see all of one image to make sure there are no smears, smudges, or watermarks. By having the Unilux strobe timed to the press, we're able to see that image and know that a column in our web is good or if there is a problem. Our webs on the Stevens presses can have multiple images stepped across the web. We have to stand close to the web to view it, so it's necessary to look at multiple points across the web with the inspection light to view all copy.”
Grant notes that the Unilux LOL-15, introduced earlier this year, also helps press operators inspect the web during makeready for proper registration, as well as identify ink buildup in the blanket gap that could ruin a job.
Teamwork Is Natural
With a relationship spanning two decades, it was natural for Amgraph and Unilux to collaborate on the new system. Amgraph has used a number of Unilux lights on its presses and rewinders, including an older model for monitoring long repeats.
According to Fontaine, having stroboscopic lamps on virtually every piece of converting equipment allows repeated quality checks throughout the converting process and guarantees the customer virtually defect-free packaging.
“It was a higher speed light than we needed for this particular application, but we thought it was bright enough to see what we needed,” Grant says of the older light. “Nobody else had anything like it or would repair it. Unilux rebuilt the units for us in the late 80s, and we just kept sending it back for repair work. It was fine until Unilux told us they couldn't get parts for it anymore.”
Amgraph tested some of Unilux's existing lights but ultimately required that a special light be developed for the application. The converter liked the portability of its old light, and its needs continued to mandate a hand-held unit. Another key for the converter was brightness, and that need ruled out the standard LOL-5 configuration.
To give Amgraph the intensity it needed, Unilux adapted the LOL-10 power supply to the smaller lighthead. The increased power and Unilux's reflector design combined to quadruple the brightness. Unilux then was able to slow down the flash rate for the longer repeat. Synchronizing the trigger to the press speed put the package together.
“When they brought up the prototype, we liked it so much we didn't want to give it back,” Grant says with a laugh. “It was just what we were looking for — we ordered four more right away. It's a much more compact light that gets brighter faster, a major benefit that is definitely appreciated by operators.”
In addition to spotting defects on the press, the light also helps operators spot “plate scum,” a condition caused by drying up of the plates and rollers. This dry-up appears gradually, Grant reports, and the brighter light gives operators time to determine if and when a press must be shut down and cleaned before resuming work. Better monitoring of the dry-ups helps Amgraph reduce waste as well as maximize press uptime, Grant adds.
“This light is so much better than the big metal strobes we had before,” says press operator Dave Baton. “With the brighter light, it's easier to see the scum. It was a lot harder before when using colored stock, because there was hardly any contrast, and the light wasn't bright enough to help us pick it up.”
Durability an Added Benefit
Even on other presses running at higher speeds, the LOL-15 is Amgraph's inspection light of choice. “It's extremely convenient to use,” explains operator David Buchan. “The smaller size lets us move it around to check registration and spot plate cracks, as well as see defects. It's always on the hook and ready to go.”
“Unliux lights have been durable for us,” says Charlie Grant. “Many shops view lights as disposable items, but we use a number of different lights, and we keep them around for a long time.”
In fact, Amgraph has Unilux LOL-5 lights on its rewinders to flag and remove defective areas. It has a Unilux 880 that has been on its Rotomec gravure press for ten years.
As Grant points out, “Our gravure press runs large-coverage jobs with lower viscosity ink than in our litho area. The light gives us broad coverage. We have it on a track so we can slide it to where an operator needs to get a closer look. This press has a 30-inch-wide web, and we generally run it at 600 feet per minute.”
Friend to the Environment
Amgraph's willingness to work with Unilux on the development of its new LOL-15 is an example of the company's innovations throughout the converting process.
Amgraph was an early user of 100% water-based inks and 100% solid-cured inks and adhesives. The company likes the environmental benefits these products offer, as well as the fact that they reduce odors that can affect the taste of packaged food. The company generates “virtually zero” emissions and has been doing so for nearly 25 years, according to Fontaine.
“We have always combined environmental protection with packaging integrity for our customers, who are primarily food processors and packagers but also include those in the pharmaceutical and health and beauty aid industries,” said Kenny Fontaine. “We switched to 100 percent water-based gravure and flexographic inks while maintaining and improving our product quality.
As a result, we have reduced our waste management costs and gone above and beyond the strict water and environmental laws of Connecticut.”
He adds, “We also have gone to 100 percent solids-cured adhesive laminators that eliminate VOCs. The technique has been common for cardboard boxes, but it hasn't gotten much attention in the printing of flexible packaging. We've been doing it for 13 years, and the industry will have to follow this direction. You have to be very precise, but there are no odors, and that makes it better for food packaging.” (Inks, adhesives, and materials suppliers are proprietary.)
Amgraph president and CEO Ken Fontaine explains that corporate citizenship has been a cornerstone of his company's operations, and Amgraph has pushed its suppliers to solve quality problems within an environmental framework.
“We have a cleaner sewage discharge than most homes,” he says. “We evaporate our water and haul away residual solids. We also work very hard trying to eliminate our air emissions wherever possible. Most importantly, our customers like to hear that the packaging components are free of solvents, and that there is no retention of any odors in their products.”
Fontaine continues, “We have high expectations regarding the quality and service we get from our vendors in order to help us find solutions for our customers. Equally as important as producing our packaging with environmentally friendly processes that enhance the food products inside, we needed a high quality light source timed to inspect our long repeats and make sure the package has maximum visual appeal. Unilux stepped in and worked closely with us to make that happen.”
Amgraph Packaging Inc., Versailles, CT; 800/243-0294
Unilux Inc.Saddle Brook, NJ; 800/522-0801
Stevens Intl. Inc., Stevens Div., Fort Worth, TX; 817/831-5300
Waldron Machinery/Somerset Technologies Inc., New Brunswick, NJ; ph: 732/356-6000; fax: 732/356-0643.
Rotomec America, West Hartford, CT; 860/953-3504
Wolverine Flexographic Mfg., Farmington, MI; 248/476-7700