I’m sure we can all agree that 2020 was a year of unexpected trials (and trial and error) for the world and for our industry as a whole. The global pandemic brought with it new best practices, safety protocols, and a wave of creative thinking as we discovered ways to not only maintain our business but to thrive as the packaging industry exploded thanks to the combination of social distancing and e-commerce. As what seemed like it would be a fleeting season has shifted into the new reality, it is a good idea to take a step back and assess what that means for our future on a very practical level. In other words, let’s look at the toll this pandemic has taken on our people, machinery and print quality, and what we can do to improve each of those areas during the year ahead.

Overall, as restrictions due to COVID-19 were on what often felt like a rollercoaster ride throughout the year, the impacts within our physical business have been quite obvious: visitors are limited, personnel has been reduced, healthy employees are covering additional workloads, and everyone is feeling stretched to the max. The need for social distancing, adhering to safety protocols, and increased levels of caution in general have meant dynamic shifts in the way we carry out tasks, but what has changed with our equipment and machinery?

From my perspective, one of the biggest issues that I’ve seen during this period is an unfortunate (although understandable) fall-off in preventative maintenance tasks that are not considered priority because they can be temporarily put off, sometimes without immediate repercussions. In the long run, however, printers will start seeing major issues unless preventative maintenance is revamped – and soon. Some may already be seeing those effects.

Because of the necessary shift in procedures, I think it’s even more important than ever to keep print quality standards high. Brand expectations haven’t changed. If anything, customer demands have increased as the world has turned to digital marketing and direct shipping to avoid and/or limit physical contact as much as possible. We also know that most of our industry operations cannot be managed remotely, so keeping employees/operators in a position to work safely and efficiently is of utmost importance. If you have a tired operator, rather than increasing their workload through ink adjustments and reformulation, predictive press performance will not only improve product quality but will also increase productivity by decreasing downtime and the need for quick fixes. This goal is only achieved through preventative maintenance – assessing and sustaining the status of your equipment.

Around the end of March 2020, there was a significant downtick in audit requests as we all scrambled to figure out how to continue operating. It seems like it was mostly an issue of staffing because with such a thinned-out workforce, it felt as though no one had time to conduct an audit, but in reality, that is counterproductive. If you didn’t get an audit in 2020, I can’t recommend enough that you get one as soon as possible in 2021. Doing so willsave you time and expensein the future. As things open up with the introduction of procedures that create a safer work environment, audits should be made a priority.

Lastly, I know that the world has shifted to carrying out all work remotely where possible and audits are no different. Because of this, we have created a method to perform audits remotely – possible with a little bit of extra effort on your part. I strongly recommend, however, still having someone physically come in and audit your rolls, if that’s within your ability. In my personal experience, having someone physically audit increases your chances of finding out there are problems with your anilox or even with the surrounding equipment that might be damaging your anilox.

As we move into 2021, I am convinced that we can improve print quality, the status of our machinery, and the working conditions for our operators by taking this preventative maintenance measure. The end result is not only beneficial to your time and bottom line, but it also increases your chances of keeping your customers happy by providing them with the quality they demand.  In my experience, it isn’t a matter of if you’ll encounter problems by overlooking auditing, it’s a matter of when you’ll have them. These issues have a habit of cropping up during a critical order, but you don’t have to wait until it breaks to find out what needs fixing. It’s as simple as a phone call or email to your rep – don’t overlook it until it’s too late. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an audit, please contact me at shane.weber@binghamflexoservices.com.