Ink Dispensing Systems are Benefiting Printers

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 08.09.06

To best serve their customers, some ink manufacturers are offering ink dispensing systems, which help printers blend special colors at a moment's notice and also control inventory.

The use of spot colors can make a project stand out, whether it is packaging, a publication, an annual

INX International’s Magnum system.
report or any other printed piece. However, efficiently dispensing spot colors is a challenge for printers. Unlike process colors, a printer is not about to use a large quantity of the ink and is not likely to want to keep countless colors in inventory. Wasting ink is an added cost at a time when pricing is competitive and margins uncomfortably tight.
Further, having numerous special orders sent overnight isn’t a cost-effective way of doing business, and the wait for that package to arrive can seem endless when the press is waiting.
Manufacturers have been looking at ways to help their customers dispense ink more accurately and efficiently. Accuracy is a key word here. If the system isn’t accurate and relatively simple to use, the printer is going to be frustrated with the process and the results, which will be colors that are off. Size also matters: no one really wants a bulky system taking up an inordinate amount of floor space.
A computerized system using state-of-the-art software is also critical. If an operator can call up a preprogrammed formula for a Pantone color, press a button and have the color within minutes, the job will run more smoothly. For printers who require numerous spot colors, a good system translates into less downtime.

Key Advantages of Ink Dispensers

To meet these needs, some ink companies, in conjunction with ink dispensing manufacturers such as Stork Prints, Novaflow, Rexson, Vale-Tech, GFI, GSI, Accel and ColorMatic, have developed computerized systems that help printers accurately and efficiently dispense their spot colors.
“There is growing demand for automatic ink dispensing systems, as press manufacturers encourage this option on all new press installations and the awareness of the advantages of kit and drum pumping systems grows,” said Joe Bendowski, president, Van Son Holland Ink Corporation. “Unlike blanket installation, blanket cleaning, plate mounting, etc., the filling of ink fountains is one of the last manual functions of press operation that has not seen widespread automation.”
Sun Chemical works with a variety of ink dispensing companies, which allows the company to best meet the needs of customers depending on their volume and spot color needs.
“There is considerable demand, especially among printers who use large volumes of ink and have needs for blending special colors,” said John Kalkowski, North American marketing manager for Sun Chemical. “Printers want to be able to have a wide variety of specialized spot color inks available on short notice.”
INX International Ink Co. has had particularly strong success with its Magnum paste ink dispensing system, developed in conjunction with GFI.
“Demand is growing rapidly as the industry becomes aware of the availability of the Magnum,” said Dan Babe, director of customer engineering services for INX International Ink Co.

Benefits for Printers

For printers, the benefits of these systems are widespread, from being able to create spot colors in a moment’s notice to cutting inventory.
“Printers that produce many specials in a given day now have the flexibility to produce PMS and custom mixes on a few minutes notice,” Mr. Babe said. “Jobs are not held from press waiting for ink, and press schedules can be maintained more easily.”
“Those operator time-savings can really add up – especially in operations that need eight to 10 or more small batches a day,” Mr. Babe added. “The operator simply calls up the pre-programmed formula on the touch-screen, hits ‘dispense’ and walks away. Even with mixing, the batch is press-ready in 15 minutes or less, start-to-finish.”
“The primary benefit is availability of colors on short notice, plus it also helps with inventory control,” Mr. Kalkowski noted. “ If you blend your own inks, many of the systems have software that helps you estimate the quantity desired, so that you don’t have overstocks. You can also use some of the overages for blending later.
“Not only do you have the dispensing system, but you also have software with formulations to ensure you have a precise color match quickly,” Mr. Kalkowski said, adding that Sun Chemical has a library of more than 70,000 color formulations that can be used on dispensing systems.
These systems simplify the printer’s work.

Van Son’s Vs3 ink inside an ink pumping system.
“These systems offer several advantages to the printer,” Mr. Bendowski said. “It eliminates the need for the pressperson to have to climb up on the press and physically scoop the ink out of a can to fill the ink fountain and to have to monitor ink consumption. There is no ink skinning in the tube, kit or drum, so it eliminates ink waste and the inconvenience of scraping the ink skin from the ink surface. Ink waste is also reduced since these systems can operate with the minimum amount of ink in the fountain, so cleanup reduces the amount of discarded ink.”
It may come as a surprise that the greatest cost savings from automatic ink dosing is not in reduced ink kitchen labor. The majority of savings are realized in the pressroom. For example, the ColorMatic Ink Doser assists the printer to achieve significant savings in the pressroom by allowing them to use only the amount of ink required to complete the press run, thus reducing inventory and waste.
“Even the most skilled ink people can make weighing errors,” said an official with Spicers, a division of PaperlinX Canada Limited, formerly Cascades Resources, which distributes ColorMatic in Canada. “Scales are relatively coarse in their accuracy and human error simply compounds this problem. Over-batching is typical as mixing staff tend to work to known volumes to get a predictable result. Mixing more ink than is needed is commonplace – always better to have too much ink than to run out. Many unused special ink portions remain on the shelf as evidence of over-batching, these inks ultimately skinning over and wasted.
“Bad mixes, if caught by a pressman, result in the delay or a re-mix,” he added. “Pressmen are also known to attempt corrections in the press ink fountain, resulting in very excessive make-ready. Bad mixes not caught in the pressroom can severely punish the printer with customer dissatisfaction, or worse, having to pay for a full reprint all because a special color was dosed improperly.”
These systems are making gains in a variety of printing applications, from packaging to offset.
“Virtually any ink formulation can be packaged in tubes or drums so the systems are adaptable to most any type of printing,” Mr. Bendowski said. “It makes most sense for printers that are doing primarily four color process jobs on a press equipped with one of these systems. Although it certainly is possible, color change is a little more difficult, particularly with the kit and drum systems. Most ink companies will fill the tubes with custom colors as requested, but four color process represents the largest volume by far.

“Most of these systems are capable of alerting when the ink is approaching ‘low,’” Mr. Bendowski noted. “Many also have the ability to monitor usage per job to assure accurate costing ability for the printer. Some users consider the corrugated tubes more environmentally friendly than metal cans or plastic tubes since their disposal is less of an issue.”
“Offset sheetfed ink Magnums are in the field right now,” Mr. Babe noted. “Hybrid UV is in testing right now at INX Carrol Avenue, with conventional UV to follow. Two-piece metal inks are testing at GFI. In short, any style of paste ink printer, requiring batch blending from one to 10 pounds, can effectively utilize the Magnum.”
Mr. Babe said that the Magnum system is low cost, and has a very simple hardware design with no conventional mechanical valve. “Because the machine is simple, it is mechanically reliable, and does not need ongoing maintenance,” he added. “ The patented Accurex cartridge is a self-contained dispensing unit. Because of this, changing a station from Pantone Yellow to a Pantone 012 base can be accomplished in 10 seconds, without having to wash up any wetted components.

“The Magnum is very simple to operate, and very easy to maintain,” Mr. Babe added. “Sound engineering, simple design and the revolutionary application of the silicone Accurex valve to the problem of paste ink flow control and cutoff makes the Magnum dramatically different from any other small paste dispenser on the market, past or present. Nearly every press supervisor or print manager that has seen the machine in operation ‘sees the light’ right away. Watching the machine operate helps them realize how the Accurex cartridge, combined with the simple material handling inherent to the Magnum design, can improve their blending operation. These improvements give them accurate colors, in time for press startup, at a lower cost than purchasing specials from their local ink supplier.”
Ultimately, the ability to cut down costs, such as ink waste and inventory, is an attractive feature for these systems.
“Printers that produce many specials in a given day now have the flexibility to produce PMS and custom mixes on a few minutes’ notice,” Mr. Babe noted. “Jobs are not held from press waiting for ink, and press schedules can be maintained more easily.”
For printers working on tight deadlines and ever tighter margins, these systems can make a major difference in their businesses.

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