By Cassandra Balentine
Part 1 of 2
As technology advances, equipment becomes more user friendly. Further, options for automation increase. While print providers are accustom to certain bells and whistles on printing equipment, these features are also becoming more prevalent on the latest in finishing solutions as well.
Advanced features of wide format laminators include “smart functionality,” like microprocessing and sensors that provide operator feedback, as well as intuitive control panels, automatic calibration, programmable memory, dual feeding, and automatic film tension. These functions are designed to reduce errors, improve efficiency, and add value within the lamination process.
Advanced functionality has been around for a long time, incorporating automation, integration, and even business intelligence and artificial intelligence.
Mitchell Noble, marketing consultant, Graphic Finishing Partners, LLC, points out there is increased development in lamination technology aimed at providing more accurate and repeatable adjustments and measurement of the key machine functions. “For example, pneumatic or electronic roller gap and pressure settings. But once all the basic functions can be controlled by electronics, the next step is to incorporate sensors so the machine can recognize given parameters and warn the operator or, the ultimate condition, make those adjustments on the fly,” he shares.
The goal is to simplify the lamination process while drastically cutting back on waste and the need to re-print, offers Frank Romanello, VP of sales, Kala Finishing Systems.
Beyond a functional laminator that helps reduce operator errors, improves efficiency, and adds value, Frank Wu, marketing manager, Eastsign International Ltd., feels the equipment should also be equipped to match different print materials and faster printing speeds, all while providing more value in finishing area.
Tony Caruso, regional sales manager, Advanced Greig Laminators (AGL) warns print service providers (PSPs) against getting mislead by smart-looking features like servo monitors, a robotic-looking drive system, and touch screen displays. While these may look the part, he says to bear in mind that this is equipment designed to be utilized in the manufacturing of a wide variety of graphics in a potentially harsh environment where they will not be handled gently. “A quality laminator will stand the test of time and outlast several printer lifecycles,” he says.
He adds that a quality laminator is a mechanical beast. “It’s not about processor speed, dpi, RAM, or picoliter droplets,” he stresses. Laminator designed without a crown in the rollers will result in heavier, larger diameter rollers, which can weigh more than an entire, lesser quality laminator. Caruso explains that smaller diameter, lighter weight rollers may not provide the pressure needed for effective laminating and mounting. However, larger rollers will require a more powerful motor to drive them and heavy-duty pneumatic controls to effectively operate them.
There are several advanced features emerging on wide format laminators.
Noble questions functionally at the most basic level, asking why do machines still have knobs and buttons? “Most functions today can be controlled by digital displays. Once you incorporate a microprocessor for these operations a world of other opportunities opens up for things like onboard operator training tutorials and fine tuning of operational adjustments and settings. By adding sensors to provide operating feedback, digital operation is taken to the next level beyond settings and adjustments to intuitive operation and control,” shares Noble.
Additionally, as printers keep getting faster and support more variety in terms of inks and media, Wu points out that this means laminators must provide better performance to meet these increased productivity demands.
Another advanced feature worth noting is air shafts. “Many high-production shops have them on their high-end printers for frequent, easy changing of roll materials and the same can be added to certain laminators. This allows frequent roll changes and makes roll-to-roll applications quick and easy,” says Caruso.
Inline slitters provide a good option for trimming off the edges on the fly. “Working closely with printer manufacturers, we developed an aftermarket take-up system using the Kala shaft from our laminators, this cuts back on material handling and allows the operator to go from printer to laminator without the need to load the roll of prints onto a shaft,” offers Romanello.
Automatic film tension control is another feature available on some of the latest laminators. “No more monitoring tension as a roll of laminate winds down to an empty core. With auto tension just set it and forget it,” explains Caruso.
“Many laminators are designed to perform unsupervised roll-to-roll applications and only require one operator to set it up,” adds Romanello. “Our patented auto calibration system assures perfect tracking and clean flush edges making it easier to be processed through XY cutters or cutting tables.”
Automation is increasingly important and expected.
Features like inline slitters and self-adjusting rewind/take-up shafts are especially poised for automation, according to Romanello.
Noble says the technology exists today, for example, to control and manage things like web tension, web alignment, dynamic electronic braking, XY cutting, automatic threading, and surface moisture detection. “It is just a matter of how to incorporate the right sensors to provide the machine feedback. But the bigger issue is the cost-to-benefit ratio. How many of these features are consumers willing to pay for and how many are not worth the added machine expense? Determining that is the harder task.”
PSPs are always looking to reduce errors, improve efficiency, reduce turnaround times, and increase productivity.
Wu sees requirements from PSPs and customers changing with demands for more efficiency and value-added products.
It’s more than just operators wanting to make lamination easier and the results more repeatable, today’s operators are more computer or digitally oriented,” says Noble. “They come from the world of digital interaction and machine orientation. Most laminator operators are comfortable running digital printers and so look for that same level of digital orientation in their finishing equipment.”
“Printers ideally would like to print one to laminate one. Sometimes a printer must print two or more to laminate one because the operator needs to determine the proper settings of the laminator to achieve the desired results. Printers are always looking for more efficient solutions to increase productivity and reduce costs,” adds Caruso.
Romanello believes the latest demands are driven by big print shops using job tickets to track the production status of each project as well as the need to streamline the process at each stage of production.
Advanced finishing features encompass a variety of categories. However, next-generation, smart functions continue to emerge.
Adding smart functions to laminators is an emerging trend, driven by the demand from digitally savvy operators. “People recognize the benefits and necessity for finishing and lamination in particular, they just want it to work like their printer. Automation is a hard one, because printing is so slow. Attaching a laminator inline to a printer makes no sense because the laminator would spend most of its time sitting idle waiting for more prints. What does make sense is automating or making the next step inline seamless. XY oriented cutters are not new technology, just have not been incorporated into the lamination process in a way that makes sense and is cost effective,” explains Noble.
Romanello says although numerous smart functions were introduced over ten years ago, he still would consider them more of an emerging feature.
Caruso believes this degree of automation and volume has emerged over the last three to five years. “The number of companies requiring these features is steadily growing.”
“Based on the technology and customer demand, such smart functions are not emerging, they are becoming more common features,” adds Wu.
Laminators are an important tool for wide format print providers. While these machines function well with manual settings, automation and smart functions emerge to make the process even simpler, faster, and more efficient.
Jul2021, Digital Output