10 May 2020 Print Companies

Geoff Neal Group reaches next milestone on automation journey

The quality litho print group has automated plate production with the commissioning of a Kodak system to keep plates flowing to its Heidelberg presses.

Geoff Neal Group is on the next stage of an automation journey that began with the installation of a Push to Stop Speedmaster XL106 after Drupa four years ago. It picked up pace with the implementation of a PDF and JDF workflow, a full Prinect system from Heidelberg, upgrades to its Tharstern MIS last year and has reached the next stage with the installation of a fully automated plate room.

“We have added Smart BI, the extension of Analyse Point and are able to do our own reporting,” says manufacturing director Mark Croucher. “We now have digital scheduling which allows us to gang jobs by paper type and with post press manager we can bring the new KH82 folder into the scheduling system. The final element of this has been investment in plate production.”

The Feltham print group has become the first company in the UK to install and use the W version of Kodak’s Magnus Q800 70 plates an hour fully automated platesetter, connected to a Nela automated plate bender and punch. Both sit in a room designed specifically for the purpose.

“With the old method we had a platesetter on the first floor at the back of the factory,” says Croucher. Every set of plates had to be gathered, clipped together and placed in a plate bag to be carried downstairs to the press. The new plate room is on the ground floor adjacent to the presses.

Plates are fed from a 1,200 capacity Multi Pallet Loader into the Magnus where, after imaging, the plates continue to the Nela system for punching, bending and sorting by job and press ready for minders to load into the plate changers on the company’s two Speedmaster XL106 sheetfed presses.

The investment meant alterations to the workflow and to the building to accommodate the new plate production area on the ground floor, in a space once filled by an Anicolor press. “We needed to find a very stable plate because we wanted to make the room fully automated,” says Steve Anderson, head of repro and integration at the business. “Studio staff have been moved to the office area.”

That plate has proved to be Kodak’s Electra XD thermal plate which is capable of holding a 10 micron spot thanks to Kodak’s SquareSpot imaging head. “We wanted a plate that would give us benefits in terms of colour management, printing with FM and conventional screens.”

Which is used is chosen automatically by the prepress workflow, according to customer and type of file. Not every job will benefit from FM screening, says Anderson.

The Nela plate bending technology is more generally used in newspaper, web offset and book printers. GNG is thought to be the first commercial printer in the UK with the technology, with the team behind the decision visiting companies in Holland and Germany to see it running. A system has subsequently been installed at Bluetree in Rotherham.

“When we first looked at the numbers, it seemed that the investment was not possible,” Anderson continues. “But we realised it makes sense if the room can be fully automated and we knew that was the way we had to go and a decision we had to take at that time because of the changes we were making rather than revisit the question in one or two years later.”

Both items of equipment are communicating with each other to identify the plates and what to do with them as they are imaged. Similar data is fed back to the Tharstern MIS to automatically update the system and assign the right cost to the job. As the company can go through 600 plates in a day, plate production had become something of a bottleneck with a Screen platesetter running at only half the operating speed of the Magnus.

Production progress can also be monitored through the remote camera system that has been installed in the plate room. This is accessible over the internet for a quick visual check. Of more use is Kodak’s Mobile CTP app that allows remote operation of the platesetter, checking the progress of a job and changing set up via a smartphone. GNG will also be testing the new version of the software which will be based on a tablet to enable a remake of plates from press side, opening up further options for automation.

“We are changing the way that work processes through the business,” Anderson adds.

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Steve Anderson and Mark Croucher with the Kodak Magnus platesetter that will operate in a room of its own and without operators present.

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