by Cassandra Balentine
Part two of two
As new generations of printing equipment and related software are developed, the concept of Industry 4.0 is incorporated. The fourth industry revolution enables more effective manufacturing by leveraging electronic communication.
In part one of our series on Industry 4.0 we hear from several vendors serving the digital print space about what Industry 4.0 means to their companies and how they utilize it in new iterations of their products and services. Here, we focus on what it means to the print industry as a whole.
There are several points that print service providers (PSPs) should strive to understand when it comes to 4.0 and what it can mean to their future.
For print providers, Oran Sokol, global head of strategic accounts, HP Inc., says it is not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’ question. “Consumer and enterprise demands are changing at a rapid pace and print providers who do not adapt and evolve will fall behind,” he cautions.
Printing is a complex manufacturing process, and the market requirements are increasingly challenging. Gershon Alon, head of PrintOS, HP Inc., says many print providers already realize the importance of implementing 4.0 principles in order to become more effective. “It’s important to note that there are many ways to implement Industry 4.0 and each PSP should decide where to focus and which actions to take. We have developed a print-specific production efficiency maturity model and we use this model to systematically analyze PSP’s automation status and recommend ways to improve,” he shares.
With Industry 4.0, two-way data used by the press software can communicate with other equipment automatically. That communication can then initiate the preparation of that equipment to receive the job from the press, along with the various automation steps that equipment should take to properly process the job. In practical use, Douglas Schardt, director of product management, Komori America, points out that both prepress, press, and bindery are reporting their respective states and readiness to each area of production; prepress sends job data to the press along with the finished plates, press reports its status to the cutter, folder, folder gluer or other finishing equipment and so on.
“All equipment and departments are constantly in communication, so any bottlenecks or stoppages are instantly rendered visible to management. This entire system can extend into estimating, shipping, and even beyond. The real meaning of this ability is to take a production facility into the next stage of advancement. Not everyone will need to undertake everything that is possible, nor will legacy equipment be able to fully realize the potential of internet of things (IoT). That equipment can still receive the job information, but likely won’t be able to automatically set itself. In total though, this is still a net gain. A natural result of this intra- or inter-plant communication is a standardization of the entire print production process, both in quality control and production standards,” he comments.
“Embracing the benefits of interconnecting intelligent devices to ‘make the whole greater than the sum of its parts’ is critical for all print providers due to the current labor and capacity challenges inherent in the graphic arts,” comments Andy Fetherman, VP of sales and technology, Müller Martini Corp. “Regardless of whether you are investing in print or finishing technologies, one must ensure that all equipment purchases meet the criteria set forth in our Finishing 4.0 design ideology. This will provide you with powerful automation at your fingertips, allowing you to produce with greater productivity in a smaller footprint, while at the same time lessening your dependency on manpower. Or as we said before, ‘more products per square foot and labor hour.’”
Simon Lewis, VP marketing, Highcon, agrees, adding Industry 4.0 makes PSPs much smarter about their operations. “It should empower them to enjoy insights that enable better decision-making, more effective operations, lower costs, higher uptime, increased throughput, and better visibility.
Industry 4.0 will help with one of the greatest challenges facing manufacturers today, adequate and skilled labor. “Print providers are struggling to find adequate labor to run their operations. Equipment vendors are responding by making products more automate, so that a less talented labor force can keep production flowing. This in turn opens up possibilities for greater control and greater insight into an operation through Industry 4.0 technologies. Print and equipment providers will need to take advantages of these opportunities to stay competitive,” offers Scott Peterson, product marketing manager, Tecnau.
Jonathan Malone-McGrew, senior director of engagement, Solimar Systems, says the bottom line for print providers is that there are huge cost savings to achieve—even in 2021 and beyond. “Moreover, Industry 4.0 is a way to represent how print providers can future-proof their business by using automation and intelligent workflows to address areas where labor is the main method of completing work today.”
Trends like distributed cloud, artificial intelligence, big data/internet of behaviors, and hyper-automation fall under the Industry 4.0 umbrella, which will no doubt affect the future of print.
“While Industry 4.0 may get a lot of hype, that hype isn’t baseless—its capabilities are essential and necessary,” shares Schardt. “Skilled workers are in short supply and that is only going to get worse. It is unlikely our industry will be able to create the skills needed; rather the required skills will have to change.”
Industry 4.0 is a bridge between those two phases. We can now have computers assist with tasks to a degree not possible before. “Knowledge hard earned through years of experience can, to a certain degree, be captured by software and implemented without the native skill of a seasoned pressman. IoT can ‘watch’ a job progress smoothly through a plant and reliably report that good news. It can also instantly recognize a job struggling through a plant and quickly alert each appropriate supervisor before the production snag becomes a logjam. It’s like having a digital plant manager on call 24/7. IoT is here to stay and likely to continue to embed itself in commercial, as well as private lives. Harnessing its power and growing abilities can put plant-wide or even facility-to-facility production streams on a fast track that can continually improve with the seemingly endless advances of connected automation,” he adds.
Fetherman adds that many of the technologies associated with Industry 4.0 have already infiltrated much of the graphic arts industry. “Evidence of this is the vast volume of personalized printed items and the intelligent systems used to track the production of such products. Our customers’ ability to invest in solutions that embrace our Finishing 4.0 ideology allows them to transfer data seamlessly to and from all phases of the production cycle. This use of big data not only eliminates many steps in the production process, it also provides real-time information on how all of their systems are performing. These are real-life examples of how Industry 4.0 is fully engrained in the print industry.”
“In my role as head of our global strategic accounts, I’m privileged to work with some of the industry’s leading companies and individuals. I can tell you that these topics are becoming more central to the discussions and strategies of these companies, and with this being the case, they are demanding a full end-to-end solution that includes components of the above,” states Sokol.
“The future is already here,” adds Alon. He says that HP Indigo customers are already leveraging these technologies, standards, and processes to automate and significantly improve their productivity. “Let me give you an example. Traditionally in order to verify that the press meets a certain print standard, PSPs had to go through a long, manual, and expensive process. Today, with PrintOS Color Beat, the entire process is automated. The printed patches are automatically scanned by the internal spectrophotometer of the press, the data is uploaded to the cloud and then automatically analyzed. The results are published on PrintOS and if the PSP chooses the results can also be sent to the brand or print buyer. Furthermore, the results can also be sent to the color standard institution—e.g. Idealiance for the G7 standard, where the PSP can be automatically certified as meeting the standard.”
Malone-McGrew feels that there is no doubt that the technologies of Industry 4.0 will impact the future of print. The question is how quickly print providers will see it necessary to onboard these ideas and put them to use in their day-to-day processes. “From my perspective, the printers who are on the leading edge of these trends will be in a better position to answer market changes in our globally influenced economy. Over the past 18 months, we have seen print providers who took the initiative to address areas of manual processes, overly complex workflows, and non-standardized processes stay flexible in answering the needs of their business and customers when the market conditions created challenges. While print providers need vendors to support return on investment, it is important not to let the day-to-day tasks of our production and manufacturing environments prevent us from implementing positive change that will drive more efficient, optimized business while also making it possible to compete for new opportunities.”
Here to Stay
As technology evolves, Industry 4.0 is here to stay. The trend encompasses some of the latest technologies that will drive the print industry forward into a new phase.
“Industry 4.0 trends will undoubtedly affect print to make operations simpler and faster across products and operations and most importantly enable printers to be more responsive to customer needs,” says Lewis.
John O’Donnell, director of business development, Heidelberg, agrees, adding that the trends happening today will make informed print providers the profit leaders of the future. “Be sure that you have a plan to use data to grow, lead, and continuously improve,” he offers.
Many of the features and trends associated with Industry 4.0 are already in effect and will continue to evolve to push automation, communication, and optimization in the print industry. dps
Read part one, Investigating Industry 4.0
Sep2021, DPS Magazine