by DPS Magazine
Miniature (mini) folds enable brand owners to pack a lot of information into a compact leaflet. Pharmaceutical inserts and outserts, more commonly known as PIs, for medical as well as product information documents for health, beauty, and electronic items are examples of this type of application.
Inserts and outserts are typically folded down to dimensions of under two inches. They carry a large amount of information and often start from large sheet sizes. Featuring panel folds into the hundreds, these pieces present many finishing challenges.
As with any printed product, inserts, outserts, and PIs are increasingly printed with digital technologies to meet evolving demands for shorter runs, fast turnarounds, and variability.
Lance Martin, VP marketing and new product development, MBO America, still sees insert and outsert products mainly produced with offset technology. “Inserts and outserts are mostly long-run products involving a multi-up offset process on pharmaceutical paper,” he explains. “However, we see digital print in markets that use paper more suited to the digital process and the types of work that favor the digital process, namely PIs and the pharmaceutical trial markets.”
“PI and other mini fold applications are increasingly produced digitally as a reaction to quickly evolving industry regulations and the changes in packing and distribution driven by online and custom ordering,” states Bob Flinn, director of business development, Standard Finishing.
PI literature in the cosmetics and health and beauty channels use digital print on higher quality papers for color work and marketing appeal. “For example, we recently made a demo run for Canon showing a 12-panel cosmetic PI, produced on the Canon ColorStream 6000 inkjet press on 40# text, using a roll-to-roll web print process. We finished the 2.6×3-inch, 12-panel PI from a roll in our MBO sheeting line directly into the folder,” shares Martin.
Serialization and tracking of each folded product is a trend that is expected to continue into the future, which could drive more digital print. He explains that currently, many codes are put on the products in the folding or packaging stages using digital printheads, where custody of the product is needed at the time of fulfillment.
Short-run pharmaceutical markets for lightly used treatments and the pharmaceutical trial markets continue to use digital print to support low-volume runs and variable information.
The H+H and MBO Post Press Solutions group is prepared to have folding systems fed from both sheetfed print and roll-fed print—digital or traditional. “We have built our platform around that flexibility. Furthermore, we have camera and scanner systems that track the product through the machine if needed,” adds Martin.
Kevin Boivin, sales manager, G&K-Vijuk, has noticed customers using digital presses to print short runs of small leaflets and then finishing them on G&K-Vijuk folders. “Presently, it is advantageous for short runs. We can surmise that future improvements on digital presses for speed, types of stock, sheet size, and thickness capabilities will draw more printers to use digital presses for mini leaflet printing,” he shares.
For many mini fold applications, a dedicated folder is often required.
While it is possible to create small folds on traditional folding equipment, it all depends on the minimum size of the folded piece and what options the folder is currently equipped with. There are limitations as to how many panels a traditional folder can achieve with standard equipment. “We have customers that xwant versatility and are customizing their folding machines with specific options so they are able to produce small format folding work, but are also capable of folding signature work and commercial work as their business needs change. What makes this possible for a folding machine is Smart Automated Technology,” says Angelo Chapa, postpress product manager, Heidelberg.
“Traditional folders will usually not fit the bill for pharmaceutical, insert, and outsert folding,” shares Flinn. This is because the size of the fold rollers and the transfer points in the folder and in delivery won’t accommodate the smaller sized fold panels required in this market space. Additionally, traditional folders generally can’t handle the product thickness or provide enough fold plates to produce many of the folds required, especially for pharmaceutical applications.
Boivin agrees, noting that typically, traditional folders cannot handle mini folds due to their minimum-size folding capability and folding roller diameter. However, the G&K–Vijuk FA36/FA45 commercial/mini folders will fold down to 0.625 inches in Station I and 0.75 inches in Station II and accommodate sheet sizes as small as 3.25×3.4 inches.
Martin adds that many traditional B1 folders, like the MBO B26 and B30, can produce folds down to the 2.5-inch range using common buckle plate methods. “Small format legacy folders like the MBO B118 can go under two inches in fold length and again there is a large volume of those types of machines in use today. The fold roller diameter and other engineering design factors determine the minimum fold length of existing folders.”
He explains that most legacy folders in the U.S. have four or six fold plates in a section, which can make products for some of the PI market. Some PI work is sized to fit in larger packaging, like headphones or similar products, which only require final sizes in the 3×3- to 6×6-inch ranges and not many panels.
The information printed on leaflets, inserts, and outserts is often critical, and therefore accuracy is paramount.
Chapa says it is important to ensure the printed information is present on the substrate before folding, and making sure the folded product is kept closed and secure.
Industry regulations require print accuracy as well as an accurate count of the number of pieces that are produced, particularly in packaging, pharmaceutical, and medical equipment.
Flinn says to meet these standards, the printed image on both sides of the sheet are now typically verified via a top and bottom reading camera on the folder. A unique barcode is assigned to each sheet and tracked via barcode scanner at the folder.
Boivin points out that sanitation and leaflet mix-up between jobs is always a concern when dealing with public health information. “Most of our customers segregate their pharmaceutical business; and following Good Manufacturing Practice is an FDA requirement.”
G&K–Vijuk offers solutions to ensure job integrity. For content quality assurance an optional camera system makes top and bottom readings for blank sheets, missing data, pattern matching, and barcode reading. “Our code printing and serializing station verifies—ejects those that do not meet specified parameters—and logs leaflets. Both help maintain security and prevent mix ups,” comments Boivin.
Machines in the pharmaceutical market have integrated quality check systems to ensure that the processes are completed properly and only have correct product coming out for delivery.
Martin says some common quality checks include scanning for the right sheet, scanning to see if the sheet is in the machine in the proper orientation, checking for double sheet thicknesses, scanning for fold tolerance, checking for application of glue for closure, and confirming final dimensions. “Some of the most sophisticated processes also include a log and scan of every sheet to verify the disposition of each sheet in the run.”
Chapa says barcode scanners and cameras can confirm printed information and glue detection to ensure the folded piece is closed.
Martin says machines use camera/scanning systems to detect barcodes that carry data for the sheet or run. They also use camera systems to measure product specifications in real time to ensure they match the dimensions of a master product.
Barcode scanning and camera systems provide an audit trail of every piece processed through the folder. “The audit trail can be used to produce reports that validate compliance with industry standards,” shares Flinn.
“Barcode readers and fold-quality monitors with ejection devices are offered as options on our mini folding equipment,” adds Boivin.
Addressing Common Challenges
Mini folds present several challenges for folders, including sheet size range, handling lightweight media, high panel counts and product thickness, scoring issues, plate adjustments and makeready, layflat qualities, efficient delivery of small pieces, and compliance.
Lightweight substrates can be a feeding issue. “Folders equipped with good air separation and a tremat head provide good, consistent feeding,” shares Chapa.
Delivering small product can be challenging. “You need a delivery that provides support from top and bottom capturing the small folded product as it’s being transferred into guide rails and counted accurately for packing,” explains Chapa.
For scoring issues, he recommends wet scores whenever possible, as this practices provides better quality scores and tighter folds.
Plate adjustments during makeready are time consuming, Chapa says automation on the fold plates and rollers help with makeready times and cut repeat jobs to minutes compared to hours.
Martin adds that legacy machinery used in the insert/outsert literature market are typically associated with high makeready times, relatively low production rates, and requires highly skilled labor. “These factors are at the top of the list of issues facing the printing industry today. High panel count fold jobs for a large outsert could have an eight hour makeready and a real production speed of 5,000 per hour. Labor cost, labor training, attrition, and cost of operation are all affected,” he explains.
Getting the product to lay flat after its folded is another area of concern. Chapa says a built-in pressing station in the folding roller section provides pressing of the folded piece as it exits the folder, and is more cost effective than purchasing a separate unit for pressing.
Boivin points out that FDA information requirements for the pharmaceutical industry and the packaging constraints and economies of pharmaceutical manufacturers call for small, compact leaflets, yet with much copy space.
Mini Fold Options
While traditional folders can be used to meet some PI work and insert and outsert needs, there are limitations that are best handled by dedicated mini fold equipment.
Martin believes that a modular design is the best production model. “No one type of folding machine can handle all the sizes and all the thicknesses needed for this market. Typically, there are many short length accordion folds in the first direction, which is great for buckle type folds. Folding in the second direction for PI work is also best with a buckle type folder because the products are relatively thin. For inserts and outserts, the second direction folds are best with knife folders or a combination of knife and buckle folders.
“Since the knife and buckle plate units are modular, we can arrange them to ideally suit the size of the product,” comments Martin.
He says pressing the product continually and providing modular pressing units after all or most of the second direction folds is helpful. “This makes the product fit into the customer trays easily and the end user sees better packaging speeds because the literature is sized and pressed keenly.”
Small format folders must have the ability to handle a range of stocks including the very lightweight requirements of the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, they need to be able to handle a high fold panel count and accommodate gluing and vision/tracking systems. “In the past, a fleet of folders—each customized to a segment of the fold requirements—was required to handle the many different folding dimensions. Today, the combination of automation, auto-gap settings, score positioning, and a high number of fold plates means that most folds can be accommodated with one or two system configurations. For example, the Standard Horizon AF-400 series of small format folders,” explains Flinn.
The Standard Horizon AF-400 series includes the AF-406F small format, automated six-buckle folder. The solution is designed to provide application flexibility, especially for the insert and pharmaceutical markets.
Generally, Boivin says G&K in the U.S. (GUK) folders can produce inserts and PIs, depending on the sizes of the leaflets. GUK Folders are the basis of G&K–Vijuk Outsert Systems. The company offers a full line of G&K–Vijuk MV Outsert Systems with varying capabilities, folding anywhere up to 350 panels. It provides a comprehensive line of leaflet and outsert folding systems that will fold lightweight paper and make accurate and precise short folds.
The Heidelberg Stahlfolder TH 56 Automated Pharma Folding Machine is equipped with eight automated plates and rollers in the first and second stations. It includes continuous or pile feeder, airstream register system, pre-slitter shaft, bad sheet ejection system, wet scores, automated folding plates and fold rollers, pressing station with rear exit slitter shafts, knife folding unit, small format delivery unit, barcode reader or camera system, and glue detection.
PI work and other mini folds often require specific equipment as many unique challenges can present issues in finishing without the proper equipment functions. dps
Nov2020, DPS Magazine