Acute labor shortage, intense competition, and cost pressures are particularly acute in print finishing.

HEIDELBERG is countering this with automation and robotic solutions.

It's early Monday morning in a print shop: orders are being processed one by one, prepress and pressroom are already working at full speed. A good start to the week, one might think. However, two sick leaves have just been reported in the post-press team - a team already small in number and where it's increasingly difficult to find personnel due to physically demanding tasks. Suddenly, it's no longer entirely certain that the deadlines promised to clients can be met. The production manager feels the pressure mounting and starts cursing under his breath...

This is how days typically start in many print shops nowadays. Postpress production often acts as a bottleneck due to insufficient automation, while high competition and cost pressures, along with rising energy and raw material prices, add strain on margins.

Automation across the entire value chain

Aware of the challenges facing printing houses, HEIDELBERG has developed tailored solutions. "The key lies in automating processes across the entire value chain," explains Stefan Dettke, Head of Products and Markets for Commercial Postpress at HEIDELBERG. On one hand, this addresses labor shortages by enabling offset and folding machines to operate autonomously at a high level with minimal personnel. On the other hand, the performance potential of folding machines can be utilised in postpress by leaving physically demanding work to robotics. "Indeed, a highly automated HEIDELBERG folder can produce up to seven tons of output per workstation - not an easy feat for a single operator," adds Dettke.

That's why HEIDELBERG has extended the proven Push to Stop concept from Speedmaster presses to many Stahlfolder folder models. The result: Several signatures or jobs with identical formats and folding schemes can be processed from the same stack - without interrupting production. Manual intervention in the process is thus avoided. The operator can concentrate on quality control, reducing the risk of errors due to incorrect handling.

Folding machines in Stahlfolder's Peak Performance class, such as the Stahlfolder TH/KH 82-P are able to guide the sheets through the folding system in shingled form. "Compared to single sheet processing, this results in a productivity increase of fifty per cent and more," says Dettke. This high output must be removed at the delivery and placed on pallets. It is physically demanding work, which also has a negative impact on the attractiveness of the workplace.

The StackStar P from HEIDELBERG, formerly known as "P-Stacker", provides a solution to this problem. This industrial robot handles heavy workloads and guarantees maximum productivity with consistent performance. StackStar P places a package on the pallet every twelve seconds, up to 300 per hour.

The robot's turning function allows the parcels to be placed with the first side facing down or up. The signatures are always correctly aligned on the pallet for further processing on a saddle stitcher or perfect binder. The StackStar P can be integrated into end-to-end production via the Push-to-Stop concept; the packets are placed on the pallet separately according to signatures.

More about the StackStar P robot

Drupa innovations for postpress to combat labor shortages in the post-press sector

At drupa 2024, HEIDELBERG will also be presenting the StackStar C - a mobile, coexistent robot for automatic unloading of product stacks in postpress production.

Mobile, the StackStar C can be moved easily between different machines. The robot operates at an angle of 180°, and can deposit signatures alternately on two pallets located to the left and right of the robot arm. Among other things, this enables continuous operation. The StackStar C operates in coexistence, ensuring safe working between humans and the robotic system thanks to an innovative safety concept. No safety fencing is required. What's more, quality control is possible without interrupting production. By using two StackStar C working in tandem, production capacity can be doubled. Different unloading patterns and pallet sizes can be selected intuitively on the control terminal.

With the new StackStar C, HEIDELBERG also offers a robotic solution for the performance and medium-run segment, relieving staff of heavy physical work and effectively addressing the problem of labor shortages in printshops.

Discover StackStar C

The second generation of the highly automated Stahlfolder TH 82-P pocket folding machine will also be making its debut at drupa. The Peak Performance folding system features a new design and a simplified operating concept.

Thanks to optimized folding geometry in the first folding station and improved sheet transport, the machine is still ten percent more productive than current technologies. Net performance is further enhanced by the ejection of defective sheets after the first folding station. A technical overhaul of the second and third folding stations reduces manual intervention during format and paper changeovers, thus speeding up set-up times.

The user interface on the control terminal of the Stahlfolder TH 82-P is based on the design of the latest generation Speedmaster XL 106, which will also make its debut at drupa 2024. A "Smartlight" integrated into the folding machine's control box informs the operator of the machine's current status (production, configuration, malfunction) and guides him to the next steps requiring intervention.

Automation: offset printing and post-press now on an equal footing

Thanks to these highly automated processes, HEIDELBERG has achieved a 1:1 ratio between Speedmaster XL technology and postpress: what a Speedmaster XL 75 or XL 106 produces can be taken over by a folding machine. While the folding system works autonomously from flat sheet to deposited package, the operator monitors production and prepares subsequent orders. "As practice shows, one person is enough to operate up to three Peak Performance folding machines equipped with the StackStar P," says Dettke.

The industrial robot has therefore now established itself on the market. Numerous customers in the USA, Europe and Asia have invested in the technology to date. In addition to the StackStar P, HEIDELBERG is also planning further automation systems for folding machines in the entry-level range.

The aim is to harmonize workflow throughout the entire production process. Further process automation and robotics will further reduce manual touch points and enable even more cost-effective production than before - also reducing stress levels for production management in printing plants.

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