The costs that you can influence | Sector Focus

There’s not a lot a packaging printer can do when faced with rising costs for inks and consumables. However, not all is lost and as Philip Chadwick finds, by controlling the use of some consumables money can be saved

print inks

It was in May of this year when the great and the good assembled in Düsseldorf for the world’s biggest print exhibition – Drupa. If you looked in on any of the halls, then your ear drums would be smacked by the hum of presses churning out endless sheets and reels of paper. And then there’s the finishing kit handling staggering numbers of packs from cartons to flexibles.

While converters might be understandably excited at catching a glimpse of the latest hardware there are other subjects that have been occupying their minds this year – namely the rising cost of inks and consumables. Price pressures have been hitting packaging printers hard over the last few years and the hikes in raw material costs seem to have a never ending domino effect on the supply chain.

Pressroom tweaks

However, while all the doom and gloom is difficult to avoid the sector has still come up with several innovations, partnerships and new products over the course of 2012. And there are those who claim that ink costs can be brought under control thanks to a few pressroom tweaks.

A few tweaks might help but it won’t bring to an end the highly volatile raw material markets. It was these set of circumstances that was behind a price rise from Flint Group last month. The ink manufacturer’s statement, detailing why prices will rise from 2-6% from 2013, was revealing in that it pretty much sums up the rough trading conditions.

Doug Aldred, president of packaging and narrow web at Flint, explained: “Cost pressure has been constant and the magnitude of the increases require that we pass some of the increases through the supply chain. Flint Group has made every effort to mitigate these cost increases by process optimisation and a leaner organisation as part of the continuous improvement process.”

It’s not easy for the converter at a time when the supermarkets and brands are looking to get the price of packaging down. Maarten Hummelen, marketing director at GSE Dispensing, observes that it is a demanding world for the converter. “There are things that you can’t manage,” he says. “A fax is sent through saying that prices are going up and that’s it. It’s also not easy to simply change your ink supplier. You can’t control those areas. However, there are aspects of business life that you can control.”

GSE Dispensing has a series of products designed to measure out the precise amount of ink that’s needed for any run of jobs and ensure that consumables can be recycled in the future. So there’s not just an economic advantage but also an environmental one. Hummelen describes the principle as lean printing.

Essentially there are three elements – a gravimetric ink dispensing system, an offline tabletop proofer and ink management software. According to GSE, dispensing systems vary according to quantity and ink needs: compact cartridge-holding systems that dispense a maximum of 5kg of ink are suitable for short-run label printers; systems that can handle up to 200kg tend to be more appropriate for corrugated board or flexible packaging printers.

Hummelen adds that the product measures out a precise amount (a dosage accuracy is determined to within 1g and, in some cases, 0.1g), helping companies to reduce ink consumption. Ink that is left over can be included in future jobs and a good ink dispenser can enable the printer to improve ink yields by up to 30%. “You can recycle your returns in a simple and effective way,” he adds. “The cost of a job becomes less.”

Software’s key role

But while hardware, such as weighing kit, is an important cog in the measuring system, ink management software also has a major role to play. Hummelen points out that ink management software can provide a converter information on ink budgets, improving stock forecasting and waste reduction. The real-time information ought to give a printer a better grip on the ink costs per order.

Colour management can also play a role in driving down costs related to inks and consumables, according to Jan de Roeck, director of solutions management at Esko. “Colour is created when the ink hits the substrate but what happens before that point is crucial in driving costs down.”

The pre-press software specialist has been involved in one of the print sector’s biggest launch of the year, PantoneLive. The product has already been scrutinised in this magazine (Packaging News, May 2012) and is a cloud-based product meaning that colour information can be made accessible throughout the entire supply chain. While this is reported to enhance colour accuracy, there is a knock-on effect for ink usage.

The theory is that if you can get the colour spot on in the first place, then this saves the need for re-runs. “The economic situation means that there is increasing demand to do things better – to get things right from day one,” adds de Roeck.

Esko isn’t the only company involved in the development of PantoneLive; Pantone also linked up with X-Rite and Sun Chemical. The latter company’s is of interest and shows that an ink company isn’t just a supplier of ink – it has more strings to its bow and takes a wider view of the print supply chain.

Also making a play for the colour management market is QuadTech. At Drupa it launched its Color Quality Solution targeting the web offset market. The system involves in-line spectral data obtained from QuadTech, ink formulation data from X-Rite and ink dispensing technology from Huber Group.

“The product aims to save convertors time and waste,” explains QuadTech head of sales Caroline Zimmer, who was also highlighting the system at last month’s Emballage exhibition in Paris. “It provides information on areas such as ink formulation, showing how much ink needs to be used in a particular job.”

For packaging printers, this kind of almost forensic information on a print job could not only help them reduce waste but also save money. And while at trade exhibitions the heavy metal will always steal the show, perhaps the real stars are those products that provide converters the tools to crunch the numbers. It’s these money saving systems that could be worth their weight in gold.