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Is Industry 4.0 a revolution or an evolution for printing?

Is Industry 4.0 a revolution or an evolution for printing?

The global print manufacturing industry continues to transform since starting to go digital over 30 years ago. Not only has printing become more sophisticated and output quality improved, printing infrastructure has become more advanced, capable of complex operations and levels of flexibility that would have been unimaginable in the late 1980s.

And it’s not just about the physical printing side, print operators are looking into more innovative ways to cure inks, to allow for new applications and the use of different substrate materials, whilst saving money on energy and reducing waste materials. Ever rising competition in the marketplace and increasing pressure from consumers for greater sustainability are also forcing organizations across the globe to rethink their approach.

One of the most important developments we’ve seen in recent history is the introduction of smart technologies into the workplace, facilitated by the Internet of Things (IoT). Despite initially gaining traction in the consumer and automotive markets, manufacturing (and specifically the print industry), has recently been taking steps to implement Industrial IoT technologies into new and existing operations, heralding the start of an industrywide evolution towards “Industry 4.0”.

How exactly did we get to Industry 4.0?

The first Industrial Revolution took place between 1760 and 1840 and famously brought mechanization into widespread industrial use, mainly through water and steam power. The second, came nearer to the end of the 19th Century and was termed the Technological Revolution, characterized by assembly lines and mass production powered by electricity.

The third stage was the one we all grew up in, featuring computers and (now) basic levels of automation that expanded our capabilities further than ever before. But the fourth industrial revolution is set to be the most significant and exciting yet. With help from cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing and cognitive computing – all of which reduce the need for human decision making and even on-site computing infrastructure – Industry 4.0 will take printing into a whole new era of smart manufacturing.

Many will ask, why would an industry which is already largely automated, need greater computation capabilities and smart-automation? The answer is simple and threefold: efficiency, flexibility and profitability. With today’s smart technologies it’s possible to pre-programme highly complex printing runs into the production line, enabling the completion of smaller batches of different designs and product specifications in quick succession without disruption and very little supervision.

Smart sensors can provide additional benefits by controlling energy input and monitoring wastage. Whilst this is obviously good for the bottom line, it’s also incredibly beneficial to the environment and allows industrial manufacturers to considerably boost the sustainability of their operations.

So what does this next phase entail for print manufacturers?  

In short, most printers will have to undergo significant transformation to realize the full benefits of Industry 4.0 – not just in terms of production methods, but also strategy and policy.

With environmental concerns growing year on year, printing businesses were previously weighing the costs of using heat and chemical treatments to cure their products. With smarter, cleaner curing technologies, these businesses can achieve a smaller operational footprint with the added advantage of lower running costs.

Another important consideration, is the rising global skills gap – where rapid technological advancements have led to a shortage of candidates with the required knowledge to operate sophisticated machinery. Smarter solutions, such as print-lines enhanced by IoT functionality can remove the need for experts on the ground, enabling manufacturers to simplify production. This has never been more essential, as demand is rising for evermore complex finishing such as personalized packaging, which requires the management of huge data files as part of the production process.

Where does ebeam Technologies come in?

Our innovative ebeam solutions enable printing businesses to achieve many of these benefits. By harnessing the power of electrons, we provide safe, efficient and virtually instantaneous curing of inks and coatings on paper, film, paperboard, and metal, plus adhesives used in laminating paper, foil and film. As the process doesn’t rely on heat, the energy consumption is much lower than for other curing technologies and by eliminating the need for many of the chemicals associated with other print curing processes, waste management is also reduced. Though some might be tempted to call it green technology, we actually prefer to describe it as blue technology. While green technology comes with trade-offs (i.e. it’s usually more expensive or less productive), blue ebeam technology doesn’t.

This isn’t all. Our ebeam curing solutions come with sophisticated operating systems, capable of advanced programmable functionality to work in unison with modern printing presses utilising the latest IoT technologies. This ensures that printers can maintain simplicity and efficiency in their operations, whilst taking on ever more complex packaging print challenges to meet demand from their customers.

We believe that ebeam is already having a positive impact on the planet, considering the energy savings and waste reductions we’re passing on to our partners and customers. Over the next 10 years, we hope that broader adoption in the print industry will further reduce the strain on the Earth’s resources and promote sustainability alongside innovation at the heart of modern packaging manufacturing.

For more information about how ebeam Technologies is driving positive change in the print industry for brand owners, designers, and R&D professionals, read Elsa Callini’s SlideShare.

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