Vision Technology Creates Breakthrough In The Printing Industry
In just a few years, Danish REFINE Finishing has created a secure position among the world’s leading suppliers of machines that convert digitally printed labels. The machines are equipped with new automation technologies from Beckhoff Automation and deliver the highest speeds, highest precision, and minimal waste. Even the smallest batches of multilayer labels can now be produced on-demand.
REFINE’s first finishing machine with built-in vision technology is ready for shipment to an industrial company in the Netherlands. The machine is compact and made of aluminum, the design is simple and elegant, and there are almost no handles or buttons anywhere. The machine is primarily controlled via a touch screen.
The machine is designed and developed to handle all finishing processes of digitally printed multilayer labels. At the highest speeds, with the highest precision, and with the least possible waste through high degrees of automation.
“This machine is the Tesla of the printing industry. We have equipped it with all the best from the automation and software world, and it is proof that Industry 4.0 can now be achieved in the printing industry – and offers great benefits. It is especially considerations such as sustainability and environmental awareness, as well as reduction of waste costs, that drive the market for intelligent printing machines,” says Bjarke Gerdes-Nielsen, CTO and Founder of REFINE Finishing.
REFINE Finishing was established in 2013 and today, Nilpeter, which produces label printing presses, is its main shareholder. The two companies complement each other with machines that handle all processes related to digital printing and finishing. REFINE Finishing exports more than 95% of its machines outside Danish borders and is represented in Europe, the USA, and Asia. Primary target groups are the pharmaceutical, chemical, and food industries, where there is increasing growth primarily in short production series of labels as well as special solutions such as multi-layer labels.
Quick changeovers and quick start-up
The printing industry has gone through quite a revolution. More software in the machines and a higher degree of automation enables profitable small/short-run orders through tailored production adapted to suit the need for fast delivery and high quality. It reduces the need for storage capacity and month-long planning.
With the latest technology, highest speed, and precision, the fully automated finishing machine optimizes the workflow for customers. Where they once had to order series of for example 1 million labels for six months, they can now divide the series into several, smaller portions, and just plan a few weeks ahead. Delivery time can often be reduced to 24 hours. Fast changeovers, fast start-up, and small order sizes shorten the warehousing period and create great flexibility and less waste.
“Production start-up time can take just a few hours rather than several days, so there is a lot of time to save. The technologies make it possible to streamline the supply chain. In addition, the machine typically reduces paper waste by a factor of 100 – from approx. 100 meters to 1 meter. In small production series, it is crucial that the waste percentage remains low. The machine must be competitive on all parameters and make it significantly easier, faster, and cost-saving to complete and convert labels,” says Bjarke Gerdes-Nielsen.
Furthermore, all functions are controlled via a touch screen or tablet. All you have to do is specify the type of job you want to run. Then the machine automatically knows what it needs. The physical handles that used to be rotated and fine-tuned are now integrated into the control system.
“It eliminates user errors and creates a more uniform process. Handling of the machine is no longer dependent on the user. You cannot force anything that the machine has not been programmed to do, and you cannot overload the machine. Because everything is digitized, we can monitor and help with the control via remote access, online, and in real-time. It has created great value – especially in the COVID-19 era,” says Bjarke Gerdes-Nielsen.
The challenge with multi-layer labels is to get them placed exactly on top of each other. Dots on the paper rolls indicate how the layers should lie on top of each other, and with an integrated vision camera, the machine automatically corrects and verifies that all layers are placed correctly from the start.
All management takes place in a PC-based Windows environment, which makes it easier to program, link IoT data in Microsoft Azure, and connect all machines via the Internet so that REFINE Finishing can guide operators and remotely control the machines. With Object-Oriented Programming (OOP), REFINE Finishing has reduced the need for manual programming and control.
“We can tailor our machines completely to the needs of our customers, and that flexibility is crucial to our success,” he says.
Speed and accuracy in the DNA
REFINE Finishing has always had Beckhoff Automation as a supplier. There is a special reason for this, according to Bjarke Gerdes-Nielsen.
“I started REFINE Finishing because I wanted to develop machines based on intelligent software and IoT. Beckhoff’s philosophy goes hand in hand with ours, and they have been able to help throughout it all. The timing of Beckhoff’s systems is incredibly accurate compared to others. For example, the tolerance threshold is very low when we make multilayer labels. We can tolerate a maximum of 1/10 millimeter in tolerance, and Beckhoff’s systems live up to that. Furthermore, speed is essential. Our machine can handle 200 meters of paper per minute, while conventional finishing machines can handle 50 meters per minute with similar applications. Accuracy and speed are deeply engrained in Beckhoff’s DNA – and in ours,” he says.
High expectations for the global market
With machines represented at Nilpeter’s demo centers around the world, REFINE Finishing has a large entrance to the global market. And expectations are high.
“We are an absolute market leader when it comes to software, technology, and automation, and we look forward to strengthening our business in the coming years. With an innovative total supplier like Beckhoff behind us, we are equipped for the future. We can quickly integrate various new products and protocols into our modular machines. That flexibility is a huge advantage,” says Bjarke Gerdes-Nielsen.
Photo courtesy of Automatik & Proces. From left to right: Erik Behrend Snerle, Machine Engineer, REFINE Finishing, Bjarke Gerdes Nielsen, CTO & Founder, REFINE Finishing, and Rasmus Jensen, Application and Support Engineer, Beckhoff Automation.