The era of Industry 4.0 gives rise to a variety of ways in which quality assurance can further optimize production processes in web-processing industries. Packaging manufacturers, in particular, gain additional options for producing the quality that brand name manufacturers and consumers expect, in ways that are efficient, safe and resource-friendly. From the BST eltromat point of view, “Industry 4.0” stands first and foremost for an evolution. These days, it can be taken for granted that industrial companies are always striving for technical innovation. As a result of the Industry 4.0 discussion, however, practically the entire machinery and plant engineering industry is now working with remarkable intensity on integrating its systems throughout the enterprise and across value chains. For BST eltromat, integration isn’t a new topic. On the contrary, linking together quality assurance systems has long been one of the core tasks performed by BST eltromat for its customers.
A history of practical integration concepts
BST eltromat has developed a variety of networking solutions to allow its customers simple, cross-process integration of its quality assurance systems. With these solutions, customers can flexibly model their individual processes. BST eltromat has a lengthy track record, and for years, the company has been thinking beyond the individual process steps to show its customers potential for optimization along the entire value chain. At LABELEXPO EUROPE 2019, for instance, the company highlighted the benefit of combining the QLink workflow for 100% inspection systems of the TubeScan family with HYBRID software in label production and narrow-web package printing.
The current results of the collaboration with HYBRID Software, one of the world’s leading providers of innovative solutions for PDF-based pre-press-stage workflows and linkups to management information systems (MIS), enable greatly simplified and shortened setup processes – including quality assurance. One example is the new option of PDF comparison for print jobs directly in the printing machine. Machine operators will no longer have to scan proofs and then compare them to the specifications from the pre-press stage. This is possible because the PDF files for print jobs that the pre-press stage creates using PACKZ from HYBRID Software contain all the relevant parameters, including the requirements for inspecting the jobs that need to be printed. One outstanding feature is that all objects can now involve dynamic, variable data such as different barcodes or alphanumerical – even randomized – sequences. Label producers are printing faster than ever, and reducing the amount of waste they generate at the same time.
Likewise, the company years ago worked with ColorWare, the maker of the color management software MeasureColor, to link the iPQ-Spectral module of its iPQ-Center with ColorWare’s pre-press stage solution. BST eltromat’s iPQ-Center includes four seamlessly integrated high-end modules for quality control and management in web printing – 100% inspection, web monitoring, color measurement and workflow. With their range of functions, they cover virtually all of the market’s current requirements.
As part of the cooperation with ColorWare, engineers devised the option of preparing all the required data for the inline spectral color measurement with iPQ-Spectral from BST eltromat in the pre-press stage. The job data is captured once in the pre-press stage. After that, it is available throughout the whole production process. The data is supplied either as XML or JDF files to the quality assurance systems, allowing these systems to be set up without additional intervention by the operator. As all the relevant job data is entered at the pre-press stage, and later made available throughout the production process, the set-up times are significantly reduced. At the same time, there are fewer problems arising from repeated entry of the same data at different stages in the value chain.
Converting 4.0 gathering pace
The concept of “Converting 4.0” has been steadily gaining importance since 2017. BST eltromat helped to found the Converting 4.0 network, initiated by the company KAMPF Schneid- und Wickeltechnik. The cooperation among companies in this network is now very successful. At the K 2019 plastics and rubber exhibition in Düsseldorf, for example, a simulation showed the interaction of a CLS PRO 600 digital line and contrast sensor from BST eltromat with a ConSlitter-type slitting machine and the the@vanced integrated platform from Kampf Schneid- und Wickeltechnik. The integration allows the sensor technology and the motor-driven knife axle of the slitter to be set up automatically. With this concept, the knives are no longer aligned with the sensor. Instead of this, the lines and objects on the webs are aligned with the knife axle and the sensor. The sensor automatically moves to the preset lines and then supplies information useful for optimizing the cutting process.
In mid-November 2019, BST eltromat took part in the fourth gathering of the Converting 4.0 network at Windmöller & Hölscher (W&H) in Lengerich with more than 100 visitors. The event was headlined “Boosting Efficiency across Value Chains” and dealt with process data communication across process boundaries. Here, too, BST eltromat presented solutions and ideas involving the integration of quality assurance with upstream and downstream production processes. The company highlighted how bringing together quality data leads to greater efficiency and security as well as more convenience and sustainability, provided the information is available in synchronized form.
Inspection and artificial intelligence
The members of the network showed great interest in the methods of analysis presented, such as the use of artificial intelligence for the classification of errors. Currently, members of the Converting 4.0 network are developing scenarios that describe how more added value can be generated by taking additional process and material data into account.
For example, in the framework of its cooperation with SeeOne Vision Technology, a manufacturer of surface inspection systems based in Florence, Italy, BST eltromat is linking information from film extrusion with quality data from the printing process. SeeOne's systems detect surface defects in different materials such as films, metallized films, paper or cardboard, and use artificial intelligence to classify them as holes or inclusions, or as foreign matter such as insects or dirt. The findings gained from surface inspection can be used in various ways to optimize production processes.
For example, the quality logs feed into the iPQ-Workflow of BST eltromat, which makes it possible to interpret defects across process boundaries. The causes of undesired effects in the printing process can then be identified, if anomalies are documented in the quality logs of the film extrusion process in the same area of the film.
Networking and resource-friendly production go hand in hand
The packaging industry is under huge pressure to reduce the environmental footprint of its products and production processes and to work towards more sustainable alternatives. This applies in particular to manufacturers of flexible packaging solutions. Cross-process connection of quality assurance and its integration with other systems can make a vital contribution toward establishing resource-friendly production processes. By increasing both efficiency and process reliability within the packaging production industry, it helps packaging manufacturers to avoid waste or at least reduce it significantly. Beyond the environmental benefits, there are also a number of economic reasons for keeping waste to a minimum.
Moreover, manufacturers of flexible packaging materials are working hard on innovative, up to 100-percent recyclable substrates made of monopolymer materials to replace the multipolymer composites that have been the norm up to now. The new packaging materials must offer the same performance and the same aesthetic quality as the existing substrates, and they must also allow the same level of efficiency during the manufacturing process of the flexible packaging solutions.
During the “Recyclates in Products” segment of the VDMA Circular Economy Forum at the K 2019 expo, BST eltromat showed how integrated Converting 4.0 processes support the production of innovative plastic materials that can be used for recyclable or biodegradable packaging. The new materials have special properties that impose new requirements on the web guiding or the surface and print inspection, for example. BST eltromat meets these requirements in part with adjusted web guiding systems, sensors and inspection systems.
The right support in the fastest way
User-friendliness is one of the most essential criteria that determines the suitability of production systems for Industry 4.0. With its important innovations, BST eltromat has been constantly raising the bar for quality assurance from one decade to the next in terms of ease of use. Consider the intuitive touch-screen displays on the controllers of its web guiding systems. These are widely thought of as the market standard for both convenience and safety. Even so, there are always new ways to make life even easier for machine operators. Sometimes all it takes is a relatively simple idea that just has to be implemented intelligently.
For example, BST eltromat now incorporates two-dimensional QR codes into the user interface of its new products. These can be scanned by machine operators using smartphones for direct access to the digital system operating instructions and setup videos. This information is also available on the company website. The corresponding pages of the digital operating instructions open immediately, depending on where in the menu the machine operators scan the codes. The intelligent application also uses the system settings of the mobile device to automatically detect which language version to launch. What’s even better is that machine operators do not need a special app or software to swiftly access straightforward answers to their questions. All they need is a QR code scanner on their mobile device. BST eltromat is here using standard technology to make its quality assurance systems even easier for its customers to use. This is another example of how the company considers the process as a whole and makes full use of the technical possibilities now available for the benefit of its customers.