Is the Printing Industry Embracing Industry 4.0?
No, the printing industry is not embracing Industry 4.0. Unfortunately, print service providers are not as receptive to adopting technology as the developers are at creating it. The array of reasons not to evolve are primarily financial, but there’s a contingent of “if it ain’t broke” attitudes that make for a complacent business. In any scenario, those who are getting behind, don’t realize it until it’s too late.
Software developers and device manufacturers rely on the voices of their customers to continue to build the tools required to grow print businesses. When consumers are lagging in using new technologies, developers are not equipped to provide an accurate outlook of their users’ needs. So, it can be argued that the print industry might be holding itself back by not taking advantage of the technologies that vendors are creating.
What is Industry 4.0, exactly?
There are four major components to defining Industry 4.0, aside from simply calling it the Fourth Industrial Revolution. These are broadly summarized concepts outlined here for brevity. A smart factory can be qualified as having adopted and practically applying:
- Cyber-physical systems
- Internet of things (IoT)
- On-demand availability of computer system resources
- Cognitive computing
According to a ResearchGate article, "How to Define Industry 4.0: Main Pillars," “Industry 4.0 networks a wide range of new technologies to create value. Using cyber-physical systems that monitor physical processes, a virtual copy of the physical world can be designed. Characteristics of cyber-physical systems include the ability to make decentralized decisions independently, reaching a high degree of autonomy.”
How does it apply to print?
The print industry has made great strides in birthing digital print technologies. The quality of print from digital presses is becoming widely accepted in roll-to-roll, sheetfed, and packaging. Device manufacturing has taken leaps toward becoming part of a smart factory. Digital presses and finishing equipment are not only taking JDF instructions, but are providing live data to an MIS. Bindery lines on the market today can be run by one operator instead of three. Quality control apparatuses are built into the finishing system. On the fly set up allows these machines to produce a book of one with ease.
There have also been impressive software developments in recent years. In the world of PDF quality control, a popular solution makes use of computer vision. This technology makes an image of a PDF page, and computer vision is used to find a graphic element based on the control points of the graphic. It is similar to the implementation used in self-driving cars.
Software for imposition uses complex, trade-secret algorithms to make decisions regarding layout for nearly every output and finishing combination. The imposition software engines border on artificial intelligence.
Tying business and production systems together requires a backbone solution, software that can move data and files while making decisions about jobs in real time. These workflow development platforms allow disparate pockets of technology to communicate throughout a workflow, which unifies previously disconnected solutions. The most powerful of these workflow development platforms provides an environment for administrators to create their own code, removing any limitations with connectivity or functionality.
How can print “get there”?
The printing industry in general sends a message to device engineers and software developers that cloud service and SaaS are undesirable. There are arguments against network speed, service integrity, and storage. With a tiny bit of research, each of these contentions is not true. Other industries have embraced, integrated with, and inspired further advancements in cloud solutions. Avoiding cloud and SaaS is akin to the aversion to mobile phones that existed decades ago.
For any business sector to advance into an Industry 4.0 mindset, or even hope to move forward in the coming years - yes, “years,” not decades - there must be a contribution to adopting, grasping, and pushing the limits of their vendors. This is the only way solution creators can pilot their creativity and resources in a direction that is mutually advantageous. Otherwise, print will find itself in a museum warehouse next to the cathode ray tubes.