The new digital printing challenge: materials handling and overall process optimisation
Once upon a time in the printing industry when wide-format inkjet printing was king, the main challenges that printers faced were related to limitations placed on the actual printing process and what the technology could handle. These days, with advances in digital technologies leading to faster print and processing speeds and higher printing quality, printing poses less of a challenge whereas handling materials and optimising the overall printing process are where the new difficulties lie.
How can printers overcome these new challenges?
Many companies are now favouring roll-to-roll printing over flatbeds as they allow for greater output from being able to continually produce materials rather than having to interrupt the process for loading and unloading. Using this roll-to-roll system, you will still have to stop production to change rolls, but grouping jobs based on the substrate being used will help to maximise productivity and overcome this problem.
Whether or not you utilise automated sheet handling will also have a great effect on fully optimising your processes. Automation can help to speed up processes and reduce the amount of involvement from operators needed in the process, but it depends on the variation in jobs you are completing, what materials are being used or the quality of print required. If you always print materials on the same substrate, then full automation would make sense as you can let the process continue without having to change substrates. On the other hand, if you regularly have to change substrates, semi-automated equipment may be more suitable, as the time taken to adjust the equipment to change the substrate will counteract the time-efficient nature of automated equipment.
It will have to be a case of tailoring your equipment to your own, individual processes and requirements. For some companies it might make sense to have machines with varying levels of automation that can handle different jobs, or using equipment that is flexible enough to manage different types of work.
Another way of reducing these limitations is by looking at the cutting tables rather than the printing process itself; as printing equipment continues to improve and become faster, the cutting tools are not developing at the same rate and are therefore struggling to keep up with the demand. Automated post-press equipment may be the key to optimising your processes by reducing cutting and handling time.
Printers and vendors must continually keep up with the advancing technology and come up with new ways to optimise all of their processes in order to overcome any limitations.