17.12.2018
Category: technotrans, 2018

Complete ink batch management for the food industry

WB Verpackungen relies on an integrated ink batch management solution made by technotrans


As a package printing company in the food industry, WB Verpackungen GmbH from Bremen must fulfil extremely high requirements. Complex certifications and regular audits are part of the everyday life of the company in this sensitive industry. This also includes the full traceability of the ink batches. To improve this important, yet time-consuming, process, the company today relies on an automated solution made by technotrans SE. The specialist in the field of fluid technology from Sassenberg, Germany, has integrated an ink batch management system and several new ink supply systems into the existing printing presses. The result: precise traceability and the possibility to use bigger ink containers.

WB Verpackungen GmbH, a medium-sized company located in Bremen with approx. 60 employees, is specialised in the development and production of folding boxes, displays and point-of-sale materials for beverages, food and non-food products. For the realisation of the packaging solutions, printing and finishing techniques and systems play an important role because, often, the visual appearance of a product is a crucial factor for attracting potential buyers. WB Verpackungen uses three multicolour offset printing presses for the flexible production of small and large volumes.

Since the primary packaging produced by the company from Bremen has direct contact with the food products, the entire production process is subject to particularly stringent hygienic requirements. The most important factor is the protection against contamination, e.g. by faulty inks which might migrate into the food products. This is why the company is certified as per the hygiene management system BRC/IoP – a global standard for packaging and packaging materials. Among the prerequisites for the certification is a documented and integrated quality management system with strict requirements in terms of supplier monitoring and traceability. "One of the most important factors for the manufacturer/producer and, therefore, also for us is the ability to trace back all of the materials down to the smallest detail in the event of a product recall. Of course, this also applies to the ink batches we use," explains Lars Mester, Operations Manager at WB Verpackungen.

Substantial time-saving potential through automation
Until recently, the ink consumption and the management of the ink batches were performed manually by the employees, resulting in a time- and labour-consuming process. Consequently, during leave periods or absence due to illness, the production quickly reached its limits. "Also in view of the continuing skills shortage in the printing industry, personnel planning plays an important role for an investment into an automated system," explains Mester. Apart from saving time, WB Verpackungen attaches particular importance to a high level of production safety and reliability and an optimum system design. This is why the company consulted with its printing ink supplier before making a decision. Finally, technotrans SE, which had already supplied the packaging manufacturer with a dampening solution supply system in the past, won the contract.

The group of companies from Sassenberg installed a new ink supply system which enables WB Verpackungen to use 200 kg drums instead of 2.5 kg cans. As a result, the ink batches can be used for a longer period of time before a change is due. The ink batch management system was integrated into the ink supply system. Volumetric flow meters that are integrated in the pipe upstream of the printing press measure the ink flow per ink type. The volumetric value is then converted in a weight value based on the ink density value which is stored in the system. When the ink container is changed, the operator uses a QR scanner at the ink pump station to scan the ink batch number which has been applied to the drum as a bar code by the ink supplier. The individual pipe sections and their length and diameter values are all stored in the ink batch management program. As a result, the system precisely detects the moment when a new ink batch reaches the pipe at a printing press based on the ink consumption data.

The ink batch assignment and traceability are ensured by linking the data to the current printing job. "When a printing job changes, a new job number will be entered into the system. Based on the volumetric flow meter data, the system knows which ink batch is used for the printing job," explains Alois Scharf, Head of the Ink & Fluid Technology Business Unit at technotrans. If an ink container is changed during a printing job, WB Verpackungen can always rely on a precise assignment providing information about which part of the job has been printed with which ink batch.

Registration of special inks supplied in cans
A special feature of the solution made by technotrans is the registration of the batch numbers of ink cans via which special inks are manually filled into the ink ducts of the printing press. "Customers from the food industry often demand special inks and so we always have a large number of small cans in stock. Until recently, this required a lot of work in terms of documentation," says Mester. With the new ink batch management system, however, this is a thing of the past, since the ink cans can now also be scanned to store the corresponding data in the system. This saves time and ensures the correct traceability of the ink batches.

The traceability data are stored in the internal network structure of WB Verpackungen so that the company can set up and maintain a database. The operating panel, which is connected to the volumetric flow meters and scanners, ensures an optimum overview at the printing presses. The panel shows the ink consumption and ink batch data either as a complete overview or separately based on the printing presses, jobs or batches.

Goal-oriented cooperation and quick commissioning
The cooperation between the two companies was always constructive and goal-oriented, says Mester: "technotrans quickly guaranteed the feasibility of the system design and the fulfilment of our requirements. A particular challenge was the option to flexibly change the ink sequence at the various printing units." The Sassenberg team was able to fulfil this requirement, performed some last technical adaptations together with the IT experts on site and commissioned the system very quickly. In addition, technotrans offers a special service with short response times: the internal network of WB Verpackungen notifies this service of any faults or malfunctions so that downtimes can be reduced. "We are really happy about the result," says Mester. "The new automated system has definitely improved our entire production."