GSE ink manager: A software for eliminating ink waste also provides advanced data sharing opportunities

The detailed dispense lists are an example of the design of the ink manager software by GSE (Source: GSE)

GSE Dispensing, the Dutch provider of ink logistics solutions, unveiled a new management software for the elimination of ink-related waste in autumn 2017 that can also assure colour quality within the label and package printing workflow. With its data handling capability and connectivity, the ink manager enhances value adding in a service-oriented, integrated production chain. NarrowWebTech reports about the software in detail.

Written by Adrian Tippets

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Defining and re-defining ink logistics

The understanding of the term ink logistics has evolved significantly over time. Originally it was limited to the dispensing of ink in the exact colour quality and quantity needed. The benefits of improved ink yields and meeting stricter colour targets through fast, precise ink dispensing are now commonly appreciated by packaging printers. But GSE argues this alone is not enough in an increasingly service-oriented packaging value chain.

Ink logistics today

The move to shorter production runs and faster lead times, plus the need to comply with stricter health and safety legislation and quality demands has brought new challenges. Ink logistics today, therefore, are closely related to the eradication of every conceivable element of waste from every stage of the workflow, from ordering to the retail shelf. Within the framework of “lean manufacturing” these elements are categorised as defects, time, waiting, motion, inventory, remakes, transportation and talent.

In a more integrated and automated value chain, where decisions must be made quickly, there is a need to store, use, share and analyse more data. Ink usage data, for instance, is needed to ensure ingredient traceability for food and pharmaceutical packaging, accurate stock forecasting and detailed job costings. This is a complex affair when many ink components are used and returned from the press.

For these reasons, the market has been demanding ink management software with more functionalities and connectivity to optimise efficiency, assure quality and facilitate accurate reporting and strategic planning.

New software for new realities

The company has designed a modular software with a Windows design that includes drag, drop, search, sort and export features; it offers a functionality equivalent to a modern ERP system. Optionally, it comes with wifi connection to the dispenser, and an app allowing for remote data entry and access to real-time information. It is compatible with mobile phones, thus allowing remote control of process steps.

The ink manager supports all the main steps in the package printing workflow, providing the potential for process improvement in several ways. The software and dispensing system enables nearly instant availability of exact colours in precise quantities for a job, made from base components. GSE claims that this can reduce ink costs by up to 30%. This also may eliminate the need to purchase expensive readymixed colours, or maintain excess amounts in case of urgent orders. Ordering base components less frequently generally saves on transport, warehousing and administration costs.

The ink management software by GSE features a mobile app that offers remote data-entry and access to real-time information (Source: GSE)

Additionally reused ink remaining in the chamber after the production run can be more complex because of current application-specific inks and varnishes, so an organised registration system is essential. According to GSE, with barcode scanning capability and advanced search functionality, the software enables ink reuse in various ways.

Firstly, return inks with approximately the same colour, or similar base components, can be combined into a “cluster.” The recipe is determined by calculating used buckets or with a colour formulation sy tem. The cluster becomes a single base colour connected to the ink dispenser supplying new jobs. Ink manager supports clustering with lists of return inks.

Also, inks and varnishes can be classified into different quality series. Return inks with premium varnishes can be substituted for jobs with less demanding specifications, while processing returns with standard varnishes is prohibited where higher quality is expected. Furthermore, return inks can be reserved for specific jobs, e.g. when unique colours are needed.

Real time monitoring prevents future challenges

Furthermore, GSE Dispensing claims that the ink manager supports real-time stock level information. It is able to calculate total volumes of all base colours connected to the dispenser along with the warehouse contents. It makes adjustments each time stocks are fed to the dispenser, and automatically places purchase orders for base colours when they fall below specified minimum volumes. Regular stock management reports can be generated.

Often colour adjustments after dispensing can be required because of substrate or anilox roll inconsistencies. Both temporary corrections to the bucket or permanent changes to the recipe can be made – either manually, or with the help of a spectrophotometer and colour formulation software. Buckets with corrected ink formulations are registered, so any return ink can be reused. The operator can adjust the recipe so repeat orders include the correction.

When required, new colours can be created with colour formulation software and the recipe can be sent directly to the ink manager software. Corrections to the new colour can be recorded and micro volumes can be dispensed for table-top proofing before going to press.

The software also provides access to information about the ingredients for any job, and which orders were produced. Should a complaint be received, the printing house should be able to react and pin-point the cause at speed, in accordance with ISO, GMP or BRC standards – an assurance that is vital for food and pharmaceutical packaging. Additionally, reporting facilities enable batch traceability, together with press return buckets used and expiry dates.

 Enhancing continuity and repeatability

With so many different aspects to follow, comprehensive reports are provided, based on reliable sources, on-demand, so sound strategic decisions can be taken. They can be viewed and exported, allowing data to be viewed anywhere, with many third-party software packages, including Microsoft Excel. Among the real-time summarie available is a top 20 component usage report. Other predefined reports are available for returns, orders, recipes and traceability.

Liaison with workflow management

In order to help control costs, accurate ink volume requirements per job are available with an algorithm that takes into account coverage levels and substrate type to make predictions for future orders. Ink consumption cost per order, including the subtraction of press return inks, can also be reported. The software also assists with workflow management by compiling a job list that enables operators to split work between preparation and ink production. Thus planning is easier and return ink buckets can be collected beforehand. Jobs can also be prepared for future shifts, with the goal of reducing confusion when handing work over to colleagues.

Finally, with web-based functionality and mobile app technology, the ink manager by GSE Dispensing enables to integrate several information streams – e.g., from software for prepress and colour formulation. Thus, relevant process information can be read on a single screen. One-time data entry is also possible. Furthermore, links with ERP systems enable the exchange of information such as prepared orders, recipes and traceability data between systems.

This article was first published in NarrowWebTech issue 1-2018.

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