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Market Trends


Helping ease the pressure on print service providers of all shapes and sizes, how can the latest developments in automation further assist printers in their growth?

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AM Labels recently added the Epson SCARA T6-B602S robot to its portfolio

Automation Equation

There is no escaping the increasing pressure that faces print service providers (PSPs). With turnaround times getting shorter and printers having to deliver work faster than ever, it is critical that production setups are efficient and reliable.

Automation has played a major role in easing the stress on PSPs by carrying out tasks that previously would have required human control or input, thus freeing up staff to take on other work and bolster the overall efficiency of print production.

With this in mind, we find out about some of the latest developments and how these will help PSPs in the long run.

Crucial Aspect

Solimar Systems is a leading advocator of automation and the benefits it can offer to PSPs. Mary Ann Rowan, chief experience officer at Solimar, says automation should be considered a crucial aspect of the modern printing market.

Rowan explains automation offers numerous benefits to in-plant printers and PSPs. For the former, this may include improved efficiency as it allows them to complete tasks much faster than traditional printing methods, as well as reduced costs as by automating print production, in-plant printers can reduce labour costs and minimise waste.

In-plant printers may also experience more consistent quality across jobs, thus reducing the likelihood of errors and rework, in addition to increased flexibility to handle a wider range of jobs and being able to migrate easier from offset printing and digital toner printing to inkjet and even wide-format print presses.

Rowan also says automation can help PSPs better control costs by reducing waste, lowering labour costs, and optimising paper and postal savings. Additional benefits for PSPs include increased capacity as companies can handle more jobs simultaneously in intelligent batches with householding, as well as helping PSPs access new revenue streams by migrating to new technologies.

“When investing in new kit, printers should consider workflow automation to fill the gaps where no staff is available,” Rowan says, continuing: “Additionally, digital proofs, approvals, rejections, reprints, job tracking, and reporting are essential options to consider. Workflow automation is a great way to add security to printing and avoid errors that can happen during manual processing and finishing.”

When investing in new kit, printers should consider workflow automation to fill the gaps where no staff are available

This, Rowan says, is where Solimar can help printers. The developer has made significant developments in automation including the templatisation of workflow automation, multi-level proofs/approvals of jobs in its visibility dashboard, PDF optimisation and document re-engineering for imposition and de-imposition.

“Most recently, we added JDF job tickets to our JDF/JMF-based communication to automate and improve the usage of JDF-enabled printers, presses, finishing, and other equipment,” Rowan says, adding: “We also create dynamic reports that include details on page counts, colour, paper usage, and more.

“These developments ensure that our customers receive the highest quality and most efficient print workflows possible.”

Exciting Developments

Elsewhere, AM Labels, which provides labelling and barcode solutions, offers automation for companies in these markets. Managing director Tony Mariani says benefits from this include speeding up and simplifying production processes, improving versatility and flexibility, and helping businesses to drive innovation.

“There have been several exciting developments when it comes to automation and there are a variety of options available to businesses looking to incorporate automation into their operations,” Mariani explains.

“For smaller companies, automation can be daunting, however there are low-cost, easy-to-install solutions that can improve systems for businesses of all sizes. The technology should be embraced as a method of addressing challenges companies are facing while driving innovation and reducing costs.”

AM Labels’ offering includes hardware and software solutions that can automate businesses’ print operations.

Among its products are BarTender Automation and NiceLabel LMS, the latter of which is a cloud-based software that provides the tools to manage, integrate, and automate label printing processes. Businesses with multiple sites can also monitor and record the time and location in which labels have been printed, as well as the user that printed them, improving tracking and compliance.

O Factoid: NiceLabel LMS from AM Labels is a cloud-based software that provides the tools to manage, integrate, and automate label printing processes O

The company also recently added the Epson SCARA T6-B602S robot to its portfolio, which offers a solution to streamline and simplify production lines.

“The cost-effective, entry-level robot is ideal for applications including assembly, materials handling, packaging, tray loading, and dispensing, as well as label print and apply and pick-and-place tasks,” Mariani says, adding: “At AM Labels, we can also supply a range of end-of-arm tools, also known as robot heads, which can be used to apply labels and move individual or multiple parts.

Furthermore, AM Labels offers vision scanning equipment for in-line inspection and factory automation. These solutions include Zebra Machine Vision Systems, a range of intelligent devices including smart vision sensors, smart cameras, and industrial vision processors.

AM Labels offers the Zebra Machine Vision Systems range that incudes smart vision sensors, smart cameras, and industrial vision processors

“The solutions can be used for a variety of applications including, but not limited to, optical character recognition (OCR), pattern sorting tools (PST), quality inspection, automated guidance, line scanning, and presence detection,” Mariani says.

“We are currently exploring further solutions that can help improve processes for our customers and we hope to launch an automatic print and apply solution this year.”

Increase Productivity

Another manufacturer embracing automation is Duplo. Martyn Train, managing director of Duplo UK, says automation is a process that more industries, including print, are aiming towards.

“Whether it’s by necessity or a simple result of progress and innovation, markets, including the printing industry, see plenty of benefits in automating their process,” Train comments.

“Industry statistics show that 94% of employees of small- and medium-sized businesses perform preventable tasks. Automation effectively handles these time-consuming tasks, so 66% of small- and medium-sized businesses saw an increase in productivity.”

Train goes on to say automation features that contribute to higher productivity and reduced errors can be the reduction of manual touch points. These can include barcode-driven processes, where the machines check the identity and settings of the products and change their settings appropriately.

He also picks out connectivity as another feature worth considering. Train says with many print engines using FIERY (previously an EFI brand), being able to connect the multi-finishers range, booklet production range, and embellishment range of machines directly with the press allows manual steps to be taken out.

In addition, Train says imposition software that automatically sorts out the products to be printed in the most efficient manner will save on wastage of paper stocks.

“One of the main features that customers should look for in automation is a consistently high-quality finish,” he says, adding: “There is no point in automating the finishing process if the machines are producing inconsistent results meaning operators need to manually check each product – this results in boxes of products needing to be recycled or even thrown away.

“Automation is the key to everything that Duplo has stood for since its inception. Duplo invented the multi-finisher as we now understand them – a device that slits, cuts, and creases in one package, and our Duplo range also perforates in one pass.

“Ideal for common applications such as business and greetings cards, covers, direct mailers, leaflets, concertina folds, in fact anything with the combination of slitting, cross-cutting, scoring, and perforating.”

Over the years, Duplo has increased its portfolio of finishing kit to booklet production, automatic saddle stitching, sensory coating, and digital cutting tables, and developing automation to match market demands.

The latest machines launched in the last year include the DDC-8000 B2 DuSense and the DC-20K B2 cutting system, DC-648 slitter cutter creaser, and the new iSaddle 5.0. All of these encompass the latest automation techniques and integrations to modern printers across the UK.

Duplo launched its new DC-20K B2 cutting system last year

Ollie Renshaw, business and systems manager at print and mail service for the University of Leeds, offers a first-hand account of the benefits of Duplo automation.

“The Duplo machines are just fabulous,” Renshaw says, adding: “My operators think the automation and ease of use on the DC-648 is second to none. Normal jobs are all set up and the print is just fed through, taking the stress and hours upon hours of manual work away. We have so many different jobs coming through that this machine is a lifesaver.”

Get in the Workflow

Meanwhile, Kite Packaging revealed how it recently began using drone technology in its warehouse for automated inventory control. Jake Kirk, a managing partner in Kite Packaging, says the company is one of the first businesses in the UK to do this.

“The drone carries out stock checks in five hours where manually it might take an hour,” he says, adding: “This has helped us maintain good levels of stock to guarantee availability to customers.

“Alongside this, we also utilise the conveyor systems, pallet wrap machines, and spiral wrappers sold on our website within our warehouse operation. These replace manual labour and carry out repetitive tasks so our warehouse operatives can focus on pick, pack, and dispatch instead.”

Kite Packaging offers a complete range of automated solutions to help users with achieving workflow automation. Among its range is an electronic gummed paper tape machine that can, for example, moisten, dispense, and cut gummed paper tape ready for application so that packers can focus on optimising pack efficiency.

Kite Packaging’s electronic gummed paper tape machine can moisten, dispense, and cut gummed paper tape ready for application

The company also sells semi-automatic strapping and banding machines to secure packages ready for shipping. These operate at 25 cycles per minute, with Kirk saying they create soft and elastic bundles without sacrificing speed or efficiency, while also eliminating any curling, folding or peeling of tape edges. 

“Incorporating automation where possible frees up employees to focus on value-added tasks which in turn can help improve a business’ offering and increase profits,” Kirk says, adding: “Printers should look at automating repetitive tasks that don’t require intellectual decision-making across their prepress, press, and post-press processes.

“They should consider workflow automation in their operations. This involves automating any manually performed task, such as approving leave requests or invoicing so that employees can focus their efforts on value-added tasks.”

Switching to automation seems something of a no-brainer for PSPs. If you can reduce costs, free up staff for other work and increase quality, then investment in automation could be the key to future success.

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