Cost benefits and resource efficiency go hand in hand

Adrian Mayr, Head of Product Management & Corporate Marketing at Müller Martini AG, explains how modern, highly automated finishing technology helps to save energy and resources, while minimising the environmental footprint of printed products.

According to the United Nations, the global demand for resources threatens to double by 2050. How do you make your production more resource efficient?

As a classic machine and plant manufacturer, Müller Martini has two assembly plants where one plant processes sheet metal and manufactures mechanical parts for us in addition to external customers. In assembly, waste avoidance and energy efficiency have had a very high priority for many years. Here, we work on continuous process optimisation in accordance with the Kaizen philosophy. We also exploit potential for saving resources in production: our plant in Hasle near Lucerne has been ISO 14001 certified for years. We work there with state-of-the-art, energy-efficient machinery, consistently separate residual materials and recycle them.

We also use digital tools and laser cutting processes to minimise waste in sheet metal processing. Economic and ecological advantages are intertwined here. It is crucial to use resources sparingly.

How do your products help your customers use raw materials more efficiently?

This is where Finishing 4.0 and our Smart Factory solutions play a very important role. In book production, it was common for a long time to produce long runs. If publishers used overly optimistic sales forecasts as a basis, they had to throw away many copies. It was nevertheless more economical because the entire offset printing and finishing technology was designed for high throughput. Of course, it was not resource efficient.

This has changed with today’s technology. Books are produced on demand from a quantity of 1 and reprinted when demand is high. The advantages, from warehousing to resource use, are obvious. However, the change requires highly flexible finishing solutions with short, highly automated changeover processes and minimal waste. This is where Müller Martini comes in with Finishing 4.0. When a job is changed, the first copy runs through the process chain and automatically stops where settings need to be readjusted. This assistance during setup saves time and minimises start-up waste.

Where hundreds of thousands of books or brochures are produced, 20 waste copies are of no consequence. With three- to four-digit runs or personalised photo books, it’s a different story – especially since our presses process refined, high-value products. Before our processes start, the paper has been manufactured, cut, printed, folded and much more. Hence our internal claim: first copy sellable – the very first copy must be of the quality to be sold.

What role does this topic play in your research and development?

It’s central. We are driving automation forward, using the full potential of digitalisation for this purpose and relying as far as possible on energy-efficient servo drives. In contrast to earlier concepts, in which central drive shafts constantly kept all stations in motion, whether they were needed or not, servo technology makes it possible to selectively move only those areas in which finishing processes are currently running.

Automation can never be an end in itself. It must bring added value to the customer. In the case of Finishing 4.0, this added value consists of energy and resource efficiency, among other things. This makes it economical to produce in smaller runs based on real demand. This saves considerable amounts of paper, printing inks, solvents, water and energy.

Is the demand for resource-efficient solutions driven more by regulation or more by potential cost savings?

Cost benefits and resource efficiency go hand in hand. But regulatory aspects are gaining in importance, not least in the wake of the EU’s Green Deal. Customers often only receive subsidies for modernisation projects if their new generation of machines meets certain sustainability targets. This helps us because we have correspondingly efficient technology on offer and don’t have to start developing it first.

What should legislators do to promote resource-efficient technologies?

Müller Martini has always been cautious about making demands on politicians. We observe in our market that even in a country as technically advanced as Germany, there is great potential for modernisation. On average, print finishing machines are 20 years old. If we succeed in accelerating the replacement of old technology with the latest digitalised generation of machines with targeted support, this will improve the industry’s starting position in global competition. At the same time, it will be possible to produce print products with a much smaller ecological footprint. Efficient technology is available, the task now is to bring it to market quickly.