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Question and Answer

Advances in Folding Carton Quality Control Systems

by Chris Leary, W.H. Leary

February-March, 2014
Last May at the IADD•FSEA Odyssey, Chris Leary, director of sales and service, W.H. Leary, presented What Tomorrow’s Customer Looks Like. The presentation focused on advances in folding carton quality control systems, emphasizing the importance of taking advantage of new technology in the industry to meet and exceed demanding customer standards. In addition, Leary discussed steps to creating a quality mindset across a plant.

From glue application and print inspection to carton traceability and data collection, quality assurance systems are an increasingly essential technology for the packaging industry. Most of these advancements in folding carton quality control systems are driven by either new legal regulations or push from customers.

What legal regulations are triggering heavier use of quality control systems?
There are two primary segments in the carton industry that are highly quality-sensitive and regulated – pharmaceutical and food.

In the pharmaceutical industry, there is a high demand for mixed product control. If the wrong packaging – or the contents in the packaging – are not what the packaging reflects, that’s obviously a problem. One of the biggest regulatory changes affecting the pharmaceutical industry is the pending passing of a bill requiring pharmaceutical packagers to track and trace all pharmaceutical components, including packaging, through manufacturing and distribution channels. The regulation, initiated in California, is called ePedigree. 2D bar codes are being applied to cartons which contain unique manufacturing information, including when the carton was manufactured, which paper lot was used, which machines were involved, etc. If there are ever any recalls at the consumer level, suppliers need to be able to go back through the supply chain to find out where the defects or breakdowns in the manufacturing process occurred.

ePedigree also aims to decrease counterfeit production. In Asia, companies will manufacture a like product at a lower price point and sell it to the consumer as the original. With ePedigree, the 2D codes can contain piece count information generated from a database that is supplied by the pharmaceutical company. Each one of those cartons has a unique variable number that is translated into a printable code, which then can be compared against the database to ensure the product is legitimate.

On the food side of packaging, there also is an initiative called the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), which is a collaboration between food retailers, manufacturers and food service companies to create traceability in the food supply chain. This was driven by the number of food safety crises in recent years, as well as overall continuous improvement efforts. With the regulatory standards recommended by GFSI, plants are required to provide a degree of supply chain traceability of the packaging component of food products. If there’s ever a packaging defect on the market, a root cause analysis and corrective action easily could be executed with this information. Having traceability allows the folding carton converter to pinpoint exactly where the hiccup in the supply chain was located.

Which other industries are heavy users of quality control systems?
Other than the pharmaceutical and food industries, the beverage industry has found quality control systems to be useful, particularly for those suppliers making six-pack carriers. Regulations passed recently allowed microbreweries to manufacture beer in larger quantities, which obviously impacts folding carton volume. There’s a lot of complexity in the folding and gluing of six-pack containers, and any single gluing defect can lead to a significant amount of waste. In the most extreme cases, if converters ship one defective carton that is found at the filling plant, the entire shipment of cartons could be sent back to the carton plant for sorting.

The last segment that is quality-sensitive is the cosmetics industry, due to the high-end print quality and embossing that is on the packaging. The cosmetic companies rely on how the product is presented on the shelf for consumer purchase. Defects aren’t tolerated by the companies whose brands and products are represented.

One major quality assurance demand that is gaining traction in the folding carton industry is for print inspection. This can be especially important for the converters that run cartons that are exported into Asia. Operators can’t do inline quality checks on the packaging because they can’t read the language. Print inspection quality control technology can look at every carton to check for color variations and print defects.

What are the advantages of adding quality control systems?
There are a few drivers for why people buy quality control systems. The first is the pressure that is seen on lean manufacturing practices. Recent economic conditions have driven demand for less waste and more quality throughout the manufacturing process. These systems can be used to identify the areas where waste or defects are introduced in a folding carton plant. Plant managers then can eliminate this waste by using the data from the system to pinpoint the areas where effort should be applied. Pressure will continue to be put on North American manufacturers to produce more with the same or fewer assets, without a decrease in quality.

Smart companies also add quality control technology and use it as a sales tool. With the system performing quality checks to a higher standard than can be achieved with visual inspection, cartons are perfect from a print and forming standpoint, giving customers exactly what they want on each carton.

What benefits do quality inspection systems offer for glue application?
New technology for glue application is all about making sure the results are precise and repeatable, which allows folding carton companies to keep up with increasing production demands. Integrated systems apply the glue and detect it as well, ensuring glue is applied where needed and in the correct amount on a particular carton.

Quality control systems can be added to existing gluing systems by positioning a sensor or a camera that’s focused to look at where the glue needs to be; then, the operator sets tolerances for the start or end of the glue pattern. Where that glue is applied on the carton is critical because of the run speeds that equipment can achieve today.

As mentioned, quality control systems also can monitor to ensure the correct amount of glue is used. If too much glue is applied to a carton, glue squeezes out into areas where it’s not supposed to be, which keeps the carton ‘stuck’ together. Glue defects are the number one defect that customers identify because it stops filling machines and slows production. Once customers see a glue defect, they start looking for other defects – print defects, window patching, etc. It exposes a plant to more critiquing from the customer.

What does it take to create a quality mindset throughout a plant?
It’s important to empower the people who are responsible for delivering production and quality with tools to monitor the production floor so they can make real-time decisions as it relates to quality and run speeds. There are a variety of visual management tools, such as lights that change from green to red when there’s a production issue, that can be installed so any plant manager quickly can see the quality condition of any of the machines. This indication doesn’t fix anything, but it makes what’s happening in real-time on the machine more visible.

These systems help, but having a culture that emphasizes the importance of quality makes the biggest difference. The companies that get the most out of quality control equipment have worked to make everyone aware of the importance of quality and what the customer expects throughout the finishing process. They have implemented simple things, from having banners to remind employees about the emphasis on quality to holding meetings to talk about how important quality is to a specific customer.

In the finishing world, there can be a mindset that the finishing department will catch all the defects, so it doesn’t matter what happens in printing or diecutting. Sharing customer expectations with operators – the folks who are key to the process – and asking them to be aware of things that could impact quality will ultimately reduce waste by not running production if things aren’t set up right. This increases the quality scorecard from the customers, which equates to customer retention. We all want to keep our customers happy.

W. H. Leary has over 85 years of experience as innovators when it comes to quality control for the packaging industry. Systems include its new iQ™ traceability technology, which can not only track cartons, but also collect and store easily accessible quality data for analysis. The new LearyVIEW™ Print inspection camera easily can be transitioned from one folder-gluer to another, and Leary’s new Quantum™ high-speed cold glue valves feature a narrow profile, adjustable mounting and more precision than any cold glue valve on the market. For more information, visit www.whleary.com.