The good news is that modern high-volume digital printers running at up to 1,000 feet per minute as well as letter inserters running at over 20,000 pieces per hour increase throughput dramatically. The bad news is that if something goes wrong, things can get ugly very quickly. At these high production speeds, mountains of scrap can be produced before a problem is detected and remedied.


Camera-based vision systems mounted on digital printers and inserters provide real-time error detection to drastically reduce scrap and rework costs. By viewing 100% of production at each stage of the process, these systems detect the one-off "wild hare" reject as well as the more troublesome large scale errors that occur.


Following are two examples where digital print and document finishing shops realized the hard way how quickly a simple problem can mushroom into an expensive debacle. "After the accident" installations of vision systems are now assuring that these costly mistakes will not happen again. In a third example, the print shop took a proactive approach to prevent a problem before it could occur.


Vision Systems True Stories

1. Brokerage Statement Production Fiasco

A large financial institution was a few days into its monthly production crunch to print and mail brokerage account statements. The company discovered that the barcode scanners on the front end of its intelligent inserters were failing to read nearly 50% of the documents. Not only was this killing throughput, but the company was at risk of not meeting regulatory requirements for providing statements to the customers in a timely manner.


The investigation went upstream in the production process. Defects in several of their high-speed continuous printers were causing the printing of illegible barcodes. The printers had been running for several days in this condition. It costs more to shred the defective documents than it cost to produce them in the first place! The printers had to be repaired, the lost production reprinted and they still had to meet its regulatory requirement for the mail drop.


To make sure this doesn't happen again, camera-based vision systems are in place on all of the printers, looking at every document, to catch just this sort of problem as soon as it occurs.


2. Check Loan Promotion Runs Amuck

A large financial institution produces a high-visibility debt consolidation loan promotion that is mailed to its qualified customers on pre-printed form stock. The promotion includes a live check, made out to each customer, for the amount of a pre-approved loan. The back of the document, including the back of the tear-off check portion, contains the terms and conditions of the loan. By endorsing the check, the customer is also accepting the terms and conditions of the loan.


During one print run, the promotional checks went out, and the customers started cashing them. As the checks started to clear, however, it was quickly discovered that a substantial number of checks had no terms and conditions printed. What did that mean? Free money for some individuals and a slew of problems for the financial institution! For some reason, one of the continuous format printers had not printed the terms and conditions on the back of every check. The embedded twin-printer control marks were printed on both sides of every sheet, so the printers themselves were not aware that there was a problem, but the rest of the contents on the back of the documents were "missing in action."


A camera-based system, in-line with the twin printers, looking at both sides of the document stream, now assures that this sort of thing will never happen again. The system continuously monitors print quality, including completely missing print, and halts the printers if anything is amiss. At the same time, the vision system is also assuring that the documents' front and back sides go together.


3. A Proactive Approach to Vision

Rather than wait for a major problem, a large governmental agency, which issues hundreds of thousands of live checks every day, has taken a proactive approach. This is a situation that presents boundless opportunities for security failures and fraud, even though the operation runs smoothly and has not yet had any major problems.


Vision systems have been installed to independently read and record the printing of each check at the printer. The vision systems record the check number, amount, account number, payee, document stock number and other unique features on each check. Reconciling the resulting record of what was printed against what was in the print file provides a first line of defensive accounting and print security. The vision systems roll into place directly in-line with the continuous printers and include a data collection feature that enables this vital accounting audit trail process.


Other Problems Avoided

Vision systems have prevented many other production faux pas that could easily spiral out of control in a high-volume document production environment. One of these is printing on the wrong pre-printed form stock. It's all too easy to imagine "Bank A's" documents being printed and mailed on "Bank B's" form stock but it happens.


Even worse than mixed up form stock is this scenario: Customer data on the document back does not belong with the customer data on the document front. If this is personal medical or financial data, it is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Gramm-Leach-Bliley (GLB) Data Protection Act. Under the HIPAA and GLB rules, severe federal penalties are imposed for disclosing private health or financial data to unauthorized parties. · Crossing customer data between the front and the back of the document sheet and mailing it out qualifies as an unauthorized disclosure. The person receiving the document in the mail is going to see her information on the front but somebody else's data on the back. The next thing that she's going to ponder is, "Hmmm... I wonder who got the rest of my data?" This is a potentially devastating situation for customers to face, let alone the legal ramifications the company will endure. One has to also ponder how long that customer will remain loyal.


Camera-Based Vision Systems Assure Integrity

In each of these three stories, time-tested, camera-based technologies were applied right at the digital printer to assure:

            1. Front-back matching

            2. Control code legibility for downstream document finishing (1D and 2D barcodes and OCR, both visible and invisible codes)

            3. Presence/absence of key document content

            4. Correct form stock

            5. Printer to form registration alignment

            6. Print quality (voids, streaks, spots, etc.)

            7. Sheet level document tracking


At the printer, camera-based vision systems are available to detect and eliminate inconsistencies in digital print quality, print file programming errors, document front-back synchronization errors, improper stock selection and document content omissions. This not only reduces scrap and rework costs but assures customer satisfaction and also significantly reduces exposure to legal liability.


The simplest systems offer a "wink and blink" capability. Cameras are positioned at the printer output where they periodically capture a high-resolution image of the document stream. The sample image is projected on a video display monitor where an operator can periodically look at the printer output without having to stop the printer. A more advanced wink and blink system allows operators to electronically zoom in on the image display for a finer visual inspection.


Higher end, fully automated camera-based vision systems actually read key areas of the document contents and provide other quantitative analysis of print quality on each document. These systems integrate cameras and lighting, data collection and network interface PCs, along with a reading and image analysis system. These systems roll into place and work directly in-line with virtually all high-speed continuous digital printers. They also interface with the printers and will completely halt the print line if an error is detected or if quality falls below a predefined user level.


Depending on the application requirements, camera-based vision systems use either line-scan or area array cameras. The cameras are positioned for imaging both sides of 2-up duplex documents. With an automated higher end system, every document that comes out of the printer is imaged. Multiple "regions of interest" are defined for the images where the specific document attributes are gauged.


A similar range of lower end wink and blink and higher end automated camera-based vision solutions are also available for cut-sheet printers. Cut-sheet camera-based systems are tailored specifically for each manufacturer's family of digital printers.


Beyond the Digital Printer

Camera-based document integrity assurance systems on finishing equipment (especially on inserter inputs and outputs) provide back-end document integrity that complements front-end assurance by looking directly and immediately at printer output. Thought should also be given to using camera-based systems for processing returned mail. These systems, especially when combined with a company-wide, sheet-level document production tracking system, in an automated document factory, assure years of nothing but efficient and accurate production.


Dick Schieck serves as Videk's Business Services Director. He is responsible for product planning, pricing and customer technical support. Additional information on camera-based vision systems can be found at or you can call Amy Stark, Videk's Marketing Communications Manager, at 585-292-6210 or 800-24-VIDEK.