How the printing industry integrates robotics

Paper Handling
Screenshot from YouTube video of Yaskawa

Some might think that the printing industry is a dying industry since everything has gone virtual. Magazine articles, news articles, even research are all accessible through online platforms. So if you look at it from that angle, printing seems to be facing a very bleak future.

But if you look at it from the point of view of packaging and labeling, then printing has a very bright future. Packaging is still a staple for almost all products, whether sold online or in physical stores, and no one expects that to be phased out soon.

According to statistics, 81% of consumers try new products because the packaging caught their eye. And then 63% of consumers purchase a product again because of the packaging. So with these statistics, we can see the role packaging plays in brand recognition and the role the printing industry plays in this process.

printing

So how exactly can we automate certain parts of the printing process? Let’s find out!

Processes where robots are integrated

1. Paper Handling

Paper Handling
Screenshot from YouTube video of Yaskawa

When you consider all the steps involved, paper handling can seem a tedious process.

First, paper comes in all shapes, sizes, weights, etc. And because of this, requirements and specifications per request will differ.

For example, let’s look at what’s involved in printing for creatively designed portfolios and folder envelopes. A company will usually have these envelopes customized for branding, as well as establishing a corporate identity. They are a valuable part of any marketing strategy and a worthwhile investment.

The paper needed for these types of envelopes is usually glossy and has a 140 – 180gsm. For handling, operators will need all the printing specifications to input the correct settings into the machine. They will need to stay mindful of the temperature and humidity of the room as it will affect the paper quality and printing process.

Generally, the printed material comes on pallets. A worker will need to pick up the sheets, separate them, and aerate.

With the integration of robots, automation of this process is now possible. Double robotic arms pick up small sections of sheets and then bend the stack to ensure page separation. The arms then raise, maneuver, and place the sheets for aeration. Here is a video of the complete process to help you visualize how it happens.

Paper Handling
Screenshot from YouTube video of Yaskawa

As each paper batch can have its own specifications, robots will need to be as careful as manual operators in handling these different batches.

The settings for the robot, and arms, are customized to accommodate the specific specs. A robot’s ability to adhere to these specs ensures that the paper batch remains free of flaws during handling, separation, and aeration.

2. Palletizing

Palletizing
Screenshot from YouTube video of Yaskawa

As a part of the printing process, the paper will move from one station to another. This paper is usually in large bulk quantities because orders often include hundreds of thousands of pieces of paper. These bulk sections are placed on top of wooden pallets for transportation.

Palletizing

Palletizing is the process of stacking products on a pallet optimally for transportation. When done manually, this process can be slow and labor-intensive.

Manual palletizing depends too much on an employee’s physical strength and the specifications for the paper batch, including size and weight.

It can often require more than one employee to complete and is prone to human error. It can cause injury or lead to pallet instability and potential damages. At the least, any of these scenarios will slow down production and require additional manpower to correct.

Robots have been integrated into this process to make it more efficient. Robot arms can handle more weight, move faster, and pack more pallets with greater precision.

3. Packing and Unpacking of Paper

Packing

Printed materials are usually packaged per the specifications requested by the client. When done manually, a line of operators will segregate the materials and pack them.

Robotic arms can do this with more speed and accuracy. They take the paper from the production line and insert the batch into the boxes for packaging. They can even use tape to seal the box and get it ready for shipping.

Alternatively, these robotic arms can take the materials out of the boxes and set aside the packaging. Programmed to follow specifications, robotic arms will seamlessly execute a new set of specs.

Pros of Integration of Robots

1. Reduced Labor Cost

Since robots don’t get a paycheck, integrating robots in the printing process will help reduce payroll. There will be no holiday pay or paid sick leave either!

2. Better Consistency

Through the programming of robots and the automation of the printing process, you can expect consistent results every time. Employees can experience fatigue after a long day, and consistency in results can go down. Robots won’t fatigue, maintaining high-quality results.

3. Better Productivity

Robots work faster than their human counterparts. And robots won’t take lunch breaks or days off. They can function 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays.

4. Safer Processes

Since some processes are inherently dangerous, robots can take the risk rather than humans. Operators can observe and regulate the performance of the robots from a safe distance, so there is no need to get too close.

Cons of Integration of Robots

1. Expensive Initial Investment

Robots can be an expensive investment. They’re costly to manufacture and program, so installing the equipment will take a large initial investment.

2. Specific Needs

Robots will require specific replacement parts for maintenance and repairs. They also need specially trained professionals who can assess problems and make the repairs. These professionals are difficult to come by, and their services will not come cheap.

3. Maintenance

As much as robots reduce the cost of labor, they’re expensive to maintain. You will need special tools and specialized professionals to do it. As neither of these may be readily available, it can cost you.

Key takeaway

We are currently in the 4th Industrial Revolution. Big data, nanotechnology, quantum computers, automation, and robotics have come into their own. Some industries are leading in these developing technologies, and some are falling behind. For any industry to remain relevant, it will have to do more than keep up with the changes.

The printing industry is a fairly technologically advanced industry compared to some. There have been recent improvements in the way we print on new and varied materials. And the next upgrade this industry needs is automating monotonous tasks and increasing productivity.

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