30 January 2017 Digital Printing Technologies

Software delivers the fuel to drive production

Without the petrol provided by a slick workflow a press, however sophisticated, cannot achieve its full potential argues Heidelberg workflow evangelist Anthony Thirlby.

At Drupa 2016 Heidelberg introduced the concept of push to stop. This is the idea that the press is so automated that an operator needs to do almost nothing to set the press running on a new job or section.

Once he has stopped the press from the previous run, the plates are removed and loaded automatically, blankets and cylinders are washed, the press runs through a start up sequence. By measuring the control strip through Image Control, the operator only has to OK the sheet, something which is also not strictly necessary as it is almost sure to be in register and in the colour quality parameters set. The operator then only has to push to stop the press when the required number of good sheets has been printed.

At Drupa, the demonstration featured three makereadies in eight minutes. It was undoubtedly impressive, and it must be said was matched by similar demonstrations from Komori and KBA, which if stressing different aspects of automation, were also running through high speed makereadies.

At Drupa, a weakness to Heidelberg demonstration was that makeready was all about a plate change. There was no new paper introduced, not that this would have slowed the process much nor damaged the impact of the presentation.

The first machines to this specification are now being shipped with Falkland Press and Geoff Neal Group among the first to receive them in the UK. Elle Media is now installing its five-colour XL106.

At Drupa the presenters supposed that plates and job files would be in place, skipping over explanations of the workflow. For all the fabulous technology on show, it will be wasted without a super slick workflow that can feed jobs to the platesetter (and it was clear that platesetter performance has improved to cope).

And that for a business, tracking the movement of jobs from receipt of file to shipping is as automated as the ink on paper step. Consequently at the same time as talking about the printing technology, it was explaining the concept of the Smart print shop, an acronym standing for Simplified Management Allowing Repeatable Tasks.

At the core of the simplified management is its Prinect Business Manager software. Anthony Thirlby, who introduced the concept at ESP Colour, is in charge of promoting the benefits of the business software. The approach is essential, Heidelberg believes, to unlocking the production efficiencies that are possible with the degree of press automation and taps into the connectivity of systems that is part of Industry 4.0.

The print industry laid the foundations for this 17 years ago with the drawing up of the Job Definition Format. “Because of the development of JDF, we have been Industry 4.0 for 15 years,” says Thirlby.

For most this has meant linking the press to prepress to accept job set up files and to MIS to return information about run time and numbers to perform costing and invoicing and perhaps scheduling tasks. Fewer have achieved a full end to end integration that paves the way for the productivity enhancements that Heidelberg believes is possible.

Heidelberg reckons that around 100 customers worldwide have started on the full integration journey with some 2,500 having implemented a prepress to press connection, 500 have a link to an MIS.

This is still only a fraction of the total customer case that Heidelberg has globally. It is indicative that the press remains the centre of focus for most print businesses, not the way it represents an output platform in an interconnected production flow.

A good number of print businesses have adopted lean management principles if not quite the full monty in terms of six sigma controls. This has raised production efficiency significantly in some parts of the world, the UK included, and means that the press can be running at 50% OEE.

In other countries, this effectiveness can only be dreamed of, with OEE levels barely touching 30% for many businesses. If a competitor is able to achieve a 50% OEE, their costs will be lower, something that can be reflected in a price and perhaps underlies complaints that many printers are undercutting to win work.

“There are big differences between customers,” says Thirlby, pointing to research in North America to support this, showing a large gap between the top printers and the rest in terms of margins earned. “We know where the pain points are.”

When he says that “people are still using paper job tickets, they are reentering information, with the potential for inaccuracies and there is limited information transferred. Consequently people do not get the full potential from their manufacturing operation”, he is describing a typical modus operandi for many businesses.

As print runs continue to become shorter, as jobs are split across litho and digital equipment, shipped to different delivery addresses, the existing structures cannot cope. Business Manager is the answer, says Heidelberg. “We have to reduce the touch points and to increase the throughput of jobs,” he continues. “It gives printers the choice of reducing their costs, or increasing their capacity to gain market share.”

Prinect Business Manager sits above the Prinect workflow which handles job progress, calls in the correct impositions, checks incoming files and selects the appropriate profiles for the press and paper. Prinect Business Manager receives the JMF messaging from production equipment to track job progress, handles schedules and costing, much as an advanced MIS might. For Heidelberg Prinect Business Manager goes a step further and is according to Thirlby a “business intelligence platform to focus on both business and production”.

It will naturally include a web to print portal, replacing the storefront that Heidelberg had previously sourced through Pageflex. This is currently being tested and will appeal to smaller print businesses that have either bumped up against the limitations of current off the shelf solutions or have yet to make a move into online ordering in a structured manner. Those that have more sophisticated portals will be able to hook these into Prinect Business Manager, most probably through an existing MIS.

The idea is to split the functional job information, sending this to prepress, and the business information which will reside in a database accessible to thePrinect Business Manager. A user will be able to monitor orders for the next period, automate ordering of consumables (via Heidelberg online store), check live performance and will be able to see how profitable it is on an hourly and daily basis instead of handling accounts that are a month out of date. In future this can open the way to variable pricing to better manage loading on equipment. For the moment this is a step beyond the scope of printers brought up in the Industry 2.0 era.

“In most businesses the analytics are missing or limited in scope,” says Thirlby. “How can you improve what you do not know? When you only know if you have made a profit in retrospect? You have to get to a position of known output, known costs and known quality.”

For the press supplier to move the industry it is going to first need to educate and train its own people to be able to sell a cloud based application, and then convincing a customer that software will increase production as much as a new press. As customers are both unaware of the benefits or if there is some vague awareness, do not understand where to start, this is a challenge

“We have to demystify the complexity of the workflow,” says Thirlby, “We have to create the business platform for customers and focus on development of their own organisations.

“Even small print shops are experiencing the same pressures as the larger companies. Customers sometimes do not know where to start so we need to evolve and develop as they require.

“We have moved from being a craft industry. Now we have to allow customers to explain what it is they want to achieve, but most do not understand the benefit that software can bring. Prinect Business Manager is creating a lot of interest right now from different parts of the world. Prinect Business Manager is not just about having a digital workflow. Nobody else in the industry has this control over the end to end process. We have the right platform.”

At ESP Colour, the company had to build the connections itself, linking Heidelberg, Kodak and Tharstern to achieve its aims. It had four programmers as part of the team to manage this, as well as delivering web to print and other applications.

The company was hugely successful at pushing the efficiency of the Heidelberg presses beyond the expectations that the press manufacturer had had through the imposition of a repeatable systematic approach and through selling time, the only thing that a printer can realistically sell, says Thirlby. If the business achieved a makeready faster than the time allowed, it was creating more time to sell to bring in more jobs.

Not every business will want to be as focused as ESP Colour became, but the principles apply. Prinect Business Manager is a key part of Heidelberg future for 2017 and beyond. And, according toThirlby, it is creating a lot of interest in different parts of the world. “If I were a customer, I would buy it,” he says.

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Anthony Thirlby

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