Bobst goes digital

Laurel Brunner's picture
Laurel Brunner

Bobst is one of a handful of companies due to exhibit at drupa who have cancelled participation in the rescheduled event in 2021. Instead the company intends to spend its money on turning Bobst competence centres worldwide into smart factories.

CEO Jean Pascal Bobst said that the company is postponing exhibition presences altogether until next year at least. Bobst wants “a new way of promoting our technology”. He added that for Bobst trade shows are only viable for technology presentations and meetings. Bobst smart factories however can present the company’s full range of equipment for customers and prospects in a more intimate space

This announcement came as the company presented eight technologies scheduled for presentation this month in Düsseldorf. Bobst is a large company best known for machines that contribute to a comprehensive supply chain for folding carton, flexible packaging, labels and corrugated packaging production. The company is now moving towards fully integrated digital supply chains, connecting machines from prepress to converting. Bobst is reinventing itself for the digital age, linking hardware to data and using software to maximise equality and cost per package. A tough task if the solution is to fit complex and reinvented supply chains, particularly post-Covid. If brand owners and consumers want the same thing “at Bobst we want to understand the trends from both sides,” according to Jean Pascal Bobst.

The sign of the four
The foundation for this vision is based on four themes: connectivity, automation, digitalisation and sustainability to add intelligence to packaging production. Connectivity means fully connected machines, tooling and data managed via the cloud and total monitoring of all machines and processes. Automation means robots combined with smart systems for fewer human interventions. To this add sustainability which must become inherent to packaging production, in order to answer brand and consumer expectations. Digitisation refers to the whole production line, from PDF to what Bobst call a “Twin PDF” via all machines deployed in the production of packages, including printing and converting.

A Twin PDF is a measured version of the input PDF generated postproduction. It is a database of measurements that confirm output expectations are fully met. A Twin PDF takes input control parameters and measures the output to ensure both PDF have the same values. The input PDF is delivers content data to the devices in the workflow such as the dye cutter, stripper and blanking tools for offline preparation of the devices, such as adding the correct tools for a cutter.

Toolink is Bobst’s combination of hardware and software for data collection throughout the production process.

Toolink, refers to smart devices or sensors added to the various Bobst machines for data collection purposes. Its software processes machine data from various data points on each machine. This is used to create the Twin PDF and ideally the databases in both the input PDF and the twinned one are the same. At the moment Bobst is only 70% of the way there with this, however it is expected that within 18 months it will cover 100% of the workflow. This is about data management and control for quality management however the input data and the data collection and management must be absolutely reliable and consistent whatever the content of the production PDF is. This could at a minimum be tricky for complex packaging designs or variable data work output to a digital press. If it works, Bobst expects it to drive quality as part of a machine’s Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and to enable data driven production for reduced set up times and “unrivalled productivity”.

Softly, softly Bobst
Bobst Connect is an open architecture cloud based system to support connectivity and automation. It is an update to Bobst’s existing service providing an interface into customers’ existing IT such as MIS, via a Bobst API. Bobst Connect has limited connections to similar systems however and rather operates at the customer and machine level, so there is no shared or centrally managed data processing. However Bobst has one large customer who has connected and manages over 400 devices including nonBobst machines. This isn’t really an open architecture connected system, but rather one that expands by customer and machine. That Bobst’s new devices are all Bobst Connect enabled suggests much greater scope for this system.

Bobst is facing a key transition to become a software company as well as a hardware one.

Bobst has developed its own DFE to support its efforts to meet the needs of prepress, production, maintenance, optimisation and its customers’ markets. But now from its traditional base as a developer and manufacturer of machines, Bobst is becoming a software company focused on data management and analysis to optimise its hardware. It aims to fully support ecommerce expectations and on demand packaging provision. Besides ensuring minimal downtime for its machines, Bobst has even developed its own e-commerce platform, My Bobst for online shopping. Bobst says the company “will become a real software company, supporting our customers”.

New developments
The eight announcements made lately are for the flexible and folding carton sectors. We can expect more on new moves into labels in July and corrugated in September. Master Cut 106 PER dye cutter has been painted a different colour, has enhanced automation and is now enabled with software for creating a Twin PDF.

Bobst Connect is the company’s data processing hub, collecting and managing data from all components in a production line.

Accucheck, Bobst’s inline quality control system, was launched some nine years ago. The latest version is now embedded in Bobst Connect and includes machine learning capabilities for identifying smart text. It can recognise damaged boards and detects other defects in them. Metallised, varnished and embossed surfaces can now be checked, as can print to cut register marks. The approach supports industrialised production and data sharing so most crucially the latest version of Accucheck can provide data for a Twin PDF.

Accucheck is now part of Bobst Connect, and used for checking the condition of incoming materials.

The Master Star laminator for flexible packaging has been redesigned to include Bobst Connect and has improved alignment tools for, sheet to sheet lamination. It runs at 10,000 sheets per hour up to 2050 mm. The Nova D800 compact laminator also works with Bobst Connect.

The Master CI flexo press, introduced last year, has been upgraded to support Bobst Connect. This press works with water based and UV inks, a unique ability within the flexo sector, and prints 1.3 to 2.2m at 800 m/m depending on the substrate. Bobst have run this press at up to 600m/m. The company is launching new water based inks for the narrow web CI flexo and flexo corrugated machines, and adding a robotic system for tool, plate and cylinder changes.

The Master M6 is another not new narrow web inline device that has been substantially upgraded. It was introduced last year for the label sector and can now print flexible materials using either water based or UV inks. A new six colour set up can be made ready within the time it takes to print from the first to the last colours for 60 second changeovers. This is impressive and saves considerable waste and time for each job changeover. Delta E can be adjusted online during the run something Bobst claims is “a unique function that only Bobst can offer in a flexo press”.

Links in the digital chain
A new (yes) large format Digital Inspection Table is intended to help existing customers make the transition into the digital vision that is Bobst’s new reality. The 2800 x 1600 mm table provides a quality control tool for unconnected machines so “table will allow [existing customers] to move towards fully integrated production”.

Bobst One ECG for extended colour gamut control is also not new but Bobst is keen to emphasise that this technology can now replicate 98% of spot colours if a seven colour set up is used: CMYK plus Orange, Green and Violet. On the basis that these can be delivered without washing down the press, for a new set up Bobst reckon that Bobst One ECG improves a company’s sustainability. Indeed it does save washing water and cuts energy emissions because set up times are shorter, “a real true breakthrough”.

Bobst also confirmed that the Mouvent digital press is doing well in the labels sector and on track regarding output quality and delivering a superior TCO. This is based on the machine speed, head maintenance, ink cost and uptime, “a success today and we ramp up production as we speak”.

As to whether Bobst expects to follow Xeikon, Domino, Koenig & Bauer into inkjet for corrugated by developing its own digital press Bobst will release something when it is ready. So that’s probably a yes,

Bobst echoed the view that the post-Covid 19 world is different and faces a new reality. Bobst has a significant presence in China that enabled it to react earlier to the crisis, so the company was able to anticipate and coordinate its response in Europe. All facilities with the exception of France and Italy have been open since April. As with all companies operating in the printing sector the company will take a hit to sales however “we have a very strong balance sheet … but 2021 will be very tough because the machine industry is going down” and Covid is making it worse: “10-20 per cent down if not more.”

Bobst was founded in 1890 so this is not the first time for its reinvention and having to respond to new expectations. Recognising that the printing industry is reforming to become a data management and delivery business, provides Bobst with a solid insight that will enable it to shape a healthy future for its employees and for its customers.

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The Verdigris Project investigates the environmental impact of print media and provides information about sustainability initiatives for the international printing community. Keep up to date with the weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner.