Video web inspection: the view from the press floor.

Press operators from three converting companies talk about their experiences with video web inspection and what it means to find the right equipment.

The diversity of press operators interviewed for this article parallels the diversity of the converting industry itself. These operators control presses ranging from wide web to narrow, with press speeds as fast as 900 fpm or as slow as 150 fpm, printing as few as two colors or as many as ten. The end products vary from elaborate forms, bright balloons and flexible packaging to process labels and coupons. Yet, they all have one thing in common: video web inspection.

"It's been a savior," says Rob Bredendick of Glenroy Inc., Menomonee Falls, WI. "I've been overwhelmed by what video inspection has done for us."

Bob Harrington of York Tape & Label in York, PA, agrees: "From personal experience I'd say our video inspection systems have substantially cut setup time and reduced waste."

Rick Nelson of Moore Response Marketing Services in Mundelein, IL, chimes in: "It's a life-saver. It makes your job so much easier and helps improve quality tremendously."

These are the typical, advertised benefits of video inspection systems. But what makes one system different from another?

The Need for Speed

Nelson, one of Moore's 200 employees in Mundelein and an operator of one of their two process presses, recalls an experience his company had when it was a test site for one maker of web viewing equipment.

"We weren't happy from the start, and the more it was 'improved,' the more difficult it became to run.

"It had a Windows-type program. You would go through, pick the program you wanted and the computer would then have to download itself. Eventually, it would start running the program that allows you to view the web.

"But it took three or four minutes to get that program to run. Meantime, our press was printing at 700 or 800 feet per minute. It was just too slow and complicated."

He adds, "Even the cameras were slow. They used ball-drive linear movement that was extremely time-consuming. And, when I view the web, I need to scan it entirely in a matter of seconds, not minutes."

For Moore, this initial dissatisfaction with video inspection led to a nationwide vendor search conducted by all six press operators and their supervisors. They were looking for a system that offered picture quality as well as speed of operation, along with user-friendliness.

"We looked at units priced to $150,000. Yet, most were not very user-friendly," says Nelson.

"At one time we had three different systems attached to one press, so we could evaluate them side by side. We chose the Pro Mark."

A US manufacturer of narrow and wide web inspection systems, Pro Mark Technologies has systems installed in more than 40 countries. The company maintains worldwide headquarters in Elmhurst, IL, and European headquarters in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Nelson uses one of Pro Mark's two-camera Pro Scan systems mounted on his Harris perfector press with eight print stations. It is a stacked press that runs blanket to blanket.

At Moore 85% of the work printed is four-color process direct mail for the automotive industry and cable television companies. The two-camera system allows simultaneous viewing of both sides of the web. Nelson says average run speed is 700 to 750 fpm, with a top speed of 900 fpm.

The inspection system operates via a touch screen interface, allowing Nelson to easily access split-screen comparison, auto constant scan, positional memory and more.

Meeting Special Challenges

Since 1990 Rob Bredendick of Glenroy has also been using one of the Pro Scan systems. Bredendick utilizes the video inspection unit on an Officine Padane press with five print stations and a 38-in.-wide web.

Glenroy, founded by the late Herb Jablonka, his wife Ruth and their son Roy, has 108 employees, two printing presses and three extrusion coaters. They print on polyester, polyfoil-poly and, occasionally, on paper. End products include a great deal of flexible packaging (ranging from lidding material for gel snack packs to foil pouches for cosmetics and rat poison packaging) and decorative balloons.

The balloons presented a special challenge for video inspection. Bredendick explains, "Some video inspection systems don't see color on foil very well, due to glare. This has not been a problem for us."

He adds, "We do some short runs here, creating a lot of mounting of new jobs. Our system is especially good at picking up air bubbles and plate-ups. We've caught things we might not have seen until we took off the roll."

Easy and Dependable

Bob Harrington, a press operator at York Tape & Label, has used video inspection since joining the company three years ago. He runs several presses, including a Mark Andy 16-in.-wide 4200 with ten print stations. Frequently, he is process printing high-gloss white paper labels for direct mail and primary retail product identification.

Video inspection on the 4200 press is done with a SUPER HANDYScan system from Pro Mark. The system is used to scan the back and front of the web and to monitor critical perforations and registration marks.

"Generally, I magnify the web to see exactly where all the dots are," reports Harrington. "At times a half a dot makes a big difference. We'll also use the auto-scan to move back and forth across the web. That's an important feature to us, because we may be printing three to four wide and five to six around. It allows us to view every impression on the roll."

Aside from its utility, though, what impresses Harrington most about the Pro Mark system is its ease of use and dependability. He states, "In no time at all I had the operation down pat. It's really pretty simple, and maintenance-wise, it's been trouble-free."

Owned by UARCO, a business forms company headquartered in Barrington, IL, York Tape & Label has more than 275 employees, three manufacturing facilities and numerous presses. Eight of those presses are equipped with video inspection systems made by Pro Mark, including six SUPER HANDYScan remote-controlled systems.

"Another Mark Andy 4200 was recently installed," says Harrington. "The difference, though, is that this one has two unwinds. We plan to produce coupon labels on it, two-wide as opposed to the single wide runs we're currently doing on a seven-inch web press. The new press also has a Super Handyscan system."

What About Upgrading?

Operators want a system that is easy to learn and easy to use and will provide excellent picture quality, versatile scanning and the ability to view color on reflective material. There is one more factor that is crucial, and that is equipment upgradability.

Rob Bredendick recalls earlier disappointments with video inspection companies that promised upgrades.

"In the mid-eighties we started using video web inspection. We expected upgrades, but the manufacturer changed its system. Nothing was compatible with our system.

"We were optimistic after we bought a system from another manufacturer, but the picture resolution wasn't as good. Plus, it didn't do some of the things we anticipated. When updates for that unit came along, we learned the updates cost just as much as the original installation!"

Rick Nelson has experienced useful upgrades from Pro Mark at little or no cost. His unit was upgraded to include a grid on the outer perimeter of the touch screen, with arrows indicating camera locations - saving the operator time identifying the camera location.

"We no longer have to look at the cameras to see their physical position on the web," notes Bredendick of the Pro Mark upgrade. "This is a critical upgrade, because we typically print two forms wide, side by side, and I need to know exactly which side I'm viewing. We also received an update to lock in on a color standard, monitor it and alert us if the color needs to be corrected.

"With the Pro Mark all the functions are in front of you. I can move the camera wherever I want or auto-scan so many inches across and around the web. Everything is easy."

Bredendick adds that the screen commands have been upgraded for several languages. "At the touch of a button, you can change all of the commands into Spanish, Italian, French and so forth."

From the press operators' perspective, video inspection should be easy to use and do exactly what it needs to do to ensure significant improvements in quality and productivity.

Rick Nelson sums up: "My press is 14 years old, and it's printing better now than it did ten years ago, primarily due to a video web inspection system that is simple to operate."


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