Proven advice for industrial applications and other situations where delivering less-than-flawless prints isn’t an option.
By Mike Young
Like any business, printers follow explicit job details, in part to deliver what their clients expect. But what about those “specifications” that outwardly appear excessive for the job, sometimes past the point of belief?
Without breaching nondisclosure agreements, here are some examples of over-engineered jobs: A multicolor cartoon character print on a child’s slipper that had to withstand 40,000 cycles of continuously flexing 180 degrees; a coffee mug transfer that had to endure 51 cycles through an automatic dishwasher on the longest and hottest settings; and a high-end graphic overlay/membrane switch printing operation that used the same specs and quality-control procedures to produce large signage and single-color labels. In that company, registration had to conform to a tolerance of ± 0.001 inches when the product itself required no better than 0.02 inches, while a 12-color job had to adhere to excruciating tolerances for each color on an unstable substrate – when only the first two colors actually mattered. In my estimation, these two examples occurred simply because that is what the customer, perhaps misguidedly, had specified.
Even in critical functional applications, similar product types can be poles apart specification-wise. Take transdermal patches, for example. The tolerances for nicotine or travel sickness patches would be generous, but that would understandably not be acceptable for diabetic insulin or birth control patches. Nicotine patches would become horrendously expensive if they were produced to the unnecessarily higher specs. It is a fact: Over-engineering a product will needlessly drive up its cost without making the print any better for its purpose.
The real-life rationale for such tight tolerances is that the finished product might have to meet certain criteria for its core use. Therefore, it may be subject to a battery of tests to determine whether it can withstand exposure to physical contact, environmental conditions (varying climates, lightfastness), chemicals, etc. Prints may further need to conform to recognized industry standards, such as ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials).
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