Board Choice Sets the Stage

by Jen Clark, PostPress
The Signature Access folder gluer from American International Machinery, Inc., Oak Creek, Wisconsin, is shown with paperboard blanks loaded in the feeder.

Picking the right board for a particular application – whether for book or carton production – relies on a variety of factors, but the key to executing a flawless project is to have a production team in place, according to industry experts. While not always an option, a team approach can ensure a profitable and successful outcome for each set of circumstances.

PostPress reached out to industry experts at American International Machinery (AIM), Bobst North America, Inc. and Eska Graphic Board for more information on the impact of board choice for book and carton production, as well as an understanding of operational issues that can arise when a holistic approach isn’t taken prior to production. Bobst North America, Roseland, New Jersey, and AIM, Oak Creek, Wisconsin, make equipment that turns board into cartons, while Eska, Chesapeake, Virginia, makes board for both books and packaging.

Involve the team

“Board selection is a very important process,” said Kevin Koplin, managing director at AIM, “and to have everyone involved who will work with the product (from the beginning) is very beneficial.”

Ideally, the production team should be involved with every job from the start, said Rob McCann, process optimization manager for Bobst North America. “Yet for various reasons, not every plant has a production team. Many plants have a manager or lead person for each phase of the converting process, but not an actual team that proactively arrives at decisions together that will best suit all of the departments.”

Koplin explained that the team should be involved as early as the estimating stage. “The production team should work with the designers and estimators to make sure the proper board is used for the job,” he said. “If they are not involved, the company could incur additional costs during the process because of increased waste due to wrong grain or thickness of board to the size and configuration of the carton.”

According to David Senter, sales account manager for Eska, his company can be part of the production team. “We come to our customers’ sites free of charge to help with planning and production,” he said. “If problems arise, Eska is there to work with customers to evaluate and adjust the process to be successful.”

Anticipate production issues

When choosing a substrate and the machine on which it will run, there are certain things to consider as well, McCann said. “There are very few standard rules for any application; and, as products across the board constantly are evolving, the variables increase each day, making it even more challenging to know the best converting approach for a given job,” he said. “An operator is limited to what he can overcome on press. If a problem must be solved by the operator, it normally is too late. This is where planning and having a production team in place play an important role in early identification and prevention of potential production obstacles.”

Issues such as choosing to run very thin material with multiple scores perpendicular to machine running direction will limit the speed and quality of the carton on a high-speed folder-gluer. Koplin said different types of board always will run differently. Board with the wrong grain direction, for example, is another problem. “You need to have the right grain direction to give the box the strength and stability for storage,” he said. “The right grain direction also allows the box to fold better, therefore increasing speeds and eliminating waste.”

Added McCann: “Unfortunately, these are not things an operator can “fix.” These issues must be known and discussed in the initial production meeting. The same holds true for recycled board. There are some general guidelines that an experienced operator will know when dealing with this material, but the operator will have limited options once on press.”

This is why having the production team involved from the start of a project is important, Koplin said. “They know what boards, stock, grain direction, etc. will help with the production of the product,” he said. “Virgin board always will run better and faster than recycled board, but this also can depend on the complexity of the carton to be produced. The type of machine and the experience of the operator will have a big influence on how the cartons will run. But, the main influences are the board used and the experience of the operator to overcome any problems that they run into during production.”

Consider the board material

Awareness of sustainability and recyclability factors is a must for book manufacturing customers and publishers, Senter said. “When selecting a board, most customers require FSC certification, COC (Chain of Custody) documentation and CPSIA (US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) certification,” he said. However, an eco-friendly label doesn’t necessarily equate to a higher production cost or level of difficulty. “Other than a small percentage of material that is virgin fiber, most board is made from recycled fiber. Eco-friendly inks and glues will work with recycled board and generally don’t carry a higher cost than non-eco-friendly materials.”

Senter noted a few common mistakes to watch for when choosing the type of board. “Proper caliper of board should be taken into consideration based on the size and weight of book being produced,” he said. “Consideration should be given to the smoothness of the board. After being covered with a costly material, no one wants to be surprised with a surface that looks like an orange peel. For decoration, the board must be able to withstand and hold up to die designs. The board should work well with cover material, foil type and required detail of the die image.”

The type of material obviously plays a key role in the entire converting process, McCann said. “There can be structural issues with a carton that must be taken into consideration. These issues may not effect production, but the end user performance of the product.” Knowing what finishing techniques will take place also is an important factor, he added. “Other issues to consider are making sure that a particular UV coating will be compatible for hot foil stamping later down the line or that a varnish will not crack if the job calls for embossing,” he said. “Again, these variables must be known and addressed prior to starting production in order to reach the highest profit margins.”

Koplin suggested choosing the best quality board affordable to do foiling. “You would need a good coated stock so that the adhesive for the foil is not absorbed too much into the grain of the board, causing flaking or disfiguring of the foil,” he said.

Understand outside factors

Senter said factors that contribute to problems in production range from process control and environment to equipment specs being out of control. “Process control is necessary in delivering a quality product every time,” he said. “Most issues found are traced to conditions such as inconsistent glue application or fluctuations in relative humidity, temperature and moisture content of materials. Machine settings and calibration, along with craftsmanship, are keys to successful production.”

Koplin said an experienced operator can overcome many, but not all, obstacles. “Weather can have a big influence on the board,” he said. “If it is humid and the board is damp, or if it is very dry and the board dries out, it will change the way the board reacts on the machine. A good operator plays a big role in overcoming these obstacles.”

It isn’t uncommon for machine manufacturers to get calls about equipment problems when, in reality, the issue turns out to be a board issue or even a workflow issue. “Regardless of the process – printing, converting or finishing – today’s modern equipment is very sophisticated,” McCann said. “This means that the equipment sensors, lasers, encoders and more all are feeding information to the software running the machine. This software often requires an operator to set the parameters for that particular run. If a board weight or thickness is entered incorrectly, the machine automatically may set the speeds and feeds of certain operations at different rates, resulting in misfeeds or jams. Another example is if a color or varnish is not input properly, a camera registration system may inaccurately reject a product due to non-conformity when, in reality, the machine was given the wrong information to follow.” An understanding of all factors affecting carton and book productions can ensure a smoother process.

PostPress would like to thank Rob McCann, Bobst North America; Kevin Koplin, American International Machinery; and David Senter, Eska Graphic Board, for their input on this article. Koplin’s European counterpart, Clive Robshaw, also contributed to this article. For more information, visit, or