Komori America’s Doug Schardt on Sheetfed Offset Press Automation Advancements
(The desire to automate and refine processes in sheetfed offset printing is driven by several factors, including the absence of qualified labor, reduction of touches, and efforts to minimize waste. In the past several years, press manufacturers have added and refined tools to make the sheetfed offset process much more efficient, and to achieve higher-quality, more repeatable results. This article continues our series of interviews with representatives from the leading sheetfed press manufacturers.)
Doug Schardt, director of product management at Komori America, sees three key motivating forces moving print services providers (PSPs) toward automation: taking touches out of the process, a stronger ability to manage the process, and a reduced reliance on labor. On this final factor, he says, “it’s easier to automate than to train.” Schardt notes that overall, equipment manufacturers are “looking at automating the workflow of the plant, not just of the press.” Consequently, legacy equipment can be a factor that complicates this broader quest.
Schardt says Komori — which also owns finishing equipment manufacturer MBO — works to figure out how all process systems can benefit each other. By combining individual processes, he contends, everything becomes more efficient.
In the quest to maximize efficiency on sheetfed offset presses, PSPs are interested most in plate changers, blanket washers, and camera monitoring systems, all of which he describes as “de-facto choices” among press purchasers. These features are attractive because press speeds are going up and the skill level of operators is going down. “These systems help keep quality in check,” he says, adding that PSPs should rely on them, not on the operator, to determine acceptable quality.
Automation systems have become critical, according to Schardt, because most companies now have at least a baseline of automation systems in place. Thus, to not have them becomes a competitiveness issue. He points out that determining ROI on automation systems is dependent on the degree to which they are used. With many automation systems “standard” on presses today, he finds that all users utilize some of them, while only some use all of them.
Schardt believes the use of automation must be infused into a company’s manufacturing culture, and focused on helping a print provider meet its automation goals, be it quality, waste reduction, change of allocation, or something else. Part of infusing automation into the culture, he adds, involves making the systems more difficult, or less attractive, to circumvent.
Computer connectivity has become essential in modernized sheetfed offset, and Schardt explains that will start with the MIS system used. Today’s machines have to be able to both receive data and send it. “There are two things going on,” he says, “one is to track the job through the plant to make sure there are no problems … the other part is how well the equipment is running, so it needs to capture its own data.”
Asked what new automation systems Komori America has available to its customers, Schardt is most excited about an “advanced package that has a bunch of new features to facilitate sheet-flow.” He says that while much of it is mechanical, other parts of it are to ease, for instance, loading a pile onto the press. “It makes it easier for people to operate the press successfully."