Consultative Selling: What It Is and Why It Works

Listen and Learn with Consultative SellingToday, successful sellers act as trusted advisers to their buyers to help them find the best solutions.  By adopting a consultative selling strategy, salespeople create value in the selling process and benefit from better sales results, stronger customer bases and referrals.

What is consultative selling?

Consultative selling is defined as “personal selling in which a salesperson plays the role of a consultant” by www.businessdictionary.com.  It’s a sales method where the salesperson gains a solid understanding of the buyer’s challenges before recommending a solution.  An important distinction from other methods is that the main objective is helping the prospect find the right solution, not just getting him to “sign on the dotted line.”  The key elements of consultative selling fall into four categories:  research, relationship, resolution and reward.

Research

Today’s customer is much savvier than in the past and is doing his homework before buying.  The explosion of digital media has made it easy for people to access information online and share experiences with each other.  The buyer has already explored solutions, competitors, and prices and is well educated by the time a vendor comes calling.  The salesperson has to do his research, too, and can take advantage of “lead intelligence” to learn about his prospects and hone in on the most qualified leads.

Ask Who, What, Where, How, When and Why with Consultative SellingRelationship

The consultative salesperson is an industry expert who “gets it” and wants to help.  He continues to learn more about his prospect’s challenges and obstacles by asking open-ended questions to uncover his real motivation for buying.  He builds trust by sharing his knowledge without asking for anything in return.

Resolution

If the seller’s products are determined to be a good fit for the buyer, the salesperson presents the customer-specific benefits of his products, figures out the next steps in the purchasing process and establishes a timeline for closing the sale.  If it is clear that he can’t meet the buyer’s needs, it is completely acceptable for him to recommend an alternative solution, even if it’s a competitor!

Reward

No matter the outcome, consultative selling results in a valuable experience for both sides.  The buyer is able to get advice from an industry expert who helps him understand his obstacles and navigate a solution.  By investing time to provide tailored, customized solutions, salespeople will enjoy better closing rates, higher value sales, increased customer retention and referrals.

In the end, consultative selling is about helping prospects find solutions.  Salespeople who take the time to fully understand their buyers’ needs and challenges are in the best position to recommend the right solutions.  They will be rewarded with satisfied, loyal supporters.

Kanban 101

 

Kanban

In today’s competitive marketplace, manufacturers are looking for ways to improve efficiency and wring costs out of the production process. By adopting lean manufacturing concepts, companies can eliminate waste and operate more efficiently. One way to do this is to implement kanban, a Japanese inventory scheduling system that promotes just-in-time production by delivering parts on an as-needed basis.

In a kanban system, the production process is seen as a “chain,” where each “process” becomes the supplier for the next (“downstream”) process in the sequence and a customer to the previous (“upstream”) process. This approach extends all the way to a company’s external suppliers and customers. Kanban optimizes production flow and minimizes inventory levels by directing the supply of parts and components to workers exactly when and where they need them.

The advantages of using a kanban system include:

  • Lower inventory costs
  • Quicker response to changes in demand
  • Increased productivity and efficiency
  • Reduced waste

Kanban Origins

Kanban originated in Japan in the mid-20th century by Toyota looking to increase the efficiency of its factories. Its engineers were inspired by the inventory replenishment process used by supermarkets. They observed that customers purchase only the items and quantities they need, and store employees restock their shelves with only as much product as they expect to sell. This began an important distinction between a “push” system of manufacturing and a demand-based or “pull” system.

 Push vs. Pull Inventory Control Systems

With traditional push manufacturing systems, companies produce what they think their customers will order and make items to stock in batches. While there are economies of scale, the downside is that inventory costs are high and companies can end up overproducing if sales forecasts are incorrect. Excess inventory ties up working capital, increases storage costs and exposes the company to the risk of parts becoming obsolete.

A pull strategy, on the other hand, ties production directly to actual customer demand so there is little risk of overproduction and little excess inventory. Tasks in the production process are completed when requested by the next process down the line so parts or components are “pulled” into production only when needed. With a pull system of inventory management, a company may find itself slow to respond to a sudden increase in demand but very little capital is tied up in excess parts and storage.

Kanban Cards

kanban_cardIn order to facilitate its just-in-time manufacturing system, Toyota instituted a method using cards in its factories called “kanban” (a Japanese word combining “kan” for card and “ban” for signal). The cards, called “kanbans,” contain information about how to replenish each component used in production. By moving a kanban, an employee can signal when more parts are needed by an upstream process, prompting the production or purchase of these additional parts. Each kanban conveys all information required to replace the item such as the part name, number and description as well as the quantity to be produced and any other information about how the replenishment should take place. When delivering a kanban, the employee will write the date the order is initiated or “dropped” and when the parts are needed. The card is placed in a kanban rack to be retrieved along with the container by the appropriate person in the upstream process. Once replenished, the bin containing the new parts and kanban card are returned to their original location.

Six Elements of Kanban

The following principles are fundamental to a kanban system:

  1. Downstream processes always pull from upstream processes
  2. Upstream processes produce only when instructed
  3. Defects are never passed on to the next station
  4. Kanban cards are attached to part containers and no item is moved without a kanban
  5. Production is leveled throughout the system to prevent bottlenecks
  6. There is continuous fine-tuning of the kanbans in the production process

The success of kanban as an inventory control system depends on its execution.  Adopting this system requires well-defined, documented procedures and training so employees are clear about every step, because a disruption in the process may lead to out-of-stocks and delays in filling customer orders. If executed properly, kanban is an excellent tool used to facilitate just-in-time manufacturing by eliminating waste and inefficiency from the production process.

What the Automakers Have Taught Us About Manufacturing Efficiency

production conceptual meter indicate maximum, isolated on white background

We’ve learned a lot from the automakers when it comes to manufacturing efficiency. Our car-making forefathers took a long look at their production methods and figured out ways to increase value by making improvements in their processes. Today, printers, along with countless other industries, are realizing the benefits of implementing these concepts to improve their bottom lines.

It started with Henry Ford. He revolutionized the production process by using interchangeable parts, standardization, and what he’s best known for, the assembly line. By streamlining production, he was able to mass produce the Model T and make cars available to middle class families across America for the first time in 1908.  By 1927, Ford had shipped 15 million cars, and the Model T came to symbolize a new method of manufacturing.

In the mid-21st century, Toyota engineers expanded on Ford’s ideas to become more market-focused. Their inspiration came from a supermarket model of inventory management where stores restock their shelves as products are purchased by shoppers. Applied to manufacturing, the concept of just-in-time inventory replenishment recognizes that more efficient inventory management results when customers “pull” products through the supply chain.

According to Toyota’s website, the objective of its “Toyota Production System,” or TPS, is to serve its customers and employees while aligning with the company’s business goals.  Central to the TPS are the principles of “Kaizen,” “Just in Time Manufacturing” and “Jidoka.”  These values attempt to maximize efficiency and quality by using methods that simplify production flow and speed up response times.  Production is driven by customer demand, and the way resources are allocated within the plant is known as “kanban.” (See Kanban 101 blog post) All employees throughout the organization strive for continuous improvement in every aspect of the process.

Modern lean manufacturing is derived from the TPS and strives to eliminate all excess from a manufacturing system by focusing only on the things that add value. By removing the causes of “muri”,” or overburdening of people or equipment, and “mura,” or unevenness, the overall “muda,” or waste in the manufacturing process is reduced.  (These terms were originally used in Japanese martial arts to protect the fighter by eliminating unnecessary movements!) In relation to manufacturing, seven deadly wastes (or mudas) have been identified:

  1. Transportation
  2. Inventory
  3. Motion
  4. Waiting
  5. Over-processing
  6. Over-production
  7. Defects

These activities take up time, resources and space and add no value in the eyes of the customer.  The more these wastes can be minimized, the more dollars a manufacturer can wring out of the production process.

For several years, press builder Gallus has seen lean manufacturing concepts in the print industry “as a means of ensuring perfect job processing without sacrificing profit margins.” Through its “Smart Production Concept” program, Gallus helps its customers evaluate their print quality, production sequences and production environment to find opportunities to improve pressroom efficiency. The press manufacturer compares lean manufacturing to Formula 1 racing, where “a single second more or less at a pit stop can make the difference between winning and losing.” Click here to read how this company’s efforts are impacting the narrow web print industry.

We can learn a lot from our predecessors when it comes to many things, and manufacturing methods are no exception. Through the years, companies have continued to improve upon the basic concepts of production efficiency introduced by Henry Ford and Toyota.  Today, printers and businesses across many industry sectors strive to adopt the principles of lean manufacturing in order to achieve the ultimate goal of maximizing value to customers and optimizing profits.

 

Flexo Concepts and Partners Travel “Back to the Future” at Labelexpo Europe 2015

Labelexpo Europe 2015 Collaboration PieceFlexo Concepts and its industry partners have chosen the theme, “Back to the Future,” to present the latest advancements in flexo printing technology at Labelexpo Europe 2015.  The piece will be distributed at the show, and visitors interested in learning more about these progressive technologies will be rewarded with a chance to win daily prizes.

In addition to Flexo Concepts, the collaborators included ACTEGA, CalPoly, Clemson, Harper, MacDermid, and UPM Raflatac.  The companies worked together to produce a printed sample that demonstrates the impressive capabilities of today’s flexographic printers.  The eye-catching piece is a platform for the companies to show off their newest innovations from substrate to press to specialty finishes.

The team decided on the movie theme to honor the 30th anniversary of Labelexpo Europe’s move to Brussels and to pay tribute to the 1980s hit film series, “Back to the Future.”  In the trilogy, time travel lands Michael J. Fox’s character, Marty McFly, 30 years in the future in the year (and month of October!) 2015.  The marketing piece features the legendary time machine, a futuristic DeLorean.  The remarkable changes that occurred over that 3-decade period in the movie are meant to reflect the dramatic improvements that have recently taken place in the flexographic print industry.

Partner Contributions

The inks and coatings were supplied by ACTEGA.  The company’s ACTExact® UV process inks are G7 center-line, balanced colors using the cleanest pigments dispersed into a true, liquid rheology ink product.  Its PharmaFlex® Avalanche UV white is a high opacity ink formulated to trap colors cleanly onto a smooth, even surface.  MiraFoil® UV silver, a brilliant, trappable metallic ink, is formulated with a proprietary aluminum flake engineered for optimum reflectance in the ink structure.  ACTEGA’s PureFlex® UV gold is a bright, true gold color dispersed into a low viscosity, easy to use base.  Its GlossCoat® UV curable special effects products include Glow-in-the-Dark, Optically Variable colors and proprietary Glass/Pearl technology, and Rad-Kote® UV is a curable tactile special effect coating that emulates a rubber feel.

CalPoly was responsible for creating the design, and Clemson University printed the samples at its Sonoco Institute of Packaging and Graphics using its Omet Varyflex press running 125 fpm (38 mpm).

Flexo Concepts’ TruPoint Orange® doctor blade was used to produce the fine microtext and apply the specialty inks and coatings to the piece.  The next generation polymer blade has a “MicroTip®” edge which is capable of achieving a fine contact area with the anilox roll for a more effective wipe.  Orange is considered a replacement for steel in narrow web applications and has been proven effective at eliminating UV ink spitting and reducing pressroom injuries.

Harper Corporation of America supplied its anilox technology for the process and specialty ink.  Harper’s XLT-60° engravings were used for the CMYK sections.  Also supplied were a range of other XLT engravings along with various LaserKote anilox engravings needed to print the various specialty inks.

The piece was printed using a LUX ITP 60 printing plate from MacDermid.  LUX ITP 60 is the only plate currently available in the industry to offer flat-to dots built directly into the plate, with no additional steps or equipment necessary.  LUX flat-tops from MacDermid provide improvements in print quality and consistency.  The plate used at the white print station for this piece was Digital MWW from MacDermid.  Digital MWW is a revolutionary new plate from MacDermid that offers increased opacity and decreased mottle for white ink laydown.

UPM Raflatac provided the substrate for the project.  The company’s new VANISH™ TC ultra-thin, ultra-clear polyester films are the ideal choice for the no-label look on rigid containers in applications where both clarity and resistance against water, oil and chemicals is essential.  Featuring a 0.92 mil top-coated PET face, which is smoother than traditional polypropylene materials, these label stocks provide excellent ink adhesion and a perfect canvas for UV flexo, water-based flexo, cold foil and other complex print methods and imagery.

Be sure to travel “Back to the Future” and learn more about the latest advancements in flexo printing at Labelexpo Europe 2015.  Watch for the creative piece at the show for more information about these industry suppliers and their stand locations.

Anilox Roll Cleaning is Essential to Effective Ink Delivery

Anilox Roll CleaningYou spend a lot of time selecting the correct anilox roll for a job. Careful consideration goes into line screen, cell geometry and cell volume in order to guarantee that a precise amount of ink or coating is delivered to the substrate. Aniox roll cleaning is essential to maintain this precision. If you neglect to clean your rolls on a regular basis, you will not get the most out of your anilox investment. Plugged cells will affect print quality and cause you frustration, waste and downtime. An anilox cleaning program consisting of daily, weekly and deep cleaning will preserve the integrity of the anilox engraving and ensure quality, press efficiency and longer anilox life.

When a newly engraved anilox roll arrives from the manufacturer, volume is even across and around the surface of the roll. As the roll is used, however, a residual amount of ink or coating material is left behind in the cells after the transfer has taken place. The residue dries and creates build-up in the cells.  Over time, these deposits decrease the capacity of the cells and reduce their ability to carry and release the volume of ink or coating for which they were designed. This residue also raises the surface tension, or dyne level, of the roll and increases the tendency of the coating to “cling” to the surface. When this occurs, the roll will not release the proper volume or ink or coating to the plate.

Benefits of regular anilox roll cleaning:

  • The repeated transfer of a precise volume of ink or coating
  • Consistent coverage
  • Reduced labor and less downtime
  • Fewer job rejections and waste
  • Longer anilox life and lower re-working costs

Flexo Concepts recommends a 3-step anilox roll cleaning program:

  1. Daily wiping to prevent ink or coating build-up

Applying a liquid cleaning agent by hand and wiping down the roll with a clean, lint-free cloth on a daily basis is the simplest and most effective way to keep ink and coating from drying and building up in the cells. As a basic rule of thumb, the best time to clean a roll is as soon as it is removed from the press. The longer inks, resins, adhesives, etc. have been allowed to sit in the engraving, the harder these materials are to remove. To maximize cleaning performance, choose a cleaner specifically formulated to remove water-based, UV or solvent-based chemistries based on your application.

  1. Weekly scrubbing with a paste-like cleaner and an anilox cleaning brush

Anilox Cleaning BrushManually scrubbing the roll once or twice a week with a brush and a paste or cream chemical cleaner will mechanically loosen and remove any ink or coating residue that remain in cells despite daily cleaning. The cleaner is applied to the roll, vigorously scrubbed in a circular motion with an anilox cleaning brush and flushed with water while the roll remains in the press. It is important to remember that stainless steel brushes are suitable only for ceramic anilox surfaces and brass bristles should be used for chrome surfaces to prevent damage to the engraving.

  1. Monthly deep cleaning to remove tough ink or coating deposits

Over time a residual amount of ink or coating material is left behind in the cells and the roll requires a deep cleaning to remove these tough deposits. The most common methods of deep cleaning are chemical wash and ultrasonic. The roll is removed from the press and placed into a chemical bath where it soaks in a powerful cleaning solution before being subjected to a high pressure rinse or ultrasonic vibrations to loosen and dissolve the deposits. These methods vary in cleaning effectiveness, risk of damage to the roll, and water and chemical consumption.

Like on other parts of the press, a maintenance program for anilox rolls keeps the ink delivery system running at its peak. Regular anilox roll cleaning will prevent anilox cells from plugging with ink and coating residue and stop build-up before it dries. Maintaining anilox rolls through a regular cleaning program can pay off tremendously in terms of maximizing print quality, press efficiency and cost control.

Click here for more information on our anilox cleaning brushes

New Doctor Blade Technology Is Worth a Look

New_Technologies_Sign_284x177As a salesman introducing new technology to a mature industry, I am constantly hearing, “But I’ve done it this way forever.” Press men are busy and don’t’ have time to waste trying new products when their current ones are working fine. But changing times call for an ongoing evaluation of your print process to find ways to improve. Today’s printers are smart to run controlled tests of new products to make sure they are maximizing efficiency and profitability and “keeping up with the times.”

Anilox roll evolution

Chrome anilox rolls

I like to use anilox rolls as an analogy. When chrome-plated anilox rolls came on the market almost 80 years ago, they were an improvement over the previous (and crude) methods of ink transfer. Steel rolls were covered with a chrome layer and mechanically engraved using a knurling tool. The dimples or “cells” filled with a precise volume of ink and carried them to the plate.  This gave the printer more control over the ink application process and better print quality.

As the industry continued to evolve, however, the limitations of chrome-plated rolls became apparent. The chrome surfaces wore down quickly from the friction between the roll and the doctor blade. Due to their shape, the cells quickly lost volume capacity and print densities declined. Also, the maximum line screens that could be achieved with the knurling tool were 500 lpi which was only enough for basic and moderate graphics reproduction. As demands for higher quality printing increased, and there were advancements in presses, plates and inks, so did the need for better anilox roll technology.

Ceramic-coated rolls

To keep pace with the industry, anilox roll manufacturers began applying a ceramic coating to their rolls using a plasma spray device. These new surfaces had hardness of over 1400 Vickers compared to 850-900 Vickers for the chrome-plated surfaces.  As the hardness of the roll determines its strength and durability, the new surfaces had better resistance to wear from the doctor blade. These rolls were too hard to engrave mechanically and lasers started being used to etch the rolls. The lasers produced a consistent engraving with cleaner cells and more distinct cell walls. Higher line screens could be achieved to expand a printer’s graphics capabilities. The ceramic surfaces not only lasted longer but the cells were also less sensitive to volume changes from wear. Printers gained more control over print quality and were now able to achieve target ink densities with thinner ink films.

New doctor blade technology

Like presses and other press components, doctor blades have evolved to adapt to the market. Blade manufacturers are continually experimenting with new materials and edge designs and introducing new doctor blade technology to keep up with their customers’ needs.

Steel

Today’s steel blade users have a choice of carbon, stainless, long life, coated and ceramic blades to fit their precise applications. Until now, steel was considered the only material capable of achieving a fine contact area with the roll and producing an effective wipe on high line screen engravings. Printers had to accept the downside of frequent blade changes, injuries and anilox roll scoring because there were no alternatives.

Plastics

Plastics, on the other hand, have always been known for their blade life and safety. The material has to be thicker to provide rigidity and these blades were suitable only for producing low-moderate graphics. The upside is that they don’t have to be changed as often, and the long and steady wear period allows for consistent ink film thickness for the duration of the print job. The material is also safer to handle and won’t score anilox rolls. Plastic doctor blade choices include a variety of acetals, UHMWs, and polyesters.

Next generation doctor blades

Flexo Concepts® recently introduced a new blade that acts as a hybrid between steel and plastic. A combination of an advanced polymer material and an innovative tip design called “MicroTip™” allows the blade to perform in high line screen applications where previous non-metallic materials were not an option. Printers using these advanced polymer products get blades that can produce the graphics quality of steel while remaining safe to operators and anilox rolls. The blade is now successfully being used in a range of narrow web and wide web applications.

As with anilox rolls and other press components, new doctor blade technology has gone hand in hand with the evolution of the flexo printing industry.  The new polymer MicroTip blade is an example of a product that, once again, improves upon “what you were using before.”  Why not try it?

Request a TruPoint Orange Doctor Blade Sample

Are You Doing Trials or Just Getting Doctor Blade Samples?

How many times have you requested a box of this or a sample of that and had a winner right away?  When testing a new product, the chances of success go way up with a little communication between the customer and the supplier.  It’s no different with doctor blades.  Like other parts of the printing process, investing a little time and effort in a doctor blade trial vs. sampling will improve your odds of finding the best blade for your application.

Doctor Blade Trial

Doctor Blade Supplier Assisting with a Blade Trial

Sampling vs. Trialing

There are two ways to test a new doctor blade:  a sample and a doctor blade trial.  The critical difference is the information that is exchanged between you and your doctor blade supplier.  While both offer the chance for you to try something new, a trial greatly increases your probability of success.

Sampling

If you’ve ever requested a doctor blade sample, you probably submitted your request through the company’s website, waited several days, and received your new blade samples in the mail.  They may have sat on your desk for a while until you were reminded of the reason you requested the samples in the first place and installed them in your press.  If you were lucky, the blades worked well and you proceeded with your first order.

If you’re like most companies, however, several rounds of sampling are needed to find a good fit.  This requires sustained effort and patience on your part.  With doctor blades, a different blade material, thickness or tip may be needed, and you keep your fingers crossed that you will eventually happen upon a winning combination.

Trialing

An alternative to sampling a new blade is a doctor blade trial.  When you perform a blade trial, your odds of finding the right product go up significantly.  Through communication and participation in a production run, the supplier acquires key information about your process.  This information is used to zero in on the ideal product for your application and shortens your path to finding the right doctor blade.

Doctor Blade Trial Process:

1. Initiation of Blade Trial – You request a blade trial from your doctor blade supplier.  The supplier will take the time to learn about your process and ask questions regarding your press and application:

    • Press type
    • Press speed
    • Run length
    • Print type
    • Anilox line screen
    • Chamber type
    • Substrate
    • Ink type
    • Problems such as ink spitting, streaking

The supplier will then make a recommendation and supply doctor blades for a production run.

2. Production Run – The blade supplier will be on site to observe the production run.  He will confirm all of the information gathered about the application, verify that the blades have been installed correctly, make sure there is proper chamber alignment and help make adjustments if necessary.  The results of the run will be documented along with any challenges faced by the press operators.

3. Analysis and Evaluation – Following the production run, the used blades are returned to the supplier’s facility where the engineering department is engaged to do a complete evaluation.  The engineering team will assess the worn blades and look at how much wear has occurred, the contact length of the worn area and the contact angle of the blade.  These findings will reveal how the blade performed on press.  By looking at the wear patterns, the engineers can also determine whether the chamber was aligned to the anilox roll, if the blades were positioned properly and if there was too much pressure on the chamber.  A complete report containing these results is provided to you.  These results may be used to make improvements to your current process.

4. Feedback and Recommendation – After the blades are analyzed by the engineering department, the blade supplier will either confirm that the blades were successful in the application or recommend a different blade based on the results (such as different blade material, thickness or tip configuration).  Having taken the time to gather all important information about the press and application, the supplier will be able to provide the doctor blade that maximizes press efficiency and resolves any issues he was experiencing.

For people willing to roll the dice and be patient until finding the right product, sampling is a reasonable way to search for a better doctor blade.  However, to shorten the process of finding the best blade for your application, taking the time to conduct a doctor blade trial is the way to go.  For a small commitment of time and resources up front, the payoff is substantial in terms of saving time and money in the long run.

 Request a TruPoint Doctor Blade Trial

Request a TruPoint Doctor Blade Sample

New Polymers Meter Like Steel Doctor Blades

MicroTip TechnologySteel doctor blades used to be a printer’s only option to produce high-end graphics.  It wasn’t because he didn’t want longer blade life and the safety benefits that came with using plastic, steel was simply the only material that could sufficiently meter a high line screen roll.  Not anymore!  Today’s next generation polymers and advanced tip engineering have at last resulted in a non-metallic doctor blade with the metering quality of steel.  This blade can replace steel doctor blades in a full range of flexo printing applications from solids and lines, to reverses and fine print, to screens and process work.  Here’s why.

Steel Doctor Blades vs. Traditional Plastic

Due to its thinness and stiffness, steel has been the only blade material that could achieve a fine point of contact sufficient to execute a clean wipe on a high line screen anilox roll.  By comparison, the characteristics of traditional plastic doctor blades require them to be thicker to provide the same rigidity.  While they have other benefits in terms of safety and blade life, their thickness prevents them from maintaining a fine contact area with the anilox.  As they wear and their contact area with the anilox roll grows, plastic blades produce changes in tonal value and dot gain when metering high line screens.  For this reason they have historically been limited to  jobs with low to modest graphics requirements.

Next Generation Polymers

Now, specially formulated polymer doctor blades can compete with steel in the most demanding graphics applications.  Unlike traditional plastic, the stiffness of the next generation material with a precisely engineered MicroTip™ edge allows the blades to achieve and maintain a fine contact area with the anilox roll.  They can deliver effective metering on line screens up to 2,000 lpi (785 L/cm) and produce graphics of the highest quality.  The following diagrams compare the contact areas of traditional plastic, steel and next generation polymer blades:

Doctor Blade Contact Area Comparison

Doctor Blade Contact Area Comparison

As shown, the contact area of a worn traditional plastic blade grows to .060″ (1.52mm) compared to a contact area of .016″ (.40mm), for a worn steel blade.  The next generation polymer is able to maintain a contact area of .012″ (.305mm), equal to or smaller than that of most steel doctor blades, throughout the life of the blade due to the edge design.  The engineered tip wears slowly and evenly and delivers consistent ink film thickness for the duration of the print job.

Today’s innovations in polymer doctor blades offer printers a viable alternative to steel.  A combination of advanced materials and new tip technology has yielded a blade that meters as well as steel on the highest line screens yet retains the benefits of traditional plastic.  Printers no longer have to compromise on anilox scoring, blade life, and safety to fulfill the most demanding graphics requirements!

Click Here To Request a Sample

UV Ink Spitting is a Dirty Habit

As competition for shelf space heats up, companies are forced to create more compelling-looking products.  That means better looking graphics, more vivid colors and unique packaging.  Today’s narrow web printers are turning to new ink and coating formulas to improve efficiency and make products more appealing.  Unfortunately, the properties of these chemistries cause problems such as UV ink spitting and accelerated blade wear.  Where steel falls short, a next generation polymer doctor blade may be the solution in these applications.

UV Ink Spitting

UV inks are being used more often today to differentiate the look of packaging, speed up turnaround times, increase throughput and reduce downtime.  The chemical properties of UV inks make them difficult for the printer to meter and control ink film thickness, however.  UV ink has a normal viscosity of 5-7 times that of water and solvent-based inks, and its thixotropic properties (ability to thin out when agitated) make it transfer differently on press.  This thicker consistency applies excessive pressure to the metering blade, often causing hydroplaning, or “spitting,” and defects in the printed image.

Progressive Dyne Levels Throughout Anilox System Will Prevent UV Ink Spitting

Dyne Levels Should Increase Throughout the Anilox Ink Delivery System to Facilitate Ink Transfer and Prevent UV Ink Spitting

UV ink spitting is common with many flexographic printers who use steel doctor blades.  Next generation polymer doctor blades have been successful in eliminating UV ink spitting problems due to their surface energy characteristics.  To explain, a progressively lower surface energy, or dyne level, throughout the anilox ink delivery system allows the ink to easily transfer from one component of the anilox system to another.  Otherwise, one component wants to hold on to the ink instead of letting it flow to the next.  The characteristics of the new doctor blade material – its lubricity, rigidity and lower surface energy – give the blades a significantly lower dyne level than steel.  This decreases the attraction between the doctor blade and ink and facilitates a more fluid transfer of ink to the plate.

Specialty Inks and Coatings Are Abrasive

Specialty coatings and tactile finishes such as glitter, pearlescent, textures and soft touch, are also being used more frequently to enhance the look of product packages.  These chemistries are extremely abrasive to steel doctor blades and accelerate blade wear.  Printers are consuming blades faster which increases downtime and costs.  Next generation polymer blades are highly abrasion resistant and chemically compatible with all specialty ink and coating formulas; they last longer and minimize press downtime for blade changes.

As the industry evolves to keep up with the demands of manufacturers, printers are faced with new challenges in the pressroom.  The new ink and coating formulas used to make products stand out on the retail shelf are difficult to meter with traditional doctor blade materials.  Unlike steel, next generation polymer doctor blades can help reduce downtime and costs associated with UV ink spitting and accelerated blade wear.

 

Plastic Doctor Blades – New Polymers Compete with Steel

While steel doctor blades used to be the only option to produce high-end graphics, a printer had to deal with the shorter blade life and pressroom injuries that came along with using the material.  No more!  Recent innovations in materials technology and tip engineering have at last resulted in plastic doctor blades that can compete with steel and also resolve a number of common problems in the pressroom.

Steel doctor blades are thin and rigid which allows them to achieve a fine contact area with the anilox roll.  A fine contact area is required for the blade to achieve an effective wipe on high line screen rolls used in more demanding graphics applications.  Traditional plastic doctor blades, on the other hand, have long been preferred for their longer life in less demanding graphics applications.  Plastic blades had to be engineered thicker in order to provide enough rigidity to maintain good contact with the anilox roll and achieve a sufficient wipe.  The thickness and larger contact area prevented these blades from being effective when used to meter mid to high line screen rolls.   While they lasted significantly longer and were safer to handle than steel blades, they tended to leave more ink on the surface of the roll; this produced dot gain and poor image quality in the printed piece.

New Plastic Doctor Blade Contact Area is Smaller than Steel

New Plastic Doctor Blade Contact Area is Smaller than Steel

Steel Blade Disadvantages

Despite its reputation for being the superior metering material, steel has many disadvantages.  The blades wear quickly and need to be replaced frequently.  Operators are also exposed to cut hazards when removing the worn blades from the press, and the metal fragments can come loose and score anilox rolls.  (Read about anilox scoring caused by steel doctor blades:  www.flexoconcepts.com/blog-2/anilox-roll-scoring)  The environmental impact of using steel can also be significant.  There are huge energy costs associated with the manufacture of steel blades as well as anilox resurfacing, and additional station clean-ups generate a lot of contaminated waste.  Despite these drawbacks, steel was believed to be the only doctor blade option to execute a clean wipe on a high line screen anilox roll, leaving printers no choice.

New Plastic Doctor Blades

Today, specially formulated polymer blades offer the best of both steel and plastic.  Unlike traditional plastic doctor blades, the next generation material allows for a precisely engineered micro-tip which wears slowly and evenly throughout the life of the blade.  The micro-tip edge allows the blade to achieve a fine contact area with the anilox roll and deliver effective metering on line screens up to 2000 lpi or 785 L/cm.  Watch these animations to see how the new polymer blade compares to the traditional plastic blade:

The long and steady wear period of the next generation polymer blade maximizes press uptime and allows for consistent ink film thickness for the duration of the print job.  Compared to steel, the polymer material does not develop a dangerous cutting edge after use, and the worn blades are safe to handle.  Also, the material will not separate, splinter or crack and produces no metal fragments that can lodge between the doctor blade and the anilox roll.  A reduction in anilox scoring means better image quality, less downtime, less waste and lower roll replacement costs.

Plastic doctor blades have come a long way in recent years.  A combination of advanced materials and a micro-tip edge has produced revolutionary new doctor blade option for printers:  a blade that can compete with steel in the most demanding graphics applications while retaining the safety and blade life benefits of traditional plastic.