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Is Your Culture Shifting?

How often do you replace the doctor blades and end seals on your flexo presses? Most converters swap in new ones about once a day, but some are now changing them just once a week with no decline in print quality or seal leaks. Once a week may seem like a stretch, but that longer interval is the result of using long-life items that can stand up to the rigors of flexo printing. In fact, although more durable products make better financial sense and deliver more consistent quality printing, not all business owners get far enough into the weeds of print operations to realize the bottom line difference these basic items can make.

More and more converters are asking for long-life products,” explains Andy Gillis, General Manager of Provident Group. “This is a culture shift in shops where replacing blades or seals is an every day event. Now though, shops that see the big picture are recognizing that it’s more cost effective to use better quality doctor blades and end seals and replace them less often.

Long life benefits

Of course, these long-life products cost a bit more, but they reduce labor costs and lower the overall cost of printing. For example, even on a narrow-web, four-deck flexo press changing doctor blades and end seals every day can account for about an hour of time per day, plus the cost of the blades and seals. Changing them once a week also takes an hour, but only on one day, so the net savings can be several hours a week. Even if the person changing the blades is an assistant, rather than a more highly paid press operator, the savings are clear, especially when it means added uptime on the press.

The second benefit is print quality. More durable blades are made of higher quality steel, and may have ceramic coatings that help ensure optimal performance for a longer period of time. This lets you run more and longer jobs with the same blade and with less degradation in print quality throughout a run and even from run to run. Related to this is the effect of the blades on anilox rolls. Higher quality blades can usually be run with less pressure on the rolls, extending the life of costly anilox rolls.

The third advantage is from the end seals. Longer lasting seals are made based on an understanding the science of the inks and the seal materials. Long-life seals use materials that help keep inks from seeping or even blowing out of ink chambers, helping ensure press uptime doesn’t evaporate while the mess is cleaned up.

Yet, while some converters use long-life items on every deck of their presses, the choice does not have to be an all or nothing decision. Some shops take a tactical approach to long-life blades and seals, using them on decks where caustic inks, such as some whites or metallics, can cause doctor blades or end seals to degrade faster. This tactic can enable a converter to complete an entire job without stopping the press to replace those consumables.

Seeing the bigger picture

While business owners and other corner office occupants don’t always know the nuances of shop floor productivity, they know it’s critical to a healthy bottom line. “They usually don’t think very much about blades and seals,” says Gillis, “so we try to educate them that these seemingly minor items can have a real impact on overall productivity and profitability.

For Gillis and his team, that education often starts on the shop floor. They work with shop floor supervisors and press operators to show the difference longer life consumables can make. In some instances that can help drive a conversation with a company’s owners or management and drive the decision to adopt long-life doctor blades and end seals.

It’s best when we can start with a floor supervisor who can bring the message to management,” says Gillis. Aiding this approach is the extent to which a company’s owners and executives keep shop floor supervisors informed about overall company performance. Those that do are more likely to have production teams who understand the advantages of less frequent consumable changes and second, are more likely to advocate for (more expensive) consumables that enable greater productivity while lowering production costs. Industry-wide, some of the largest and most successful converters incentivize their production teams to look for ways to streamline operations and reduce costs. “Such internal recommendations can help open the way to the C-suite,” notes Gillis. “Then when we talk with someone in charge of operations or finance we can show the economics not just of doctor blades and end seals but all of a company’s ink systems.

We love to share real world examples of companies that have seen a significant difference in profitability and productivity with long-life doctor blades and end seals. As we show converters how these advantages can apply to their businesses, we find more and more companies making the shift.