Posts Tagged ‘automation’

  • FESPA Berlin – Nessan Cleary’s in-depth report

    Messe Berlin, site of Fespa 2018.

    Fespa has always been about wide format printing but this year’s show saw high volume printers mixed with industrial textile printers and even corrugated printing.

    Conventional wisdom has it that large format printing is mainly about sign making and display graphics but wide format inkjet technology is pushing beyond this, which was abundantly clear at this year’s main Fespa event in Berlin, Germany. Of course, there was still plenty of sign making in evidence, but there was a renewed focus on taking this to high volume industrial markets, including corrugated printing, and alongside noticeably more clothing and home furnishings solutions.

    There was a growing use of robotics for automated loading and unloading of substrates. Most robots are designed for industrial applications so they offer long life with little maintenance, which makes for a very flexible and cost-effective solution, even taking into account the cost of integrating the control systems to synchronise the loading with the printing. Canon, for example, demonstrated a robot next to an Arizona flatbed loading media to the printer and then unloading it direct to an Océ ProCut cutting table. The system was developed with a Dutch customer, Van Vliet Printing, but is relatively easy to interface with the Arizona.

    This robot on the Canon stand loads media to the Arizona flatbed, and then unloads it to the cutting table.

    Fespa set aside one hall for corrugated printing, with the main attraction being the Fujifilm stand with an Onset X3 complete with robot for automated unloading. Ashley Playford, national sales manager for Fujifilm Australia says that a big advantage of using robots is that they can handle different stack heights regardless of how thick the material is. There’s a choice of robots depending on what each customer is trying to achieve.

    From left: Ashley Playford, national sales manager Fujifilm Australia, and Graham Blackall, ANZ technical sales specialist, with the Fujifilm Acuity Ultra.

    Naturally, several vendors used the show to launch new printers, mainly 3.2m wide machines aimed at the production end of the market. Fujifilm showed off its brand new superwide rollfed printer, the Acuity Ultra, with a choice of 3.2m and 5m widths. It can print on up to three rolls simultaneously, with independent spindles so that the rolls can hold different amounts of media. It can produce up to 236 sqm/hr. It uses greyscale Kyocera printheads with 3, 7 and 14 picolitre drop sizes and maximum resolution of 1200 x 1200 dpi, with the prints on the stand demonstrating exceptional image quality for a superwide printer. Graham Blackall, ANZ technical sales specialist for Fujifilm, says: “There’s a lot of high volume machines in the market but the market is becoming more discerning about quality now and just being ‘good enough’ is no longer good enough.”

    It uses conventional UV curing rather than LED, but has an innovative water-cooling system on the vacuum table so that it can still print to heat-sensitive materials. Blackall says that the printer can handle textiles, with soft signage becoming an emerging market, and that it can also print to mesh materials. There are eight colour channels including CMYK plus light cyan and light magenta, as well as two whites. The ink is a new, high-quality, low film weight Uvijet GS Fujifilm ink that is said to be suitable for interior graphic display work.

    EFI introduced its new 3.2m wide Vutek H-series platform. It’s a hybrid designed around a roll to roll chassis and with tables for rigid media. However, there is a new linear drive magnetic carriage that should offer a more precise transport mechanism for boards than the belt and pulley system that most hybrids use. There’s automated table and carriage alignment and fully automated printhead maintenance as well as built-in diagnostic systems for dealing to help with servicing, both remote and on-site.

    There are two versions, both using Ricoh Gen5 printheads with three different drop sizes of 7, 14 and 21 picolitres. The H3 series have three heads per colour and can produce 74 boards per hour, while the H5 have five heads per colour and print 109bph.

    Agfa announced a new hybrid 3.3m wide printer, the Jeti Tauro H3300 LED, which takes boards up to 3.3 x 2.44m or roll media up to 600mm in diameter. There’s a choice of two inksets: the general purpose Annuvia 1551, and Anuvia 1250, for absorbent media, such as paper and cardboard. Strangely, the company opted to show a tiny lego model rather than the actual printer!

    Mutoh answered customer demands by showing off its first true flatbed printer, the PerformanceJet 2508UF, which takes boards up to 1250 x 2540 mm and can handle media up to 100 mm thick and up to 50 Kg/ sqm in weight. The bed is split into different vacuum zones. This is a UV LED printer that can be configured with either two sets of CMYK or CMYK plus white and varnish. It uses four greyscale printheads but can be field-upgraded to six heads, for dual CMYK plus white and varnish.

    Mutoh also showed off a new 1.62m wide roll-to-roll device, the ValueJet 1638UR. Resolution is up to 1400 x 1400 dpi and it takes Mutoh’s new US11 UV LED ink that’s designed to work with a very wide range of substrates. It prints CMYK plus white and clear ink.

    Latex reinvented

    HP used the Fespa show to launch its first rigid latex printer, the R2000, complete with HP’s first latex white ink. The R2000 is a hybrid device, taking both roll-fed and rigid media up to 2.5m wide media and 50mm thick, and rolls up to 100kg. It has a wide platen, with 14 automatic independent vacuum chambers to hold boards in place. It uses a belt system to pull the media through the printer but has an optical sensor that watches as the media advances and can correct the movement of that media. It can print at up to 88 sqm/hr or 49 sqm/hr in six-pass mode.

    HP launched its R2000 hybrid, capable of printing to rigid materials.

    The latex ink has been completely redesigned to work with rigid materials as well as flexibles. It cures at a lower temperature which allows this printer to work with more heat sensitive materials than HP’s previous latex printers. HP has had to take out the scratch resistance built into its roll-fed inks to improve the jetting so there’s a new Latex Overcoat to help protect prints.

    HP has used the HDNA printheads from its PageWide presses, which have twice the number of nozzles with the extra row of nozzles used to recirculate the ink within the head. This is essential for printing with white ink as the heavier particles can settle in the bottom of the tanks or clog the heads.

    Ricoh is also working on a new latex printer, showing a prototype of a new roll-fed model at Fespa, which should be available towards the end of this year. Unlike Ricoh’s previous latex printer, which was built on a Mimaki chassis, this has been developed entirely by Ricoh. Angelo Mandelli, wide format product manager for Ricoh Europe, says that it can print at 40 sqm/hr in six pass mode on banner materials and at 25 sqm/hr for production quality on vinyl. It prints CMYK plus white for now but Mandelli says that Ricoh will probably add orange and green to expand the colour gamut.

    Ricoh is clearly making a much more decisive play for the wide format market, showing also a new flatbed printer, the Ricoh Pro T7210, which is mainly aimed at industrial printing markets. It takes media up to 2.1 × 3.2 metres, and up to 110mm thick. It’s capable of 50sqm/hr in Standard mode, which doubles to 100 sqm/hr in the high-speed mode. Resolution is 1200 dpi and the ink is Ricoh’s own LED UV-curable ink with a choice of four, five or six colours with the full inkset including CMYK plus white and a clear ink or varnish as well as a primer. 

    Paul Thompson, business development manager ANZ for DTG and visual display solutions at Ricoh Australia, says that much of the print industry, including large format, has become commoditised by focussing on price but that Ricoh is concentrating on adding value. He points out that Ricoh makes its own printheads and supplies heads to many other vendors, adding: “We see that inkjet is the future and that if we get it at the right quality and cost then it will make inroads in other areas.”

    An obvious example of this is the growing textiles market. Ricoh showed off a neat desktop direct to garment printer, the Ri100, which can print various items such as T-shirts, cloth bags, cushion covers and sweatshirts. It prints mainly to cotton, including blends of up to 50 percent cotton. There’s an option to include a separate heat press, the Ricoh Rh 100 Finisher, which has the same 399 x 698 mm footprint so that the printer can be stacked on top of it.

    Ricoh’s Ri100 – note the RH100 finishing unit underneath it.

    EFI Reggiani has developed a new six colour pigment ink with binder with CMYK plus red and blue for its printers, which are mainly used for home furnishing and fashion printing to materials with natural fibres such as cotton and linen. Giorgio Sala, EFI Reggiani’s ink application specialist, says: “We can eliminate the post treatment. In the drier we can fix the ink because the binder is inside the ink.” He adds: “The new ink is designed for Kyocera printheads, which all of our machines have, so we can use it with the existing machines.”

    Mimaki showed off a new version of the Tiger 1800, which was developed by its subsidiary La Meccanica and now gains a number of features typical to Mimaki printers, such as its MAPS nozzle redundancy technology as well as automated maintenance. It’s got Kyocera printheads, with the resolution raised from 600dpi to 1200 dpi.

    In conclusion, there’s a clear trend from this Fespa toward more industrialised printing for volume markets including display graphics as well as garments and home furnishings. There’s more automation, including the use of robots, as well as automatic maintenance to improve productivity, while at the same time most vendors have also improved image quality. The show itself felt extremely busy, with over 20000 visitors crammed into the halls over four days, proof that the market for wide format technology shows no sign of slowing down.

    Next year’s Fespa show takes place in Munich, Germany, from 14 – 17th May.

  • Keeping up with the times: transforming and automating Workflows – David L. Zwang

    Automation and workflow technologies are becoming increasingly vital for printing industry players competing in a market with tight margins and stiff competition. In a new monthly series of articles by long-time industry consultant, David L. Zwang, the processes and products that can lead to the positive transformation of a print company’s workflows and business are brought into focus with the aim of preparing printers for the new challenges ahead. 

    In this month’s article, Zwang (pictured) lays out the key steps necessary to prepare for a successful transformation. While it is important to look toward the final destination goal, without a map delineating the best path to achieve that goal, there are many more pitfalls along the way and unseen problems in the future.

    Transforming and Automating Workflows:  Preparation is paramount

    The technologically driven changes in communications and market distribution have placed new demands on print and publishing service providers. These demands include cost and turn time pressures, new vertical integration requirements, and a host of new required services. While the state of the market and some of the newly required tools are starting to find some balance, most service providers have not made the necessary internal changes to adapt. Those who have will prosper, and those who have not will continue to struggle.

    As a service business, your company is measured every day by many things. However, ultimately it is measured by your ability to deliver on a set of expectations. At times, that means doing whatever is necessary. As you all know, this can even get a bit ugly at times, but if you deliver on those expectations, and the client doesn’t see what goes on behind the curtain, it all works. However, this approach is a stopgap measure that usually results in slow bleeding and the ultimate weakening of companies that choose to take this path.

    This approach is also not the best way to look at transforming your business. Some companies think that ‘plugging holes’ in workflow by throwing people at it or making a quick hardware or software purchase are good solutions, and even transformational. Of course, this is perceived as the easy way, and if you can afford it, shopping for ‘stuff’ is probably fun as well. However, while these actions may provide some short-term benefit, it isn’t usually the best long-term strategy.  Especially with the direction print and mobile media has been heading, it is time to step back and look at what you have and where you are going. It is time to stop the bleeding and begin to gain the benefits that a truly automated workflow can bring.

    So what are the steps necessary to begin the process of business transformation? While we will look at individual process tasks, requirements, some solutions and success stories throughout this series, there are a few key questions that need to be answered before you can begin a successful transformation process.

    Where are you now?

    This first step is critical, since your goal for the transformation process will be to develop a roadmap of where you need to go and how to get there, and you must start from your current position. It is very important to fully understand where you are and what tools and skills you have to work with before you proceed.

    You must start with a process map. Look at the all of the tasks from your customer-facing processes to order entry through delivery and billing. You should also extend this analysis even further to business development. Usually the best approach is to start by creating two workflow maps. One, map shows production flow and the other map shows the business transaction flow. In an ideal world, there are many intersections between the two, but it is usually easier to draw them separately and then look at where they currently intersect. The following is an example of a very basic flow that shows both production and business transaction. While this diagram is rather simple, each of the task boxes in the diagram can actually have a workflow of its own, which would also need to be detailed. That being said,  it is always good to start simply and then expand on the detail. And don’t forget that throughout the entire process, “the devil is in the details.”.

    What do you want to be when you grow up?

    The next step is to think about where your business is today, and where you would like it to be over the next 5 to 10 years. While it is always good to build new service offerings to support your existing client base, new services and new markets can also offer many great opportunities to acquire new customers as well as to gain more “share of wallet” from existing customers. And some of these new revenue streams can be built off of the strengths of your existing business team. Most businesses think it’s a luxury to spend the time looking ahead, while in fact it’s really a critical step in the ultimate survival and long-term growth of a business. Taking the time to go through this investigative step can provide real benefits in the needed transformation process and in growing your business. The other reason this step is important is that it can have both short- and long-term effects on your ultimate workflow designs and purchasing decisions. It can also earn you some short-term benefits that only require changes in process where you find inefficiencies, and these can often add up to a big impact on your bottom line. Keep in mind that workflow in many businesses evolved over time in a random sort of way. A problem arose, and a change in process was put in place to address that problem.  Over time, this can result in unnecessarily complicated processes and procedures that have a negative impact on both your business and the perception of customers.

    Completion of the first two steps allows you to begin to create a plan of attack.

    What are the missing pieces?

    Once you have addressed the first two questions, you are in a position to identify the missing pieces required to get you to your end-point vision and look at possible solutions. These pieces can include skill sets, infrastructure requirements, software and hardware tools, processes, etc. This step should not be rushed. Too often companies are convinced by vendors that they have the ultimate solution that will address all of the problems now and in the future. However, the reality is that any solution can be force fit to make it workable, but this approach will likely not offer the longer-term flexibility you need in any future process or business changes; they are simply more stopgap measures piled on top of those that might already be in place. Taking the time to investigate, and discussing your thoughts with internal staff, business partners, clients, and outside consulting resources will help you make the right decisions. When looking at solutions, it is also very important to look closely at the company who is selling them. Are they financially stable? Do they have a growth plan of their own, and does it track your needs? Do they have a history of delivering innovative solutions, keeping them up to date and well supported? Are they someone who you can trust to be there and work with you for the long haul, or are they in it for short-term gain?  We will get into this much deeper in future articles, when we start to look at how you can begin to evaluate your choices in each area.

    How can you get from here to there, and still maintain flexibility for the unexpected?

    First of all, it is important to realize that you don’t need to attack the whole plan at one time. That’s why creating future workflow maps similar to the current maps previously discussed are also critical. The process of creating these future workflow maps helps you identify the benefits, visualize the tasks ahead, gauge your progress, and identify the best pieces to attack and in which order. During your investigations, you will undoubtedly find some “low hanging fruit,” things that can be addressed quickly, easily, and with minimal expense. They should be identified and evaluated for immediate action. Even if these do not find their way into the final plan, they are likely to offer some significant short-term gain, or just help show the staff that you are serious about change. In any transformation, the technology and processes are usually fairly easy to implement; getting the staff on board and working with you is always the tougher part. So being sensitive to this, and establishing a top down directive from the beginning, is another key to a successful transformation.

    In the next article in the series, we will look at business and production infrastructures, and some of the products and services that can be used to develop a forward thinking infrastructure. If you have any topics you think are important and would like us to cover, please let us know!

    David Zwang, travels around the globe helping companies increase their productivity, margins and market reach. With over 40 years of industry experience, David specializes in process analysis and strategic development for firms in the fields of publishing, design, premedia, and printing.

    Please contact him at david@zwang.com