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Process control – an easy win?

Each Labelexpo sends its own message about the state of the industry and future directions. The recent show in Chicago was all about automation and efficiency – key ways in which label converters can transform their businesses.

Process automation has two aspects – getting jobs efficiently onto and off the press; and controlling the press during makeready and print run.

Gallus probably went furthest in showing a fully integrated print shop on its stand – a task made easier by the Heidelberg connection (since Heidelberg now owns narrow web MIS specialist Cerm and CSAT’s inkjet technology, as well as having its own Prinect press automation system). But the elements are available to all label converters from a range of suppliers.

An automated workflow onto the press uses the information stored in the master PDF and its associated metadata to decide which route the job should take: conventional or digital? Which press width? Which finishing route? What materials, ink mixes, plates and dies are required?

This information is communicated through every department using JMF and JDF protocols and the information returned to the planning system.

On-press automation and process control now includes the possibility of measuring color (as well as density) inline, and as L&L’s technical editor Barry Hunt points out in an excellent article in this issue. This allows ‘printing by numbers’, following the exact deltaE color specification given by the end user.

At the same time, servo drives on the press now allow jobs to be pre-set using a wide range of factors, including tension characteristics of the material to be printed, significantly cutting waste and makeready times.

But to take full advantage of these new tools, converters need to transform their company culture, as regular L&L columnist Alex James points out in a landmark article on page 91 in L&L issue 5, 2012. This may be the toughest challenge for an industry which often appears reluctant to move from ‘craft’ to ‘process’ driven.

Andy Thomas, group managing editor, L&L

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Thomas is strategic director of Labels & Labeling.

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