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Optimizing your ink room

Jun 29, 2001 12:00 AM


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Should you manage your own ink room? Some printers opt to take on the task themselves. By managing their own ink rooms, they have more control and less waste. “Inks for jobs can be prioritized easier and a tighter watch is put on the materials used for jobs,” says Ken Ferguson, technical director, Van Son Holland Ink Corp. of America (Mineola, NY).

On the other hand, printers that want to offload some of the detail work prefer to leave the management of their ink room to their ink vendor. Scholin Brothers Printing Co. (St. Louis) recently changed to being managed, on consignment, by its vendor, although the company has designated one staff member to be in charge of all the inks and the ink room. According to president Suzie Scholin, it has resulted in a cost savings for the company.

FREEING UP PERSONNEL

“In the majority of instances, we manage the ink rooms,” says Dee Thoren, Graphic Technical Centers (GTC) national manager, commercial division, Flint Ink (Columbia, MD). According to Thoren, a Flint Ink employee working on site controls inventory and provides process and special colors, as well as technical support. Additionally, the Flint Ink employee is a direct contact to the supporting branch and product development lab.

“A well-run GTC can help a print facility run much more efficiently and be more productive. This type of savings can offset the entire cost of ink and can be a very worthwhile option,” Thoren says.

The advantage for most printers in a vendor-managed ink room is that it frees up personnel — from press operatorss to managers — to do other things, saving the company both time and money. “The internal vs. external management of the ink room question is no longer one of size or sales revenue, but rather color complexity,” says C. Clint Bolte, principal of C. Clint Bolte & Associates, a graphic arts consultancy (Chambersburg, PA). “Virtually all process-color, sheetfed printers will realize lower inventories, more consistent recyclability, and fewer ink/paper compatibility issues — particularly with regard to aqueous coatings — and overall more predictable costs if they opt to have the ink room managed by the ink supplier.”

Moreover, ink vendors are knowledgeable about the product, so it makes sense to use their expertise to find the best product for a particular job and provide technical information and support. As a specialist in his or her field, an ink vendor/manager focuses solely on the requirements of the ink room.

Printers weighing the pros and cons of each option may want to consider using both. The management of ink rooms in in-plant printing operations is usually a joint effort, Ferguson points out.

INK ROOM STAPLES | Whether the printer or an ink vendor manages the ink room, there are certain requisite ink sets that are industry staples and should always be kept on hand. Industry experts agree that every printer should stock an inventory of process colors and PMS mixing base inks.

“At the very least, a printer should have a standard ink set, as well as the blending base lines and extender for those ink sets. Additional additives, such as tack reducer, are also important to have on hand,” advises Thoren.

Printers may also want to consider stocking wax-free inks so they can reduce downtime when switching inks between jobs requiring coatings or laser inks.

STOCKING SPECIALTY INKS | Not everyone agrees on whether printers should stock a quantity of specialty inks to have on hand, or order them as needed. Scholin Brothers Printing Co. keeps metallics, static-cling inks and fade-resistant inks in stock. “It's risky business just to order and hope you'll need it. When a customer has a special mix color, we'll order that, such as Coca-Cola red,” says Scholin.

Ferguson suggests that in addition to metallics, printers should keep fluorescent inks in stock as well as opaque white. Harold Amos, president of Amos Communications, Inc., a full-service commercial printer in Beloit, OH, advises printers to stock quantities above 10 pounds of special PMS colors or metallics that are used repeatedly.

MONITORING SHELF LIFE | There is debate on how long inks should be stocked, but on average, ink manufacturers say that the shelf life for conventional sheetfed inks is six months to one or two years. “Ink more than one year old should either be discarded or evaluated by a trained ink technician before it is used,” says Thoren.

Ferguson advises checking a can of ink that has been unused or unopened after a certain amount of time. “If it looks like it can still be used, then it's okay to do so,” he says. Ink should not be used if it's liveried, has a rubberized skin that runs deep into the can, has hardened particles or does not flow. Ink that feels like tar or cement should also be disposed of.

“The easiest way to control outdated ink is to be sure there is a received-on date on the can. If the supplier doesn't apply it, then write it on when the ink is put onto a shelf,” recommends graphic arts consultant A. John Geis, A.J. Geis Associates (Chapel Hill, NC). “Metallic inks definitely have a short shelf life, and it is essential that dates be checked before usage.”

To maximize shelf life, store inks according to the manufacturer's recommendations. “Because of the reactive nature of UV or energy-curable inks, they should be stored in dark, cool areas,” says Thoren. “This helps to extend the shelf life. As for most other inks, avoid exposing them to extreme heat as this could have adverse effects.”

COMPATIBILITY ISSUES | Inks need to be compatible with the press, substrates and coatings.

“It is common practice for printers to use inks and coatings from different manufacturers. Doing so can cause compatability problems since the coatings may not be formulated to work with certain ink systems and vice versa,” relates Thoren.

“We have a digital press, and one of the biggest problems we had in the beginning was finding an ink with the proper dryers in it. It had to go through fast and be able to be turned and put back through,” says Scholin. “When using coatings, everything has to be monitored so you don't block all the sheets together.”

SIZING UP YOUR INVESTMENT | Ferguson notes that a typical printer's ink investment ranges between $3,000 and $5,000. “Last quarter our ink inventory was 1.6 percent of sales,” reports Amos.

Building an excess inventory can result in an unexpectedly high cost center that risks being lost if inks are not used. “Printers would rather have too much ink for a job than too little, but this practice can result in thousands of excess pounds of ink over the years. It adds up,” says Thoren.

“Ink isn't cheap, but it gets even more expensive when you order it and don't use it,” adds Scholin.

ONE INK SUPPLIER FOR ALL | How can a printer keep inventory in line? If the ink room is managed in-house, begin by limiting the number of ink buyers. “At one time, we had each press operator ordering the ink he or she liked best. As a result, we had inventory from three suppliers. That was a problem. We now use one supplier that has ink everyone accepts,” says Amos.

“There is a balance to be achieved between service and capabilities and keeping a manageable organized inventory level,” says Thoren. “Without proper management, it is easy to fall into a trap of excess inventory to fulfill every possible need of a print facility. As a result, product is not used and becomes obsolete. This is an expensive and overall inefficient way to run an ink facility. We have seen poorly managed ink rooms that have thousands of pounds of obsolete and unusable ink that has accumulated over many years.” Thoren adds that, conversely, an ink room with inadequate inventory and support can jeopardize productivity and result in higher production costs.

One last piece of advice: “Reduce variables. Find good ink from a good supplier and stay with it,” says Amos. “That one supplier will be more responsive than three suppliers if each has only one-third of your business.”