How Augmented Reality Helps Diagnose and Fix Flexographic Press Problems

Like the rest of the graphic arts industry, the flexographic market is changing more rapidly than ever before.

Top of mind for every flexographic printer is sustainability. As more consumers start to realize what they purchase in packages has a direct impact on the environment, these consumers become more conscious of their decisions and make demands on the packaging suppliers.

Sustainability leads us to another top trend: substrates. Your customers are already asking to print on a variety of substrates, such as corrugated, paper, foil and plastic films. Plus, your customers are now asking you to offer more sustainable flexible packaging, incorporating biodegradable substrates, recycled materials, water-based inks, and eco-friendly coatings and adhesives. These will test you, your operators and your presses.

Koenig & Bauer Vilchez D_29896-0437
Use of remote maintenance technology provides a fast and simple solution to 80+ percent of service calls. A service specialist utilizing AR-DataGlass Remote Support can follow exactly what a local technician can see in real time. Troubleshooting is greatly simplified and the important productive time of the printing press is increased accordingly.
All photos courtesy of Koenig & Bauer

But one of the most keenly felt problems that you are tackling today is the need for skilled labor to operate your flexographic presses. Even as presses are becoming much easier to use and more automated, we’re still on the hunt for more skilled workers. As the older generation of flexographic printing operators retire, we need to fill their shoes with experts who can assess product quality and quickly troubleshoot problems.

Savings & Simplicity

Press manufacturers—like Koenig & Bauer, which added Flexotecnica to its portfolio nearly 10 years ago—have been growing business with new technology, evident in its high-performance, compact central impression (CI) flexographic press, the Evo XC. Presses like the XC can come in eight and 10 colors, with the smallest footprints in the industry, and offer a maximum repeat length of up to 33-in. and printing speeds up to 1,640 fpm. They are designed for newcomers as well as experienced printers who want to enter the CI flexographic market in a budget-friendly way.

These presses enable efficient printing with environment-friendly water-based inks, both on paper and plastic films. They are aimed at flexible packaging printers who are seeking a space-saving solution and considerable energy savings at the same time. Such a small-sized machine can be an additional press to an existing wide web machine converter in order to achieve a new level of cost-efficiency.

Full Capacity

One of the most pressing problems in today’s fast-paced world is the need to keep a flexographic press up and running at full capacity. This is a serious problem printers face. Usually, the most difficult part of getting a flexographic press fixed is figuring out the main cause for the disruption. Sometimes, finding one faulty indication will lead to finding a host of other potential issues that will hurt printing quality. What’s even more worrisome is that an aggravating problem can turn into a potentially expensive issue down the road.

When a service technician cannot get to your facility quickly, or the parts you need are taking longer to receive than expected, there’s a better, faster solution. Real-time service support is one of the premium methods offered by some press manufacturers. These companies have developed their own remote maintenance and modern communication channels; in Koenig & Bauer’s case, that is known as Augmented Reality-DataGlass Remote Support, for which the company received a 2019 FTA Technical Innovation Award.

“Even as presses are becoming much easier to use and more automated, we’re still on the hunt for more skilled workers.”

Printers and their maintenance teams are finding modern remote maintenance techniques are a main priority and lending particular significance to their workflow. Flexographic printers who use remote maintenance quickly receive technical support through this cutting-edge technology.

A service hotline, like Koenig & Bauer’s PressSupport 24, can be accessible 24 hours a day to receive calls from customers. By providing this one-to-one conversation between the press manufacturer’s technical team and the customer, the collaborative effort is better able to help immediately diagnose the problem and get production up and running. No longer is there a need to wait a crucial few days for a technician to visit and diagnose the problem and its related costs.

But the biggest boost has been the augmented reality capabilities, in which a service specialist can follow exactly what a local technician can see, and in real time. In this way, troubleshooting is greatly simplified and the important productive time of the press is increased accordingly.

Through the use of remote maintenance technology, press manufacturers can provide a fast and simple solution to more than 80 percent of service calls—without any delays for a technician to visit the site in person. It’s been extremely popular with Koenig & Bauer’s flexographic customers.

Real-Time Remedies

Let’s dig a little deeper and describe what an AR support system really is. What can it do for you?

Every printer has been in this situation at one point or another:

  • You have a big job that needs to be delivered to an important customer
  • Your flexographic press isn’t running quite up to speed
  • Anxiety sets in
  • Your press specialists examine the problem but can’t find a quick remedy

With AR support, a manufacturer provides remote maintenance specialists to experience, in real time, what your technical team sees and hears. This is accomplished with the aid of an HD camera, headset and microphone. Trained specialists can offer targeted support and instruct you and your team, step by step, how to remedy the problem.

A remote support specialist can see and follow the actions of a press technician on site, live and in real time, while he or she works on the press, and see exactly what the technician is seeing. Technicians, from the factory, can share documents, diagrams and, in this way, lead the press operator toward a quick solution of the problem.

Koenig & Bauer Vilchez XC-hi-res
Koenig & Bauer’s high-performance compact CI flexographic press, the Evo XC, offers one of the smallest footprints in the industry.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what customers who are using AR-DataGlass have to say. Greg Gurewitz, CEO of Great American Packaging in Vernon, CA, leads a flexible packaging company that produces custom-printed flexible products. “We were especially won over by the cutting-edge support systems for maintenance and repair. The interactive AR-DataGlass allows our print operators to connect with a technician and give them a real-time view of our equipment.”

“AR-DataGlass technology has enabled us to increase our uptime and supports our goal of providing consistent, high-quality printing that our customers have come to rely on,” said Beth Smith, director of marketing at Great American Packaging. “We continue to grow our applications and further enhance our press’ total capabilities.”

Rossel Printing Co is a leading printer that has been utilizing the 24/7 augmented customer support for more than two years. Hugo Van Camp, head of department, electricians and maintenance technicians, reported, “Operating in the printing business with extremely tight production schedules, press uptime is a critical factor. Any fault or unplanned press downtime must be resolved within the shortest time possible. In such events, the audio-visual support technology by means of the AR-DataGlass has proven to be easy to use.”

He professes, “Reliable even in a harsh industrial environment, it allows our technicians to get our printing press back into production. The very contained cost of this advanced technological feature is in no comparison to the substantial economic benefit obtained by reduced press downtime.”

Productivity Tool

AR-DataGlass is a very powerful tool to reduce, or even avoid, press downtime, thereby providing customers much higher productivity, better response to the market and maintenance-related cost reductions.

In today’s competitive environment, customers depend on you to produce products in a seamless operation. Seeing into the future isn’t as nearly impossible as it seems. The only requirement is proactivity:

  • Learn about the pressroom workflows of tomorrow
  • Follow trends in the industry
  • Take the necessary steps to improve business
  • Seek out and invest in new technology that will keep operations up and running without interruption

Take action—You’ll be glad you did, and you’ll be staying ahead of the competition.

About the Author

headshot Daniel Vilchez
Daniel Vilchez, area sales director for both North America and Latin America at Koenig & Bauer, is responsible for sales and business development of the firm’s range of flexographic presses and its service support. Prior to joining Koenig & Bauer-Flexotecnica, Vilchez managed his own company, which he started at the age of 23. It worked with some of the biggest suppliers in the flexographic industry. Vilchez earned an executive M.B.A. from the IE Business School in Madrid.