Automation is the process of using technology to make repetitive tasks easier and to reduce human intervention to a minimum. Increased technological advancements enable enhanced levels of productivity in our everyday lives, from automated home appliances to alarm clocks that wake us up when we want, to cars that automatically regulate the internal temperature of the vehicle. We all experience automation daily in our personal lives, and we can also experience automation in our printing lives, too. From front-end processes, to the pressroom floor, to bindery and post-bindery, the automated options for our industry are growing at a steady pace.
Automation within a printing company assists with increased performance, whereby the level of quality is not solely dependent on the operator running the equipment. Machine automation shifts processes from an operator-centric to a machine-centric control system, whereby fewer fundamental decisions have to be made by independent personalities with varying levels of experience and skill. This helps maintain higher levels of consistent quality between different runs or different shifts.
Automation also allows for the responsibility of approvals and workflow management to shift from the printer to the client. Integrated front-end workflows provide instant file feedback, soft proofing options and online approvals that transfers the obligation to the client to achieve milestones that impact the overall production cycle of a job.
Increased automation also leads to a lighter environmental footprint because increased efficiency results in less material waste. Minimizing waste can positively affect a printer’s bottom line, especially as material costs continue to rise.
Fujifilm’s XMF Remote R6 is an online job submission, previewing, approval and output tool used to control Fujifilm’s XMF cross-media workflow. This technology allows for minimal human intervention because everything is automatically driven from the workflow. Automated pre-flighting features and remote proofing of full resolution RIPped data, allow for greater integration between client and printer. The client can submit revised pages if required, and provide approval with the simple click of a button. Fujifilm also recently announced the creation of an iPad app, whereby the client has all of the above capabilities in the palm of their hand. This example of automation in a prepress workflow enables faster turnaround in prepress, shorter production schedules and the facilitation of client-managed workflows.
Additionally, automated imposition software like LithoTechnics’ Metrix, aims to streamline print imposition processes. Instead of duplicating effort throughout the workflow, one automated imposition plan is created for use from start to finish. Traditionally, estimators plan a job to price, production planners re-work the imposition if a job is won, prepress operators complete digital imposition and then print finishing operators recalculate and enter values based on previous plans. This technology not only helps eliminate time inefficiencies associated with duplication of effort, but also helps eliminate costly human errors associated with incorrect manual data entry. Metrix is JDF-enabled, which helps achieve increased levels of consistency and automation throughout the workflow. There are comprehensive Metrix solutions for offset and digital markets, as well as web-to-print solutions.
ON THE PRESSROOM FLOOR
Automation on the pressroom floor suggests that there are fewer physical knobs and keys to work with when mounting plates, setting ink levels and setting up the feeder or delivery systems. Mounted computer monitoring systems provide intuitive controls and enhanced systems for accurate operator use.
This includes automated quality control tools, whereby operator intervention is minimized. Devices like in-line densitometers and spectrophotometers (such as solutions from GMI and QuadTech), enable on-the-fly colour correction to maintain more consistent quality throughout the print run. There are also enhanced quality checks, whereby every sheet is monitored with high-speed cameras to ensure consistent colour levels.
GMI’s ColorQuick/Clarios technology includes an in-line spectrophotometer that provides CIE L*a*b* and CIE L*C*h values to quickly and clearly show the operator where a job is out of tolerance. Concise summaries are easy to understand and allow the operator to react faster and more confidently to press problems.
QuadTech’s SpectralCam system allows for in-line inspection of both web-fed paper and packaging film substrates. Film substrates prove challenging due to the wrinkling and fluttering that can occur throughout the run. However, the system continually monitors the printed product at high speeds, including substrates that are translucent and transparent. This unique SpectralCam technology measures 100 percent of the substrate traveling through the press and calculates the L*a*b*, delta E and delta density values at maximum press speeds.
Hewlett-Packard’s T300 colour inkjet web press is an example of commercial digital printing technology with enhanced automation features. This device is designed for a number of applications, including book, newspaper and direct mail printing. It is equipped with automated print head alignment, press status management and ink container swapping, which leads to less downtime. Real time print monitoring systems allow for increased quality consistency with less operator intervention.
BINDING & FINISHING
Bindery is often seen as the “forgotten about younger sibling” of the manufacturing facility, where older technology runs rampant. Muller Martini’s Diamant MC book binding line uses automation to reduce bottlenecks that can occur in bindery. The system is fully automated, whereby servo technology allows for precision timing in all elements of the book binding process (including optimum glue roller touch down height, travel of the rubdown device and end-sheet gluing). Additionally, Muller Martini’s state-of-the-art Motion Control Technology provides accurate positioning of book components to deliver an outstanding product, even with an operator who is less experienced. Comprehensive, graphical touch screen technology guides the operator to create high-quality book product with shorter makeready times. Automation enables high quality at high speeds and efficient changeovers, creating an advanced book binding line that assists with increasing bottom line profitability.
Continuing to update and automate processes is essential to increasing internal efficiencies and remaining competitive in the marketplace. If you do not take advantage of automated technologies available, chances are your competitors will. Innovation leads to greater automation, facilitating shorter production turnaround times, reduced waste and increased quality consistency. You can’t afford not to automate.