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COMPUTER-INTEGRATED MANUFACTURING -- Strategies for a "Smart Fa

September 2002
BY LARRY WARTER


In order to survive in an ever-changing industry, today's printer will have to become the "smart factory" of tomorrow. The "smart factory" concept integrates all of the internal printing plant processes with information flows linked to the outside.

Many of the criteria for being a true "smart factory" are related to standards (including accredited standards, as well as industry specifications), which address aspects of the process that everyone agrees should be standardized and, at the same time, leave opportunities for individual companies to differentiate themselves in other parts of the process.

One of the most crucial steps in becoming a "smart factory" is to make the press a connectable process. The printing process must have set limits and tolerances in order to ensure that the press becomes a preset reproduction machine. Image evaluation and adjustment should be relegated to the creative process upstream, allowing the press to be treated as a known output. This is not a new concept.

Our industry has been talking about this for quite some time; we've just never been able to achieve it. A lot has had to happen in order to make this dream work, but the pieces are finally in place for our industry to begin talking about becoming true "smart factories." Three steps are necessary in order to bring about this change: the press must be controlled, calibrated and connected.

The printing process needs to be controlled in three different ways. First, the press products must be standardized. There are ISO (International Standards Organization) standards for the size, thickness and squareness of plates. There is also an ISO standard that was the first industry-wide consensus on how to test for all performance properties of blankets. And, there is a whole series of standards that cover the rheology (printability factors) of inks and how to test them. The most basic step, then, in becoming a "smart factory" is to use products that have been tested and certified.

Secondly, there is an entire series of measurement standards that apply to printing. These were among the first standards developed by CGATS (Committee on Graphic Arts Technical Standards), and they can serve as tutorials for how to use densitometers to control the printing process and spectrophotometers to match inks and, ultimately, images. Much of this early theory has evolved into practical, closed-loop color control for sheetfed and, now, webfed presses.

The machines are sophisticated, but they are measuring the same basic properties documented in the standards as the best way to control a press. Measuring the process is essential to a "smart factory."
 

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