FLEXO: How does the automatic plate maker enhance accuracy? Promote extended plate life? Position the converter for faster setups and changeovers?
FOX: Accuracy of the mounting process, when automated, is guaranteed. There is even an option for checking the actual mounted position afterward and creating quality reports that further add to traceability in the process. Removing the human part, where possible, will help converters move to the next level. And, when used in conjunction with today’s technology, the plate life extension (due to correct impression settings) and the huge savings in time and waste for the setup process are too high to be ignored.
TAYLOR: An automatic plate mounter is repeatable. It typically has a motor-based movement that will place the plate, every time, exactly where it was “trained” to do so. No one is asked to make a decision or perform adjustments during the mounting process. The operator trains the mounter what to look for—a microdot, crosshair or any specific mounting mark—and where to mount the plate, and the machine does it automatically. It results in faster, accurate setups and makereadies.
FLEXO: How does it simplify operation and ease the burden on the press operator?
TAYLOR: The accurate and repeatable perfect registration makes it easier to set the register when the sleeve is placed into the press. When that repeatable process is used in conjunction with a system, like ARun, there is no longer a manual burden on the press operator to set, or tell the press where to set register and impression. It is done automatically.
FOX: Automated plate mounting takes away the abundance of setup work that is an operator’s responsibility. Without the automatic register and impression capability, the operator would spend a lot of time and create a lot of waste that is eliminated with ARun and other technologies.
FLEXO: Can you comment on ROI?
FOX: It’s very quick. ROI is always important with any capital equipment purchase. With features like ARun and bounce-free technologies, the printer is able to run jobs faster and with much less waste, allowing that piece of equipment to pay for itself much faster and provide a much higher profit level.
TAYLOR: It is easy to make a case that a good, automatic mounter will offer a number of ways to pay back an investment. One automatic mounter typically can replace two to three manual machines. In many circumstances, the mounting staff can be cut in half. People can be allocated to other areas in the facility. An automatic mounting machine can reduce press time, which can deliver added capacity and faster completion of jobs. These factors, depending upon the size of a company, can easily result in savings of $200,000 on an annual basis.
FLEXO: How has the technology changed and improved since introduction of initial automatic plate mounters? What future developments are likely? When can we expect to see them?
TAYLOR: In the past 20 years, we have progressed from optical manual positioning of rubber plates by hand, to mounting photopolymer plates using microdots and multiple cameras, to a totally automated mount using the motorized movement of both cameras, and a plate table.
The future of automated mounting includes robotics, where not only will the mount be automated with a robotic arm, but also the manipulation of sleeves, adapters, plates—and even the application of stickyback—will be done within a work cell with no human interaction, except for the loading of carts into the correct position. It’s not too far away, as some companies are already showing this technology.
FOX: As with all technologies, since the initial introduction, the overall quality and especially speed of automatic plate mounting has improved greatly. Customer ERP interface connections are now standard to further enhance workflow. We are sure that QR code (or similar principle) checking through the whole process—from origination to packet—will become standard in the industry, as will automation to handle plates and sleeves automatically and even apply tape, remove tape and wash plates without operator input. Closing the loop in terms of traceability, automatic mounting checks with quality reports, the use of ARun to eliminate setup waste and time, and automation to handle the various workflow steps are technologies that have been in use for the last two to three years. Their adoption is likely to become more widespread as converters seek to improve quality and reduce costs. In the end, the whole process must be evaluated from origination to packet!
FLEXO: Relaxing our non-commercialism policy—Please provide a description of ARun and S-Mount.
FOX: ARun provides offline setup combined with advanced press technology to eliminate waste and time. The offline component of this process is best combined with the plate mounting process that the majority of the flexographic industry still uses. After a simple register setting step in the mounter, and a scan of the topology of the plate surface, the pre-mounted sleeve data is then transferred to the press—normally via RFID technology—where the print units are moved to the exact calculated print position, resulting in instant correct impression and register as the machine starts to print. ARun is a combination of different processes that all result in automatic impression and register being set on the press.
TAYLOR: SOMA responded to increasing demands for productivity, short runs and greater accuracy with our next-generation S-Mount plate mounter. The S-Mount is one piece of equipment with different levels of automation. You can invest in a plate mounter for manual plate mounting and, as your business grows, upgrade to automation. The ARun automatic registration and impression setting system is offered as an option on all S-Mount levels.
During development, we focused on maximum, efficient use of operator time—and it can take as little as 45 seconds per plate. When mounting plates automatically, the operator can prepare additional plates, tape or create a recipe of job specifications for a new job. The unique, convenient, manual mounting of tape is possible directly on the fully automatic plate mounter, delivering more flexibility to the entire process.
Use of new optics and high-resolution cameras expands the use of automatic mounting inspection, letting operators check the accuracy of mounting. All measured data is compared with permitted tolerances, to ensure that every plate is mounted correctly. S-Mount is connected to SOMA’s S-Cloud Solution. The connection to the SOMA Optima press ensures the easy transfer of job recipe data, offering advantages that are unique in the market.
S-Mount-A (Automatic) and S-Mount-FA (Fully Automatic) can replace two or three conventional plate mounters. S-Mount can mount plates for machines with different core diameters and sleeve widths, and adapts to different print setting systems (ARun, GPS, Easy-Reg).