At the Label Academy’s upcoming virtual master class on Industry 4.0, Mike Rottenborn, CEO of Hybrid Software Group, will discuss how automation adds value to pre-press, including pre-flight and color management. Here, he gives a sneak preview.
Can you give us an overview of what you will be speaking about in your session? What do you hope attendees will gain from tuning in?
Mike Rottenborn (MR): This is a critical time in the label industry, with production demands increasing across flexo, offset and digital printing but numerous challenges including substrate cost and labor shortages that need to be addressed. In the face of rising labor shortages and tighter turnaround times, pre-press automation is a valuable tool to achieve quality and profitable growth in label and packaging production.
How is automation set to transform the label and package printing industry over the next five years, and how will the industry need to adapt?
MR: Automation is possible at many levels. Simply automating the ordering for reprints can be very valuable to customers, but new orders can also be automated by integrating the web shop or online store with the MIS / ERP system and prepress software. Pre-press functions that can be automated include preflighting incoming files to make sure they are able to be printed in high quality, mapping job colors to the actual printing inks or pigments, trapping colors for flexo jobs, creating a print layout or ‘Step and Repeat’ that fits the cutting die and optimizes substrate coverage, and adding marks and color bars for the press and finishing equipment. And of course the printing, finishing, rewind, inspection, and many other tasks can be automated as well.
My feeling is that the label industry won’t need to adapt to these changes because it has already begun to embrace them and will continue down this path in the future.
What are the main challenges of automating pre-press systems and integrating them with existing press and factory management systems?
MR: It starts with having the right systems in place. Without a proper MIS/ERP system to store job specifications, automation is very difficult because there are no parameters to drive automated workflow software. Remember, pre-press automation does not replace human decision-making, only repetitive and error-prone tasks like trapping and Step & Repeat. Next, make sure the MIS is linked upstream to the online ordering portal and downstream to the pre-press workflow. At this point it should be possible to fully automate exact reprints with no human touchpoints at all. Once that is in place, label converters can expand into the automation of new orders and more complex jobs.
Can you give examples of the extent to which your customers have benefited from implementing your smart pre-press software?
MR: Absolutely. Hybrid Software’s CloudFlow system is tightly integrated with Print MIS systems like Label Traxx, Cerm, and Radius and used by customers including Blue Label Digital Printing, Creative Labels of Vermont, and Fortis Solutions for highly automated label production.
How realistic is a completely ‘lights out’ label manufacturing facility in the future?
MR: I don’t believe lights out production is the right goal to aim for. People buy from people and every job is different. The key is to automate the repetitive tasks, the ‘bread and butter’ jobs that label converters do every day, so their talented and experienced personnel can work with customers on new jobs and different challenges.
The Label Academy's Industry 4.0 virtual master class takes place on Thursday April 28 (Part 1, 15.00-17.10 BST) and Thursday May 5 (Part 2, 15.00-17.10 BST). Click here for more information and to register.