02.03.2023 / Martina Reinhardt

The Printing Industry is Quite "Smart”

"Next Level Automation" is the motto of this year's Hunkeler Innovationdays, i.e. the further development of automation – to the extent that not only individual systems or process steps are automated, but many individual steps are networked into a complex whole. Smart Factory is the magic word.
A short, visionary video at the Hunkeler press conference showed what such a "smart factory" might look like: an end-to-end process in a clinically clean environment from order entry to shipment of the goods, process and quality control included. Manual intervention by the operator is a thing of the past. Manufacturing plants and logistics systems largely organize themselves to produce and handle the desired products.
Complex dovetailing of a wide variety of systems
We are therefore talking about a highly complex interlocking of a wide variety of systems that automatically receive exactly the right information at exactly the right time as to which task now needs to be completed – and then execute it automatically and precisely.
The advantages of such highly automated, even autonomous, production are clear: productivity increases when it is no longer necessary to manually perform each work step and all process steps mesh like well-oiled gears. Errors, which mainly occur when the workflow is interrupted, are avoided, and the continuously integrated quality control ensures consistent product quality. Complaint rates are reduced and, given the correspondingly low personnel requirements, costs are cut anyway. That sounds almost too good and too futuristic to be true, doesn't it?
A rethink of manufacturing is imperative
Of course, the terms digitization, Industry 4.0, Finishing 4.0 and Smart Factory have long since made it into the graphic arts industry, which likes to fly the traditional flag as the "black art" but is just as knowledgeable and confident about high-end technologies. And of course there is a great need to address these issues in the printing industry. Declining print runs, but instead a multitude of small jobs, the shortage of skilled workers and, of course, cost increases at all corners and ends make a rethinking of manufacturing almost imperative.
The Hunkeler Innovationdays once again showed how this can be done: with just under 100 exhibitors, the comparatively small trade show never presents the large, broad spectrum that the graphic arts industry has to offer, but instead aims to be one thing above all: state of the art in terms of automation and networking, in order to be able to precisely meet the challenges just described. And in the heterogeneous world of the printing industry, this requires partners who work together and open up interfaces in order to achieve such close integration. The organizers have succeeded exceptionally well in bringing these together.
Variability is the trump card
The basis of almost all applications is still inkjet printing from the roll at what are now groundbreaking speeds and in impeccable quality, which is processed into a wide variety of products. Here, of course, digital printing plays to its particular strengths: Variability is the trump card here. No two products have to look the same. However, highly automated postpress systems, where makeready processes have long since become a thing of the past, ensure that these products are just as individual and vary from copy to copy.
Intelligent software ensures that each individual copy receives exactly the treatment it needs at each point in its development – and that not one slips through the proverbial cracks. What was exciting about this year's exhibition was that thinking in terms of isolated solutions seems to have given way to the need for more open architectures. There was also an increasing focus on upstream, downstream and cross-cutting processes.
Now the solutions just have to be implemented
Muller Martini, for example, has added to its fully automated book block production line for both softcover and hardcover, both upstream and downstream: the new de-stacker separates the folded and pre-glued book blocks at the beginning, while at the end an intelligent sorting of the book blocks takes place – as desired by hard or soft cover, by customer, by urgency or, or, or... – the whole thing in a touchless workflow.
Host Hunkeler, on the other hand, says it also keeps an eye on the logistics for paper and consumables, as well as waste management and recycling.
All in all, the HID showed: the technological solutions are there – or will be launched in the not too distant future. They just need to be used smartly (yet).
Martina Reinhardt,
Editor "Deutscher Drucker”
02.03.2023 Martina Reinhardt Editor Print Finishing, Deutscher Drucker Verlag