The Pressing Need to Scan Cylinder Packaging

by Ryan Szporer

Stop to think about it and the various goods we consume for a second: How much of your grocery list is made up of bottles, cans, tins, and tubes? That’s just for starters. It might not be obvious, but cylinders are all around us, especially when it comes to packaging.
 

The Problem with Cylinder Packaging

It stands to reason the recent shift away from manual proofreading for quality-control purposes would apply to cylinder packaging as well. However, technology hasn’t been able to keep up with common sense. Ineffective means to scan in the final product and compare it to the original design (usually a PDF) has been what’s been holding back the automated verification of cylinder packaging.

Whereas press sheets of unfolded cartons can be scanned in easily to be inspected using a flatbed scanner, you can’t do the same with a can. You would first have to “unfold” it, which is just a nice way of saying “cut it open.”

It’s, of course, possible to do, but less than ideal considering the residual curvature of the can and the potential loss of content with any cut. Plus, some cylinder packages are made of a material that isn’t as easy to cut through as aluminum. The only option is to leave the packaging intact… which still leaves the original dilemma: How do you proof it?
 

Automated vs. Manual Proofing

By now, almost everyone is acquainted with the pitfalls of manual proofreading. Proofing fatigue can lead to errors that would otherwise be caught, while some print is so fine the naked eye can’t realistically be expected to see every difference. That’s not to mention the resources that need to be allocated to the task in question, resources that could be devoted to other departments.

It pays off in the long term to automate the proofreading process, even if only to avoid potential recalls due to typos. Cylinder packaging has generally forced companies’ hands, placing magnifying glasses firmly back inside for lack of alternative solutions. That’s even with the manual proofreading process being further exacerbated by the difficulties of keeping one’s place while checking a curved object.

Thankfully, the quality-control market has been making strides over the last few years. Specialized solutions such as cylinder scanners do exist… and they can be more versatile than you think.

For instance, consider two specific use cases associated with cylinder scanners: Take an aluminum can manufacturer and the client, or brand company here, as examples. They would each use such an automated proofing solution in different ways.
 

The Cylinder Packaging Printing Process

Once the manufacturer has the decorated cans—let’s say Diet Coke for example—it starts the printing process based on the approved design from the client. That’s the Coca-Cola Company in this case, with the design coming in the form of a PDF. Inspections throughout the printing process—beginning, middle, and end—are critical, and not just to ensure all the content, including the ingredients and nutrition facts, are present. There are risks of printer defects and punctures.

So, at each stage, cans are sampled and inspected. This is to guarantee defects haven’t been introduced into the process at some point after the previous inspection and that printing can safely continue. Comparisons can be run against previous scans or against the original PDF. Regardless, reference scans are kept for subsequent runs to ensure consistency from job to job.

The presumption here is the client is satisfied and will stick with the same manufacturer for subsequent jobs. However, to assure itself the printing job is top-notch, the client conducts internal quality control checks too. This is also done at different stages.
 

Maintaining Brand Integrity

Prior to the start of a production run, the manufacturer may send a prototype of the agreed-upon final product, or a “one-off,” back to the client for final approval. The brand company would then check the prototype against their internally approved PDF, with the one-off for all intents and purposes replacing what would otherwise be considered the printer’s proof in this process.

Inspections should also be run by the client after the printing job. It all depends on when, though. If the cans need to be filled with the product by the brand company, the packaging obviously gets sent its way. If the packaging is filled off the premises, it’s at the brand company’s discretion to either have some of the cans sent back to them or straight to the distribution center.

The client has the option of requesting individual sets of what’s been manufactured or even just random cans. A company as big as Coca-Cola might even have reps show up to stores and get cans straight off the shelf, getting their samples to be inspected at the “end of the line” as it were.

The goal here would be to get the closest possible representation of what the retail customer will end up seeing and possibly buying. Barring unforeseen damage sustained during transportation or shelving, that’s how it should be, especially if the manufacturer and brand company have done their due diligence. Otherwise, it may not be the end of the line, but the beginning of legal issues if big mistakes slip through the cracks and customers are left to deal with misleading or incorrect information on the purchased product.

The cylinder is known to be one of nature’s most structurally sound geometric shapes, but, when it comes to consumer goods, it’s just like any other type of packaging. It requires much the same degree of attention and quality control. Having the right tools at your disposal is just the first step. That’s the real beginning of the line.

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