When speaking to brands, they often complain that one of their biggest challenges is achieving consistent color for packaging produced in a variety of converter locations. While each converter may be delivering accurate color that is well within tolerance, there can be wide variation when one converter’s results are compared to another’s, resulting in color that is not consistent when the package arrives at the shelf.

This can be caused by the use of different printing technologies, substrates, measurement instruments and production processes at each converter. It can also be caused when results are compared against a physical standard such as a proof or spot color fandeck. Physical standards such as these are subject to variation themselves, including wear and tear, over-exposure to light, etc. These physical standards must be measured to ascertain whether production output is within tolerance, and if everyone is using different measurement techniques and tools, error can creep in as well. There is plenty of room for discrepancies when you stack up all of these variables.

BrandQ attempts to educate brand owners how to optimize communication between the brand and supply chain. It teaches methods for controlling and monitoring print quality. In addition to on-site education over a three-day period, attendees have access to online training and discussion boards as well as certification at three different levels. Most converters would agree that having the most effective possible color specifications – especially when delivered as spectral values – would make their job easier. It would remove some of the subjectivity and error from the process. When everyone is working to the same spectral value – or digital color standard – the variance from converter to converter is likely to be minimized.

The first BrandQ training session was conducted last week in Boston, and we will be attempting to talk to some of the students to find out how it was received and what they see as the value of the program. Three days is a long time to dedicate to training, but if the training enables significant process changes, the return on investment can be fast and significant.

Idealliance Vice President, Global Print Technologies & Workflows, Tim Baechle explains, “The program has been incubating for 18 to 20 months and large brands have been a significant part of the task force efforts. The program isn’t something we just dreamed up; it was built by and for the packaging supply chain. The supply chain needed a language; there was too much noise in the process, and it made it difficult for participants to know what to aim at. If everyone from design to production to delivery speaks the same language, brands can more easily communicate both internally and externally, taking much of the confusion out of the process.”

BrandQ is standards-based, relying heavily on ISO standards, including CXF-X4, as well as Printer Request Exchange (PRX) and Printer Quality Exchange (PQX) to ensure effective bi-directional communication.

Baechle adds, “We spoke to a number of brands at the recent Middle East Packaging Summit in Dubai, and the feedback was the exactly the same as we have been hearing from brands all over the world. Some of the biggest brands, brands everyone knows, told us they have been having these problems since the beginning of time, and that they have needed something like BrandQ. When you hear what the brands have to say, you realize we are literally standing in the middle of the Wild West of packaging. And the challenges are only growing as packaging and its associated supply chains become more complex. BrandQ adds a control factor that was missing before.”

While on the surface, converters may be concerned about the program and how it might ultimately affect their production processes – it does sound a little Big-Brother-ish – in the end they are likely to find that brands that are more educated about printing technologies, color measurement and the effect of substrates on color, among other things, will provide them with better specifications that will ultimately reduce waste and cost while speeding time to market.

Some suppliers to the industry have already been trying to help brands and converters overcome these challenges. GMG OpenColor and X-Rite’s ColorCert Suite are examples. Some premedia houses such as Schawk also have their own proprietary solutions that address these issues. So what does BrandQ mean for them?

Baechle states, “If BrandQ were a software platform, it would be described as an open source platform. Anything can be accessible to it, including things like pharmaceutical regulatory information, and color data from systems like those offered by GMG, X-Rite and others. It provides a template that gives you a standard approach. It is a communication tool that goes deep into the process, including measurement, supply chain technologies, ISO standards and more. It allows you to integrate other things into it that are important to a brand or converter. It is not designed to be a stranglehold. Trying to place a stranglehold on an industry is not productive and limits adoption. You have to allow people to customize to best meet their particular needs, building on top of this communications foundation.”

Baechle adds that Idealliance is a growing, global non-profit that is dedicated to educating the world, sitting at the intersection of innovation and education. “We are not into nickel-and-diming them,” he says. “Rather, we want to help people hone their skills and win business. In packaging, the slightest error that causes product to be pulled from the shelf can cost tens of millions of dollars. Brands tell us that they build into their budgets anticipated losses due to these types of problems, missed deadlines, supply chain issues and more. While BrandQ won’t eliminate all of that waste, we hope it will go a long way toward reducing it and helping brands get products to market faster.”

To that end, Baechle states that Idealliance fees, including certification fees, for the program are nominal, along the same lines as fees for G7 training and certification.

Baechle concludes, “We listened to the industry, and in effect, they built this for themselves. We helped to connect the dots. Had we built it for them, it would not be effective. The program is designed so the level of education can be varied based on the required skill set. We are excited about rolling this out!”

For more information about BrandQ, visit www.idealliance.org/brandq.