by Cassandra Balentine
Automation software helps improve efficiency and productivity. This is especially important as demands for customized, shorter runs grow and the use of digital printing and finishing tools are utilized more often. Automation tools that focus on the business management end, as well as solutions that focus on production are in demand. Solutions specific to a segment—like textiles—are available, while others cater to a wider audience.
Specific to textiles, automation software offers the ability to automate job submission through production; gang and nest jobs; easily set up options like page size, rotation, and step-and-repeat; add registration and finishing marks as well as cut paths; apply automated color management controls; provide secure storage and asset management; enable customer access, on-site production, RIP, collage, and print; secure job delivery; as well as online feedback and live management. Further, API integration allows for added automation and functionally.
Depending on a manufacturer’s unique workflow, every textile printing application requires its own automation capabilities, which Arnaud Fabre, head of product, Caldera, points out can be achieved by the right software ecosystem. For example, he says fashion applications usually consist of long runs and pattern repetition where color matching expectations are high. These cases benefit from color management automation.
When proofing big textile presses with digital printers, automation is used to quicken and improve the color matching process. Soft signage applications benefit from finishing automation capabilities. And finally, nesting is a must-have for apparel applications like sportswear.
The textile printing industry is competitive and price sensitive, making automation especially important. With digital printing and finishing capabilities, manufacturers see advantages in the form of relatively low set up costs and time. It also allows for automation of many of the prepress and RIPing functions. “For example, when printing a repeating pattern that may be hundreds of yards long, automation speeds up the time needed to generate the file or instructions for the repeat,” explains Mike Syverson, textile manager, Durst North America.
The ability to facilitate customization is also essential. “Part of the core value of digital textile printing is delivering personalized short runs at an affordable price. Many of these customized jobs originate online. Thus, one of the most important core elements of automation for textile printing is linking the online order information from the ecommerce front end or web shop directly to the printer without any room for human error and in a completely touchless way,” says Chris Des Biens, business unit manager – North America, ErgoSoft.
Trends in Textiles
Several trends are apparent when it comes to textile printing in a manufacturing setting, many benefit from or are focused on automation and optimization.
According to Simon Landau, director global strategic partners, PrintFactory, these trends include shorter production runs; multiple production sites; the emergence of microfactories; the need for more integration; demand for faster and more affordable samples and prototypes, a wider substrate range and textures; consumer preference towards bespoke printed fabric; and the desire for reduced waste and unused meterage.
Many textile printers expand their portfolio of products from traditional printed yardage to shorter run, ecommerce models. “The ecommerce model lends itself well to automation as there is a higher quantity of shorter run jobs. The bonus is the traditional work also benefits from this process as well, especially on the prepress and print side,” adds Syverson.
In the future, Fabre sees continued interest in new custom production methods, small digital series, fashion, and the possibility of outsourced production. “Because of COVID-19’s recent history, the need to refocus on local industry is not only an ecological concern but also an economically viable idea,” he says.
“Some of the newest features include spot color management. Layout sizing templates are increasingly seen in the sportswear sector, as well as repeating patterns and shape nesting, which is important for cutting down on material waste,” shares Jeremy Pilcher, textile solutions architect, large format, HP Inc.
Beatrice Drury, marketing manager, Zund America, Inc., notes pattern-matching, better nesting algorithms, flaw detection, and a general move towards greater ease of operation as additional trends in textile printing and finishing. “More software solutions are migrating to software as a service, which can offer even greater options for system integration and data-driven functionalities.”
Jonathan Rogers, international marketing manager, Onyx Graphics, Inc., points to the need for solutions to help print businesses automate and improve internal efficiencies. “In addition, especially in light of COVID-19, print businesses have needed solutions that are fast, reliable, and simple to use.”
Implementing automation brings increased efficiency, reduced errors, lower ink consumption, smarter job preparation, and easier training.
“The primary benefits to using automation are rooted in improving business processes that impact profitability. Print businesses who can save time during production, reduce manual error, and increase capacity to do more with less with a few automation controls are well situated to impact their bottom line,” says Rogers.
“The benefits of automated software in textiles are similar to other industries. Automating processes reduces cost by removing manual operations, minimizing errors, and increasing efficiency. Additionally, many companies see a substantial reduction in overall labor cost by using software solutions to automate many processes. This also has the benefit of increased production volume and gains in overall throughput,” comments Syverson.
Drury feels the main benefits from the best automated software and digital production workflows maximize material yield through sophisticated automatic nesting functions, reducing the labor involved in file preparation and running production, and true-to-size cutting with greater accuracy and less waste.
Finding the Best Solution
While Pilcher feels that the most important way to determine the best solution is to assess demand and how many jobs you will be processing, he says it is also about understanding what is needed at each stage of the process. “For example, what kind of cut marks or what date is required? One must determine if any further features such as shipping data, reporting, or dashboard visibility are needed,” he suggests.
“Every case is unique, so we usually start every big project by asking questions about the way operators interact with each other during production and how equipment is organized on the production site. This leads to diagrams to have a better view of the whole process, which helps us to map appropriate solutions to resolve pain points,” agrees Fabre.
An in-depth discovery process, through conversation with the customer—preferably at the customer site—followed by test cutting and a virtual or in-person demonstration, is essential. “Every customer’s needs and expectations are different, so from the customer’s standpoint, opting for a modular, highly customizable solution is by far the best bet,” adds Drury.
Kris Berghs, product marketing manager, Summa NV, stresses that change does not happen overnight. “It is all about connecting several solutions, to one individual customized process. Evaluate your current processes and define your goals. Then cut the process into manageable parts. Workflow automation isn’t difficult. Successful implementations are split and are done step by step. It is important to make sure everyone in the organization is following.”
Everyone wants to increase efficiency and productivity, but it is an investment in many resources to make it happen. However, as production becomes increasingly custom and complex, automation is essential. IPM
Apr2022, Industrial Print Magazine