Durst expands robotic automation

Durst has expanded its P5 range of large format printers with a new model and added more automation, including a preview of a new robotic system for loading and unloading media that opens up an interesting discussion on overall productivity.   

Most visitors to the Durst stand at Fespa came to see the new P5 Robotics option for the 350 HS printer for improving productivity with rigid media. This involves two robots either side of the printer, one for feeding and one for stacking printed jobs. Durst has opted for a six axis robotic arm for maximum flexibility. The robot can handle substrate stacks up to 1.8m in height but only takes boards up to 1.6m wide despite the 3.5m print width of the 350 HS. It can handle around 290 boards per hour assuming boards of 1.6 x 1.2m. 

The system includes an angled registration station on the side so the robot picks up the sheet from the stack, drops it onto the station and picks it up again, this time knowing exactly where the board is so that it can then place it in exactly the right position on the printer. Wolfgang Knotz, who heads up Durst’s development department, says that this mechanical approach to registration enables it to handle thin materials like foil paper as well as cardboard and is faster and more accurate than using a sensor. The robot itself is quite fast, shifting rapidly from one position to the next. It can also flip the sheets over for reverse printing. And the Durst engineers clearly had some fun for the show, programming the robot to ‘wave’ the boards to spectators!

Durst has chose to work with Kuka robots. Customers can specify a different robot vendor, and that might make sense if a customer already has some robotics and a service plan in place. But Durst expects that anyone starting from scratch will go with its recommendation, not least because Durst has negotiated a warranty based around a ten-year service life that should only require a single service per year. And as Knotz points out: “There are not so many robotic systems in the printing industry at the moment.”

Wolfgankg Knotz, head of Durst’s development department.

Knotz says that integrating robots into print production will always involve a degree of customisation as each customer has different needs. So the challenge for Durst was to come up with a more or less off the shelf integration service that could be customised around each installation and offer customers a better alternative than going to a third party integration company. He points out: “As a printer manufacturer we are able to make a major integration of the robotic system with higher accuracy, enabling higher speeds and productivity. Also we have a lot of knowledge of how to separate different substrates and with this know-how we think that we are able to integrate a robotic system better than a non-printer manufacturer.”

Knotz says: “We have to be cheaper than a third party integrator otherwise the customer will do it with them. So we have to have an advantage in having a deeper integration but also we must show a price advantage.” 

And of course it follows that the more of this projects that Durst completes, so the cost of the integration should fall as some of the engineering can be replicated from one project to the next. Nonetheless the pricing is likely to be around €150 to €200,000 per robot. For this reason it only makes sense with the most productive printers such as the HS D4.

He adds: “We have strong partners who have a lot of experience in robots and we have a lot of experience in automation because we have developed our own automation systems for our printers so we combine that knowledge.”

Durst has developed a control system for the robots that most customers will be able to pick up after just a couple of days of training. Knotz says: “Then the end user should be able to make some minor modifications so that there’s no need to have Durst on-site to make some changes. There’s no need for deep programming knowledge, which is an advantage of our system.”

The next step is to integrate the robotic system with Durst’s MIS/ ERP software. Knotz notes: “Customers told me it’s a nice solution but it has to work with their MIS or ERP so that will be the next step in our roadmap.”

He believes that there will be a lot more automation in the coming years in print production, noting that you could run a whole shift without human intervention. For now the feed robot can pick boards up from up to three different substrate stacks, and the stack robot could place the boards on a pallet or direct to a cutting table. Durst used the exhibition to start conversations with potential customers and to pick up feedback as to what customers would want from such a system before deciding on what its eventual offering will be. The idea is to commercialise the service later this year though the lead time on the robots can be around eight months from placing the first order to installation. Knotz says that the reaction from customers has been very positive, adding: “It was interesting that customers didn’t start by asking about the price. They ask about the registration and the flexibility and then they calculate the cost of an operator and the return on investment.”

He says that another option would be to develop a cheaper system that’s not so much focussed on speed but on unattended printing for working overnight. That would allow customers to introduce a third shift to increase their output without taking on additional staff. He points out that customers aren’t so familiar with robotics so Durst is starting the conversation and seeing what ideas it can stimulate.

The robotic system is an alternative rather than a replacement for Durst’s current automated loading/ unloading system. Knotz notes: “It will be more expensive but you have more flexibility and more automation so less operator time compared to the Automat. And the ability to flip the media over is an advantage.”

This Durst P5 350HSR is a roll fed printer with dual CMYK for faster print speeds.

Besides the Robots, Durst also debuted a new addition to its P5 portfolio with the P5 350 HSR. This is a high speed roll-to-roll model which builds on the existing 350 HS hybrid printer. This is aimed at the signage and advertising sector as well as industrial decoration. It’s really more of a new configuration than a new printer since Durst has just set up its existing 3.5m wide hybrid as a roll-to-roll printer. Consequently it comes with the D4 option of an extra set of printheads as standard so that the printer can run two sets of CMYK for faster productivity. 

However, Durst also offers an option to use the second set of heads for light cyan, light magenta, white and varnish alongside the original CMYK. The printheads themselves are Ricoh Gen5 and produce up to 670 sqm/hr at 700 x 1200 dpi resolution.

There’s a Master roll option which can feed rolls weighing up to 1,000 kg and 635 mm in diameter for uninterrupted longer print runs. This is a sensible option for anyone that is really planning to make the most of the faster productivity in reducing the downtime associated with changing rolls, though it does take two operators to change the larger rolls. 

Durst also offered an update on how many customers are using its software. Durst currently uses its Analytics software to monitor more than 900 printing systems that are in production at customers sites in order to ensure the continuous availability of the printing systems with preventive maintenance measures. Over 600 print service providers also use Durst Workflow for their prepress and print preparation steps, and 150 Smart Shops are in use at web-to-print providers to enable seamless connection from the web store to production. In Europe, Durst has installed 45 LiftERP solutions to bring together all relevant business processes such as warehouse management, logistics and accounting with print production.

You can find some details on all these products from durst-group.com though its hardly a wealth of information.


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