What Babe Ruth can tell us about Doctor Blades
“I used to bat different,” explained Babe Ruth in an interview for Armed Forces Radio during World War II. “I’d always put my little finger on the knob of the bat so I could do the follow-through on my swing. And I’d always put my front foot toward the home plate and the back foot back a little bit so I’d get a perfect pivot.”
Of course there’s much more to The Babe’s skill as a slugger than foot placement or how he placed his little finger, but these details were probably part of his success. Because details matter.
On top of their game
“We can usually tell when we go into a shop whether they are on top of their game,” says Andy Gillis, General Manager of Provident Group. “The best shops have a host of metrics they live by and understand that the details matter. They don’t overlook anything.”
Mr. Gillis and his team have found that doctor blades and end seals are routinely monitored and measured in the most successful shops. These seemingly minor consumables are part of the ink train -the system on a flexo press that manages how the ink is placed on rolls and plates and substrates to provide the best quality images. “The shops that pay attention to their ink train understand the most basic details of their business. And when they think this way they don’t have the problems we see in the shops where the inking system is an afterthought.”
This attitude cannot only help streamline day-to-day work, but can be a competitive differentiator.
Controlling the variables
Think for a moment about what makes your flexo shop different from those you compete with. In many cases, as long as the labels or flexible pages produced pass muster with customers, the world is a good place. But how can you make your company stand out and get a bigger share of the market, or just a help ensure some key customers stay on board? Price is often the knee-jerk reaction but price can quickly become a race to the bottom. Quality is always in the mix, but how do you raise the bar on that? One way is controlling the variables in your inking system, an approach that is practiced at label and packaging printers across Europe and in Australia and New Zealand. The needs of converters in these locales are somewhat different, but the strategies are the same.
Competition is intense across Europe where packaging printers fight for share. Every customer is of course interested in cost, but not at the expense of quality. In Europe, flexographic printers find one of the easiest ways to ensure print quality is using the sharpest and most durable doctor blades. The metallurgy and fine edges of top-quality blades do a better job of controlling the amount of ink on an anilox roll which also impacts roll life. The longer-lasting blades are also changed less often, decreasing downtime, which quickly trickles down to the bottom line.
Local brands are very important in Australia and New Zealand and top-quality labels and flexible packaging are expected. Using high quality doctor blades and end seals is standard procedure in most shops because the quality is a requirement of being in the game.
Follow the money
Flexo printers in Europe and “Down Under” have many of the same economics as their North American counterparts, and their practices mirror those of the best shops in the U.S and Canada. All know that the incrementally higher costs of top-quality doctor blades and end seals help them produce the best quality printing. For blades in particular, it’s easy to follow the money. Think for a moment about the cost of a doctor blade versus an anilox roll. Even if you are compulsive about cleaning your anilox rolls to maintain cell volumes, inexpensive doctor blades are more likely to damage the surface of the pricey roll, shortening its life and raising your annual costs. The better blade that lasts about a week costs more than the ones you throw away at the end of every shift, but if those better blades deliver better quality is less expensive overall and extends the life of you anilox rolls the math works in favor of the better blade. And helps improve print quality. Do the math to see how it works for you.
One thing to consider
But there are exceptions to everything, especially in a time when finding good employees can be a challenge.
“One thing to remember,” says Mr. Gillis, “is that it doesn’t pay to put more expensive, longer life blades on a press if you have an inexperienced crew.”
A disturbing trend in flexo shops these days is the number of press operators who come to their jobs with only two or three months of experience. There are a host of reasons for this, which we’ll get into another time, but the result is that operators who don’t know all the nuances of flexo press operation may change a doctor blade-thinking it is the problem-when the trouble lies somewhere else.
“You can wind up throwing out a perfectly good blade because something else is wrong. That ‘something’ may be an issue a more experienced operator would have recognized,” explains Mr. Gillis. “You need to train new people so they understand the entire process, how all of it works together, and how to get the most out of whatever press you may have.”
This all goes back to the importance of paying attention to all the details and knowing what you, as a business owner or shop manager, expect of your team and where you want your business to go. In some ways it’s like the famous story of Babe Ruth in the 1932 World Series. With the score tied at 4 and on the verge of striking out, Ruth pointed to the centerfield seats. Crowding the plate, his feet positioned just so, he hit the pitch into the center field seats. He paid attention to the details. And the Yankees won the game.