In just a few years Danish machine builder, Refine Finishing, has created a secure position among the world’s leading suppliers of machines that convert digitally printed labels. Equipped with PC-based control from Beckhoff, the machines raise the benchmark for speed, precision and sustainability to a new level. Now even the smallest batches of multilayer labels can be produced on demand.
Over 95% of Refine’s machines are exported to customers in the pharmaceutical, chemical and food industries. Refine founder and CTO Bjarke Gerdes-Nielsen states: “We are proving that Industry 4.0 can now be achieved in the printing industry and offers great benefits. In terms of applying this to label finishing, the focus is on reducing previously high printing and finishing costs, as well as the enormous amount of paper required for press proofing.”
The printing industry is undergoing extensive transformation. Small and short-run orders need to be profitable, made to a high quality and produced on schedule as print-on-demand jobs, despite short order times. This requires customised production that can be adapted to process orders placed at short notice. Rapidly adapting to these requirements is only possible with the greatest possible degree of automation.
Designed for a Dutch customer, Refine’s first finishing machine with built-in vision technology is designed to perform all finishing processes for digitally printed multilayer labels − quickly, precisely and with minimal press proof waste. The fully automatic machine optimises the workflow for customers with the latest technology, highest speed and precision. Where customers once had to order a series of one million labels for six months, they can now divide the series into several smaller portions and just plan a few weeks ahead. The delivery time for these types of orders can often be reduced to 24 hours. Fast changeovers, fast start-up and small order sizes shorten the warehousing period and create great flexibility and less waste. Gerdes-Nielsen says: “The machines typically reduce paper waste by a factor of 100 – from 100 to around one metre – during proofing when setting up a job. In small production series, it is crucial that the waste percentage remains low. The machine must be competitive on all parameters.” Since the usual manual settings via levers and handles are configured automatically by the control system, user errors are eliminated. “Operating the machine no longer depends on the individual skills of the operator. Because everything is digitised, we can monitor and help with the control via remote access in real-time. It has created great value – especially in the Covid era,” highlights Gerdes-Nielsen.
The challenge with multilayer labels is positioning the individual sheets exactly on top of each other. Print marks on the paper rolls indicate how the layers should be positioned. The controller uses a GigE vision camera that has been seamlessly integrated into the control system via TwinCAT Vision to correct and verify that all layers are placed correctly from the start. All job management takes place via PC-based control in a software environment, which facilitates programming, linking data in Microsoft Azure via TwinCAT IoT and remotely accessing the machines. Object-oriented programming has also reduced the need for manual programming. “We can tailor our machines completely to the needs of our customers,” says Gerdes-Nielsen, “and that flexibility is crucial to our success.”
“I started Refine Finishing because I wanted to develop machines based on intelligent software and the IoT,” says Gerdes-Nielsen. The Beckhoff automation philosophy goes hand in hand with our own and we have received the best support we could ask for. PC-based control with XFC technology is incredibly accurate compared to other control systems. The Beckhoff system can achieve this and also meet the high speed requirements. Our machine can process 200 metres of paper per minute, while conventional machines can handle 50 m/min with similar applications.”
The wide and universally integrable range of components available for PC-based control offers additional advantages. In the finishing machine, the C6017 ultra-compact Industrial PC acts as a powerful control computer that communicates with the I/O level, which is made up of EtherCAT Terminals and the drive technology – EL7031-0030 stepper motor terminals and AX5000 and AX8000 Servo Drives with AM8000 servomotors – with high real-time capability. Machine safety is also integrated directly into the standard control technology with TwinSAFE.
Gerdes-Nielsen summarises: “With an innovative single-source supplier like Beckhoff, we are equipped for the future. We can quickly integrate various new products and protocols into our modular machines. That flexibility is a huge advantage.”
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