Automating the print workflow with smart ink logistics

Ink management software, combined with the connectivity of the internet, is driving automation in the workflow – making converters more efficient and responsive. Welcome to the age of Industry 4.0!

In the face of rocketing cost increases, raw materials shortages, exacting brand quality standards, and stringent safety and environmental legislation, packaging printers must make a leap in operating efficiency and responsiveness, to remain resilient and competitive in these turbulent times.

It’s not just that there is no room for waste. In today’s print workflow, where short lead times are expected and quality is a ‘given’– there is also no time to lose.

There are two important strategies that printers must adopt to face these challenges.
The first involves becoming ‘Lean,’ by cutting waste out of processes and doing more with fewer resources. The second is to become ‘Smart’ by introducing technology that makes factories more automated, digitalized, connected – and less reliant on human input.

More data, deeper insight: better decision-making

This is known as Industry 4.0. Advances in software, machine-to-machine communication and the connectivity of the internet are reducing manual intervention, and are making processes faster, more reliable and predictable.

What are the four industrial revolutions?

  • The first industrial revolution occurred with the arrival of mechanization, notably water and steam power
  • The second industrial revolution came with mass production using electricity to power moving assembly lines
  • The third industrial revolution arrived with electronics and IT to automate production
  • The fourth industrial revolution is the cyber-physical transformation of manufacturing, focusing on interconnectivity, automation, machine learning and real-time data.

In the smart printing factory, production systems – machines, equipment and software – are connected to each other, continually exchanging job and performance data.

Thanks to software, masses of data can be analyzed in real time and remotely – from presses, plate mounters, ink dispensers, prepress software and MIS software, to mention just a few. This in turn gives operators and management better insights into operations – enabling faster, better decision-making and continuous improvement.

Examples of Industry 4.0 technologies are:

  • work-on-screen applications – where digital information replaces paper
  • product tracking – digital tracking of materials in the workflow
  • information systems (like enterprise resource planning (ERP), management information systems (MIS), prepress workflow automation, press controls, ink management) and flexible automation (like conveyors, blenders, robots and automated guiding vehicles).

Ink management software – streamlining every process step

Industry 4.0 has revolutionized ink logistics, making it a strategy for cutting waste and assuring quality in all processes that involves ink – not just internally, but through the wider packaging supply chain, too.

The latest modular ink management software packages are tailored to the needs of modern package printing operations. Importantly, they are designed for the uniquely complex, cyclical route that spot colours and their ingredients take through the workflow. There are packages to support all relevant workflow steps relating to ink in the printing house, including:

  • managing ‘press return’ inks in focused ways, including “clustering” into one component connected to the dispenser for processing, or reserving for specific jobs,
  • integration with existing ERP software and cloud applications
  • creating new colours, and performing colour corrections and adjustments
  • management reporting: real-time stock level and consumption information; per-job ink costs
  • purchasing: generating purchase advice automatically when base colour stocks are low
  • ink batch traceability: tracking ingredients through the supply chain, including for reused return inks.

Unlocking value

When introduced to a Lean manufacturing environment, smart software can bring significant performance improvements:

  • processes are simplified: calculations are automated and data-re-entry is avoided
  • human input is reduced: and there is less chance of error
  • processes are accelerated, improving responsiveness
  • costs are reduced further
  • people can be used for higher-value, problem-solving and creative tasks
  • real-time data availability means better decision making such as forecasting and costing.

In one of the next posts we will explore how ink management software packages can integrate with your existing business software packages.

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