With the evolving packaging landscape placing increasing productivity pressures on flexographic printers, it is more important than ever to ensure systems are optimised across all areas of operation.
A constant train of new technology continues to transform how products are packaged and presented; the industry must keep pace by using every tool to assess efficiency and hone processes.
The marketplace is changing rapidly and businesses have to be able to respond quickly to shifting consumer needs. From varying trends to the demand for personalisation and seasonal promotion, shorter runs are on the rise and this, alongside growing market competition, means that flexo printers are required to deliver swift, high-quality turnarounds while maintaining profitability.
The key to achieving these goals is mastering Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) – a term used to assess operational efficiency by measuring equipment availability, performance and quality. This data allows enterprises to highlight areas of weakness and make plans for correction, from anilox selection to new equipment purchasing, then monitor outcomes to secure continuous improvement.
By first considering availability – the amount of time the press is actually printing – businesses can optimise working hours and output. Availability is hindered by equipment downtime as a result of both planned and unplanned stops, which has a huge impact on profit, productivity and employee satisfaction. Although some downtime is inevitable in any organisation, forward-thinking printers can reduce it by implementing thorough equipment, resource and maintenance planning.
Most availability is lost in the gaps between jobs but planned loss such as changeover and adjustment time can be minimised through more efficient make ready and wash up processes. These are crucial to staying on schedule and can be enhanced by proactive preparation of materials and equipment, from press fingerprinting to ensure each job starts off well to adept plate cleaning practices which allow the next job to begin as swiftly as possible.
Unplanned downtime can meanwhile be ameliorated via thorough preventative maintenance plans which anticipate rather than react to potential issues before they become problems. When equipment fails, production halts while waiting for technician visits, maintenance or the delivery of replacement parts. This can often be prevented by scheduling periodic equipment checks or selecting machinery fitted with real-time fault monitoring technology.
The next element of OEE which must be examined is performance, the measure of how much of a press’ potential speed is being achieved. Taking small stops and slow cycles into account, this metric is vital for identifying elements that are decelerating operations, from misfeeds and slow employee working speed to sub-par materials and machine wear.
Small stops due to issues such as plate dirtying, wrong settings or obstructions make a significant impact on performance – and the slower the presses, the smaller the profits. In order to work as closely as possible to full speed, flexo companies therefore need to identify which procedural elements are causing drags and then eliminate or tighten them through exercises such as perfecting ink laydown, fingerprinting and staff training. Analysing performance can also help organisations to make informed decisions about equipment purchasing, such as higher-calibre plates which offer greater abrasion resistance and thereby last for longer and work more effectively.
Lastly, quality is an important area of OEE which can be analysed to enhance efficiency and revenue. Quality loss measures the amount of waste created through make ready and production, where manufactured output is found to be of an unacceptable standard.
By identifying activities or procedures that create scrappage, whether through bad printing or erroneous equipment settings, businesses can deliver right first-time production and reduce expensive disuse. Small changes can make a big difference in quality management, from using more advanced equipment which achieves greater ink transfer, decreasing ink waste and output rejects, to smarter processes such as fingerprinting which lessen startup rejects.
OEE is vital for delivering customer satisfaction and maximising profitability, meeting the increasingly short turnarounds demanded by the packaging market and outstripping growing market competition. By considering availability, performance and quality, flexo printers can break down each individual component of the overall operational system to identify where equipment productivity is being lost. From preventing machine failure and material wastage to boosting running speed, improvements can be implemented at all levels to strengthen efficiency and secure functional stability.
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