Had Drupa taken place in June, printers would have been coming back with tales of robots moving around presses to deliver and remove pallets of paper and of Heidelberg doing the same with plates. RMGT had announced these plans as the next step of automating the printing process.
These are the next phase in the full digitisation of the analogue litho printing process. At least the next outward step. For behind the screens, press management software is in increasing control and that means bringing the press into contact with the outside world.
Presses bristle with sensors to ensure that printing remains consistent with a pass sheet, making micro adjustments to ink ducts, cameras which assess and record each sheet printed. This is most important at makeready where the difference can been most marked. Makeready on a XL106 with Push to Stop and Intellistart 3 can be less than two minutes.
The press, like those from other manufacturers, will have automated washing programmes, automatic plate rejection and loading, automated changing to settings.
Now Heidelberg has its focus on what it calls the ‘yellow bar’, those actions that the operator continues to carry out, and remain operator dependent. “Any improvement that counts towards the yellow bar has a direct influence on the OEE of the machine,” says Rainer Wolf, head of sheetfed production management.
This is because the big technological steps towards automation that have been introduced in the last 15 or so years have reached their practical limit. And by implication the importance of operator dependent actions has increased even though they take no longer than in the past. And addressing these areas would have a greater impact on overall productivity.
This can include searching for and loading the next job, it can include preparing plates and paper for the next job while the press is still running the previous job, using Push to Stop and Intellistart 3 and Intellirun. This delivers relevant information at a time that operator needs it, Heidelberg likening this to a satnav system where the view changes when the driver needs to leave the motorway or make a turn and needs a greater depth of information at that point. It is about providing the relevant information and the relevant level of information while automating the other processes that are underway.
One of the new functions is Powder Assistant to adjust the amount of spray powder delivered to a sheet in accordance with the ink profiles. Under normal circumstances the press operator should adjust the level of powder per job, but all too frequently will leave the setting in one position.
Controlling powder will deliver just the amount of powder needed on the sheet, not excess powder for the delivery or to become a problem in postpress. “We had it in beta on one press and after just two weeks the customer wanted the same technology fitted to two other presses,” says Wolf.
This will improve further with the availability of more data about more jobs held in Heidelberg's cloud platform. The company already has a vast cache of information about the performance of each press linked to the cloud. This starts to automate maintenance reports and a move from preventative maintenance to predictive maintenance by understanding at what point components will need replacing, or what the telltale signs are that a plate change unit is sticking because the change takes a second or so longer than expected. This is a first use of artificial intelligence.
With data about millions of print jobs, Heidelberg will be in position to apply artificial intelligence to further improve performance, including optimising the amount of powder applied to jobs using a certain ink type on that paper with the same ink profile.
“It’s about reducing the touch points through digitised process change. The 2020 model is the most intelligent, the most advanced Speedmaster we have ever had. Process integration and digital data will lead to artificial intelligence benefits.”
The Heidelberg Assistant will relieve managers from the need to reorder inks, plates or other consumables by keeping track of stocks and connecting into Heidelberg's service organisation for Saphira products on a service contract.
Koenig & Bauer is introducing similar capability to automate ordering. A tablet is used to scan and record what is in stock and links this to the MIS where the order can be checked before being placed with the chosen supplier or K&B’s own teams.
The press manufacturer has a long history in automation from closed loop colour control to automatic identification and adjustment of plates on press via Print Ident. The company’s side lay free SIS infeed has proven effectiveness and frees up the need to adjust the feed board and delivery of sheets into the first set of grippers.
The Rapida 106 will also support a flying plate change, demonstrating this on an eight-unit press, split into two four unit presses between the feed and delivery. The press will be printing on the first four units with the second group of four changing plates independently of the first group. When the number of sheets needed is reached, the second four print units take over while plates are changed on the first units. The press slows down during the process and accelerates again once the changeover is complete with just a handful of sheets wasted.
This comes under the banner of Koenig & Bauer 4.0, what the company calls “smart solutions for digital transformation”, about “how the use of data driven services can make their business processes more efficient and their machines more productive”.
Komori was arguably the first to introduce an automated start up sequence now extended into KP Connect, an automation environment that according to Komori Europe marketing manager Peter Minis, “goes beyond JDF”.
The company introduced the new version of KP Connect at Igas last year and planned to bring this to Europe at Drupa. Data about machine performance is being used to understand what is happening on the press and present this to the operator in an understandable way, says Minis.
Komori describes it as “task control software positioned between the MIS and production site that makes complex task control visible and enables anyone to share the latest operating information in real time”.
“We have been working on this for the last couple of years,” says Minis. “It’s like a FitBit health and fitness app which helps you make smarter decisions about the impact of exercise, presented in a clear way. KP Connect is the fitness tracker for Komori equipment. It gives you all the data you need to make smarter decisions about operating the press.
“It is not an MIS, limited to delivering technical information from the press. You can get a lot of data from the stop and start times on a press. Logging the colour measurements on the sheets, the dot gain curves, enables us to spot trends, how long it takes to get into colour, how many sheets are wasted.
“Managers can spot the difference between performance on day and night shifts and what kind of jobs are best suited to the press.”
The KP Connect information network will also link to finishing equipment that is now part of the Komori offering, starting with the Apressia guillotine and extending to the MBO folders that now come under Komori ownership.
Like RMGT, Komori had plans to bring robot assistants to Drupa, reflecting the difficulty in employing low skilled workers in Japan and that country’s leadership in this technology.
RMGT planned to demonstrate this taking the printed sheets into a folding/stitching line demonstrating hands off production of brochures. It was involved in a demonstration of this functionality at the Horizon open house in Japan at the end of last year. The company says: “Automated labour saving presses in the future will enhance print quality and reduce makeready times, utilising IoT and cloud technologies for real time visualisation of press operating conditions.”
“All equipment within a printing factory will be interconnected and AGVs will relieve operators of the repetitive workload of transporting paper and printed materials to the next process.” It has a cloud platform to harness and analyse data from the press and to start to introduce artificial intelligence to print.
In Europe the integration between print and finishing has come with webfed printing other than some more limited inline finishing as part of a Canon/Konica Minolta/Xerox cut sheet press. High speed inkjet lends itself to automation of the end to end process, with book production leading the way.