Print 4.0 Process Chains Should be Based on Interoperability

As Head of the Manufacturing Informatics Department of the University of Augsburg and Senior Head of the Processing Technology Department of the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Casting, Composite and Processing Technology – IGCV, Prof. Johannes Schilp is intensively involved in the Industrie 4.0 process worlds. In this interview, he talks about the status of Print 4.0, the necessity of interoperable printing and print processing technology and the question of how much data gathering is really reasonable.

Prof. Schilp, what does a perfect Print 4.0 process chain look like?

Prof. Johannes Schilp: It is fully automated. Full interoperability between the machines and systems from different manufacturers is guaranteed thanks to standardised software protocols, data formats and interfaces. In the process, the quality is monitored by sensor technology which allows for automated adjustments as soon as parameters change. The 4.0 process chains are not only flexible in this respect. They can also process varying formats of runs as low as 1 with the products finding their way through the process chain autonomously.

Hasn’t that been the case in the book-on-demand segment for a long time now?

Schilp: Printing and paper technology has, in fact, made good progress. We saw solutions in which the 4.0 philosophy has been implemented to a wide extent at drupa 2016. They are, however, mostly still based on the proprietary technology of individual manufacturers. Now, these solutions must be expanded to complete process chains that are open to the machines from different manufacturers. After all, no user wants to be dependent on one single machinery supplier. The presently available variety of technical solutions can only be transferred into the 4.0 process worlds when complete standardisation is achieved. This is where I see the biggest stumbling block in printing and paper technology. Above all big suppliers are still unwilling to accept standardisation.

Isn’t that understandable? How will they benefit from open standards and interoperability?

Schilp: Automated processes with low labour cost can, of course, also be implemented with proprietary technology. However, another important advantage of 4.0 process chains cannot be achieved with them: The autonomous readjustment of all subsequent processes when deviations occur in a process step. For that, production and sensor data of all machines and systems must be transferred from station to station in the chain. In a nutshell: When printing onto the substrate is not exactly true-to-register, a 4.0 process chain reacts with two measures. It readjusts the printing process. And it passes on the degree of deviation to the print processing machines so that they adjust their cutting, gluing, binding and finishing processes precisely to these deviations. Misprints are thus turned into deliverable products. This saves resources and helps the printing companies to work economically despite their tight time and cost budgets. Such solutions are, however, only feasible where the free exchange of data between the machines from different manufacturers is guaranteed.

This brings to mind the variety of micro and macro levels in Industrie 4.0. Are there further advantages of comprehensive standardisation from your point of view?

Schilp: The image of the actual manufacturing processes and machine statuses the manufacturers and users get is much more precise. In the long term, process, machine and quality data offer the possibility to optimise the processes by using machine-learning algorithms. Services are changing as well. Some printing technology manufacturers experiment with models in which they operate machines instead of selling them. They provide the customers with the necessary technology, supply them with all required operating materials, printing inks and substrates and finally invoice their use for the print products. The operation of the technology and services are completely in the hands of the printing technology manufacturers. Such business models require completely transparent production. In order to earn money, the suppliers need all process and consumption data as well as the status data of the machines. This enables the service intervals to be oriented towards the real condition instead of towards rigid maintenance cycles, which also comprise safety buffers for liability reasons.

What can the printing and paper technology sector learn for 4.0 from other sectors?

Schilp: In facility management, there are approaches to utilize air conditioning and ventilation data for the readjustment of production processes, for example, when humidity and temperatures rise or exhaust filters detect the release of dust, which, inter alia, could be an indication of sub-optimal cutting processes. The earlier the networked systems give a warning, the faster the user can remedy the faults. Yet this also only works with standardized interfaces.

In printing and paper technology there is the JDF/XJDF standard. Isn’t this sufficient?

Schilp: It is a good basis which needs to be expanded on. The free exchange of data – from order data processing to automated data transfer and the documentation of all process and machine data in a digital component file – must be guaranteed along the whole chain. At the same time, precautionary measures are needed so that the manufacturers and users can play their cards close to their chest. When brand manufacturers define a colour hue in their corporate identity, the printing company must prove that the colour hue has been perfectly matched, but it need not reveal in detail how that was achieved. In digitally networked process chains this is guaranteed by clever interface modifications. The point is that sensitive know-how must be protected without the machine being prevented from autonomously getting the necessary process-relevant information from the data available in the pool. That’s what I call Industrie 4.0. If, added to that, the process chain is freely configurable and open to analogue and digital printing methods, this will open up new possibilities – for instance, to print long runs analogously and subsequently individualise and enhance them digitally within the same process chain.

How will the operating concepts change in this production world?

Schilp: There will be digital assistance systems based on voice and gesture control which guide the users and service personnel with maintenance and repair instructions where they need help or their qualification is not sufficient for the required operation. What`s needed is new ways of intelligent data analysis and preparation that go beyond the pure man-machine communication in order to make the interaction with technical systems as easier as possible for the user. Finally, the systems should provide the user with exactly the quantity of data and information that they really need. If everything is going well, a minimum will do. Whenever problems occur, the system should offer a solution and show the user the way to this solution.

Interview with Prof. Dr. Johannes Schilp, Professor at the University of Augsburg