It does not get more automated than a robot shuttling across the floor with a pallet of paper. Had Drupa taken place, a number of automatic guided robots would have been doing just this. Last year a robot was moving work around the production area of the Hunkeler Innovation Days, or trying to – the robot was smart enough not to collide with humans.
Similar technology was in place at the Horizon Open Days at the end of last year, supplying an RMGT press with fresh paper. It would have reappeared at Drupa had the show not been cancelled. Robots would have appeared on stands as robots like this are being deployed across Japan.
In lean management concepts this makes sense: using people to move paper from one area to another adds no value and is therefore a waste. It makes sense too where it is exceedingly difficult to recruit new talent into the print industry, particularly into unskilled and labour intensive jobs. If in the UK the pool of casual labour, or lost cost staff, dries up in the next 12 months robots may be the industry’s next recruits.
This has already taken place at DST in Bristol where automatic guided vehicles move work from presses into store and from store on to finishing lines. The company invested because it could not recruit people to do the job and has found that automation has improved production efficiency.
Robotic automation is about more than moving paper. Both MBO and Heidelberg are introducing static robots to take sections from a folder and load pallets with folded sections for further process. MBO launched the Cobo Stack last year and is now collating data from the first installations. It has, the company says, exceeded all expectations, and has been well accepted by the companies using it.
Functionality is being increased through software updates with different versions to suit different folders and applications. The fastest folders, though, come with a conventional log stacker and crane to deliver the logged sections for a binder or high speed stitching line. The robots used here are equally fast and need to be caged off for safety at the moment.
Heidelberg's version of a robotic loading is the P Stacker which will connect to the high speed folders and will cut out up to 300 touch points an hour through removing a stack of sections and placing them on the pallet.
It will calculate the optimum arrangement for the stacked sections in preparation for the next process. It is a continuation of the push to stop concept into the finishing area, squeezing the people element to achieving improved OEE levels.
The P Stacker follows a folder with autonomous section changes while using the same fold and material, eliminating the need to operators to stop the machine, removing a tab that separates jobs in the stack, clearing the delivery, filling out a job ticket, resetting the counter and starting to run. This has now been automated. As runs become shorter, this level of automation eases the burden on operators and cuts the risks of operator error.
Automation has also been effective in and around guillotines, lifting, jogging and aerating the stack to produce a solid stable pile that can be presented to the blade ready for the first cut. The operator may need to check that the stack is in the correct position for the first cut. After that the robot arm can swing the stack into position for the next cut.
Automation has for a long time been standard in smaller format and digital finishing. Duplo's first DC multi finishers were a breakthrough in this regard, offering folding, slitting, cutting, creasing and perforation in a single pass with cameras to ensure that the process is registered to the printed image rather than to the edge of the sheet.
Others have followed suit introducing machines for handling linked processes at lower price points and higher price points for handling larger sheets and running at faster speeds.
In saddle stitching the drive towards shorter runs has favoured booklet makers from Duplo and others, and the Horizon StitchLiner MkIII. All run from flat sheets incorporating folding into device so eliminating what was a separate action. Makeready is reduced to seconds rather than minutes. At Bluetree the StitchLiners are expected to handle up to 150 different jobs in a shift.
The company’s four-clamp perfect binders are equally automated and suited to ultra short run production. The BQ480 will shortly be available with end papering to deliver blocks for case binding. Currently production details are downloaded from the network with the operator pulling down settings from a barcode and reader on the binder.
The thickness of the book is also checked to compensate for any swelling in the paper. The clamps, glue positions and scoring wheel are moved into position automatically, wheels for the cover and once the cover is drawn on to the book, the information is used to set up the Horizon trimmer.
Muller Martini’s Vareo binder is equally aimed at book of one and very short run production, followed by the Infinitrim trimmer. This is a robot arm that adjusts the position of the block as it is presented to the cutting blades which therefore do not need to move.
The Swiss manufacturer has evolved its Connex workflow to what it calls Finishing 4.0, enabling the smart factory approach associated with Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things. “With the smart factory, production processes, the flow of materials and the exchange of data are optimally integrated.
Unnecessary steps are eliminated, sources of errors are avoided and everything that can reasonably be automated is. There is no longer a focus on individual production islands, but rather on the optimisation of entire business processes. As a result, even ultra short runs can be produced cost effectively,” the company says.
Its showcase implementation is a book printer Livornia Print in Latvia. It handles print on demand production with a combination of litho and digital printing, perfect binding, thread sewing and saddle stitching. All are networked through Connex and operate through a touchless workflow.
“We see this as an important step toward our goal of total integration,” says CEO Trond Erik Isaksen.
“Our business model won’t work without the touchless workflow solution. The removal of all barriers between our conventional and digital production is a top priority. Using individual machines for production without them being connected is outdated. Connex also makes it easier to monitor production and set delivery times.”
The company is not alone in pushing to touches automation in producing books. Tecnau is able to offer similar capabilities for book of one production in its Libra product lines. Book production is batched by delivery so that the books are printed and finished to complete individual orders on demand, rather than printing batches of books and leaving a need to pick and pack the books. This allows distribution as packages are completed rather than having to wait until all the books that might be needed that day to be finished.
Hunkeler has led in the march towards automated finishing, using the Hunkeler Innovation Days to show progress every two years. At the show last year, the company previewed sheet finishing technology designed for operation for the latest sheetfed inkjet presses including the Canon VPi300. This will include dynamic perforation as well as folding and cutting inline with a greater level of professionalism that inline systems that are integrated into a digital press.
Its Bookline products will change from four- to six-page signatures on the fly, coupled with DynaCut will manage to switch between different formats of book without leaving large amounts of paper to be trimmed after binding.
The latest introduction is the W18, a web inspection system that examines the integrity of each page rather than using a barcode to identify the page being printed. This has been shown to early adopters and was to have been introduced at Drupa. It is a key step to delivering a fully automated production line, says Robin Brown, Hunkeler sales manager at Friedheim International. “This will suit smaller runs where there are frequent size and format changes. We are seeing a lot of interest.”
And these companies are far from alone, but representative of a wider trend to eliminate handling and touch points in the finishing processes. The variety of these processes has frequently been considered an obstacle to automation, explaining why books which are much more standardised and so suited to automation, than other printed products. But the difficulty in finding labour interested in working in factory environments, especially those with repetitive almost brainless tasks, will be a key driver to automation.
MBO's CoBo Stack helps improve the presentation of signatures loaded on a pallet, ready for the binding process.