Not all elements involved in printing technology have kept pace with digital technology. In particular, conventional ink meters are not smart. As speeds go up and inks improve, the problem remains that ink meter technology has not matched the innovations in other areas.
Chemical Research/Technology (CRT) is the in-plant ink manufacturer for Quad Graphics, the third-largest printer in the USA. CRT supplies all the types of ink required by each of the Quad Graphics plants from its base in Hartford, Wisconsin, USA, and its plants in La Mira, Wisconsin, and Martinsburg, West Virginia. USA CRT supplies 98 per cent of the company's total demand, and Quad Graphics is an increasingly automated environment.
As the march of technological progress brings new methods and machinery online, CRT has been searching for smart tools and smart systems to make the printing process even more efficient.
Standard flow meters have caused a lot of problems. Reliability falls off quickly under normal operating conditions and they require too much calibration. Most suppliers' mass flow meters operate on the principle of vibration, and, in a press room environment, that proves problematic.
CRT approached Tom Gray at Link-Tech, based in Wisconsin, in search of a solution in which cost, accuracy and the ability to interface with its smart systems was vital.
Among CRT's criteria was the provision of meters capable of electronic calibration and remote monitoring. The company has 130 web presses in the USA, South America and Poland, and wanted to be able to access, monitor and update these machines electronically.
With accurate, adaptable meters such as these, ink changes are a totally different experience
The Link-Tech Ranger meter was run online for a trial period of eight months in CRT's ink plant on the Pantone special matching colours line. The meter was cross-referenced against a digital scale and at the end of that time it was absolutely calibrated.
Quad Graphics' biggest press in Hartford is a Heidelberg M 3000, and is used to run very heavy ink jobs, including Sports Illustrated. These are massive jobs that run on multiple presses in several locations, go to print on Sunday and are in the hands of the customers throughout the country by Tuesday. The Ranger meter was tried amidst concern that, as with all experimental equipment, it might not take the flow. However, the meter performed very well.
Link-Tech meters are so accurate that an alert machine man noticed one recording ink flow on a machine that was down for a two-day service. Air pumps feed the ink to the press and they work on both the up and the down stroke. Two check valves work to a specific pressure to maintain the ink flow. On one of them, a small leak was allowing ink pressure to fall so that ink in the line could move backwards and forwards. The non-return was coming close to failure, and the meter had recorded the flow.
Link-Tech meters are also smart: software-controlled sensors monitor the direction of ink flows and also control the calibration and measuring processes. As CRT is about to convert its first plant to Quad Graphics computer tools to further automate print processes, the Link-Tech meters clearly match its technology needs.
Now a customer will be able to specify an ink and a paper three months before going to press, and the changeover from one job to another will be handled confidently, quickly and simply. Press operators can see the rate of flow and the consumption rate, and the meter tracks all the way through the print job.
With accurate, adaptable meters such as these, ink changes are a totally different experience. The advantage is that manual methods are no longer used. There will be less mess and no more manual recording of balances or errors on record keeping. The Link-Tech meter allows the specific gravity of the ink to be entered so that the meter can adapt to a change of ink automatically and report the figures accurately and reliably. That means that when a customer is using 40lb sheet for a specific job, Quad Graphics can say: 'That's a nice paper, let's use a nice ink on it'. A better ink improves the print job, giving the customer better results. This is all possible because the meter can compensate automatically for a new ink.
In and out balances are increasingly important to printers in terms of meeting environmental regulations
The company is getting accurate counts now, certainly within less than 1 per cent and probably less than half a per cent variance. One installation checked for accuracy was getting 9.98lb from 10lb of ink. Considering that the identical print job on two otherwise identical presses with conventional meters can show a 10-15 per cent discrepancy, the new meters are proving more accurate and they do not need recalibrating every two weeks.
In and out balances are increasingly important to printers in terms of meeting environmental regulations and with these meters it is possible to account for every pound of ink. This is particularly important when air permits are based on these numbers. The environmental push and the drive for lower costs, including the reduction of waste, are all dependent on much more accurate numbers.
CRT is currently putting the new meters on 130 presses. Ten are already fitted with the new Quad Graphics power tools system and five more are about to go online. The meters have so far proved to be accurate on every machine.
CRT believes Link-Tech is doing a wonderful job. They've developed software that can adapt to any meter and their electronics have also improved the accuracy of their counters. 'They're great people to work with. We run a 365/24 business, and installing all the Link-Tech technology we need can't happen fast enough for me,' says Tim Hofstetter, Division Manager for the CRT Group.
About Quad/Graphics and Link-Tech
Quad/Graphics was founded in 1971 by Harry V Quadracci. Operations began in a disused millwork factory in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, USA, with just 11 employees. Landing Newsweek in 1978 signified a turning point for the fledgling company. The weekly magazine work enabled it to establish a consistent workload and the opportunity to prove itself as a quality-minded, innovative print services provider. In fact, Newsweek has honored Quad/Graphics as its Printer of the Year for the past 15 consecutive years, recognizing, among other factors, its can-do-against-all-odds attitude. It has now become very proficient in weekly magazine production and currently prints numerous weekly titles that capitalize on many of its industry-first capabilities. Today, Quad/Graphics is the largest privately-held printer in the world, with US$2 billion in sales, 13,000 employees and 22 printing and production-related facilities on three continents.
Link-Tech was founded by Thomas Gray in 1990. It's mission is the same as its tag line: 'Linking technologies for productivity'. The company is focused on the ink delivery systems market. Its entire product line is engineered for the high-volume printer's needs, although its modular design allows smaller printers to realize a ROI. Over the course of ten years, Link-Tech has established a reputation for extremely high quality and innovation with a legacy of several revolutionary products:
- The Flex/Ink-Net System (designed to be a fully plug'n'play system that requires no specialized field installation)
- The Ranger 3000B ink flow meter
- The Link-Tech Modular Ink Filtration System (Link-Tech's ink filters are the only filters in the world made to withstand 4500psi without crushing)
- The 142 Micron Filter (removes particulate contamination and is one of the only filters to separate plastics from the ink)