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Trade Comment

Robotics and Automation in print

With industries ever evolving to incorporate new technologies. David Osgar asks: “What ways can robotics and automation be used in print, and how much do you see this expanding?”

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Rob Thurston, Head of sales, Duplo UK

Keeping up with innovation 

Today, with the increased level of short print runs, faster turnaround needs, and the time spent to adjust systems and jobs, increasing mechanical speed is no longer enough. In fact, one of the fastest ways to improve efficiency is through increased automation.

Once restricted to the bigger players, and requiring substantial investment, solutions now exist that can instantly benefit the smaller digital print establishments, such as the Ultimate Impostrip Pro from Duplo International. Duplo’s partnership with Ultimate brings the best of software automation together with our hardware automation.

Due to the lack of youth in the industry and an ageing professional population, the print industry has a national shortage of dedicated print and finishing personnel.

The print industry has a national shortage of dedicated print and finishing personnel

Duplo’s combined solution allows you to shorten your print process by bringing post-press together with pre-press, allowing you to reduce the number of manual touchpoints from the moment you book a job in, to the moment it’s ready for dispatch (and invoiced). What it translates into is a lesser need for specialist operators and the opportunity for you to re-deploy your workforce where you need it. Less manual touchpoints means increased efficiency and speed.

You can even get the imposition done and finishing barcode added remotely. With this flexibility there will be no delays, your staff on-site simply load the printed sheet into your Duplo finishing device and let our automated solutions do the rest. Imagine how you could improve your offering (and bottom line) if you had the ability to print short runs, and variable data, to a short turnaround, and meet changing demands competitively? The question is not whether you should look into it or not. The question is: can you afford not to?

Technology vs Experience
Ray Hillhouse, Vice president sales & marketing, Plockmatic Group

Automation in the print industry means less people, and people are expensive. Skilled people are even more expensive and are also becoming hard to recruit. The more automation can be used, the lower the cost of the job will be, and maybe even the faster the production. That will, of course, depend on the cost of the automation, but, by and large, with the cost of such equipment being spread over many years, it will generally beat the cost of hiring people hands down.

The other factor to appreciate with any automation is that it could, in theory work 24/7 if necessary, assuming breakdowns are a rare obstacle.

Generally, however, most systems in our industry still need people somewhere along the line, even if it is only to remove finished items, or to load new stock.

With the cost of such equipment being spread over many years, it will generally beat the cost of hiring people

Print companies increasingly need automation in order to remain competitive. Also, with reference to a recent conversation that I had with a printer, we are approaching, or are even already in, a skills gap in our industry. The people with the necessary knowledge and skill are retiring. It is getting harder to replace them.

The example that came to mind was where we had sold a multi-function, easy to use, semi-automated machine to replace a highly skilled platen machine operator. His set-up knowledge, honed over many years, was hard to replace in people terms. In many cases, skills are leaving our industry. Some can be replaced by automated solutions. With ever shorter runs being needed, maybe automation will help to solve the skills gap.

To demonstrate our commitment to enhancing our workforce Morgana and Plockmatic offer a range of innovations to improve workflow. For example, when it comes to larger format, and more demanding finishing tasks, Morgana can provide the Valiani range of flatbed cutting tables, designed for cutting and creasing for samples, POS display material, short run packaging, and prototyping packs.

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