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Question and Answer

Automation and Computerization with Fold/Gluing Equipment

by Jeff Peterson

May-June, 2001
As with all graphic arts machinery on the market today, the computer age has spawned innovations and technology to take printing and finishing to levels that were never thought possible just a few years ago. Software and hardware innovations have worked together to help machinery run faster with much less set-up time, and folding/gluing equipment is no exception. InsideFinishing has asked the assistance of a few experts in the field of folding/gluing to take a closer look at how computers and technology have changed the way folding/gluing is being done today.

What is the latest in computerized equipment for detecting rejects (glue problems, etc.)?

A few detecting systems are now on the market that automatically detect and reject bad glue patterns on folding/gluing machines. Progress is being made to enable these systems to correct a bad glue pattern on the fly and adjust the pattern automatically as well. The system provides the ability to automatically adjust the gun compensation after the line has been running for a period of time and has gathered a certain amount of pattern history. Currently, these type of systems are somewhat slow to react and may allow for many defective products to be produced before it corrects itself. However, the technology is in place and is improving. In the future, these adjustments will be made in a matter of seconds and save operators hours of downtime for adjustments.

Leary manufactures a detector that operates by scanning the product with special UV detecting cameras. Once the product is scanned, the pattern is put on a color LCD display. This display also performs the operator interface function. It is touch sensitive, and can be programmed to apply, detect, display, and correct up to eight separate glue guns well beyond the norms of most production situations.

Another system for detecting bad glue patterns is produced by Nordson. It accepts a variety of sensors, including specialized sensors (not cameras) for liquid adhesives and hot melt adhesives. This liquid adhesive sensor differs from many others in that it does not rely on special adhesive additives, which can sometimes alter adhesive performance. Instead, it detects the adhesive itself, providing flexibility to the operator to utilize any commercially available glue and/or adhesive. The sensor is capable of detecting adhesive positions with 1 mm resolution up to 700 meters per minute.

These systems can be retrofitted to many types of folding/gluing machines. Operation is easy to learn and they can be set-up and running in a couple of days or less. High-end carton applications, where keeping rejects to a minimum is of utmost importance, are a good match for detect/reject systems.

How have computers and automation helped increase the speeds of folding/gluing operations?

From a folder/gluer set-up standpoint, mixed opinions exist on how well computers and automation help. Skilled operators know such things as the caliper, score quality, plant humidity, and other factors that effect the final product. Computers simply cannot do all of that at least not yet. However, even the best operators must admit that computerization now can accomplish such things as to automatically move the various carriers into position and set the backfold ratio and impact area. Adjustments may still need to be made, but the initial set-up time is decreased dramatically.

While modern control technology is hidden behind the doors of a control center and out-of-site of the operator, it is having a keen effect on machine reliability and performance. One of the benefits of automation as it relates to folding/gluing is the reduction of control components, where traditional relay logic has been replaced by Programmable Logic Controls (PLCs). PLCs have allowed greater integration of all drive systems found within a folder/gluer (feeder drives, various folding section drives, as well as the compression section). Along with touch screen interfaces, PLCS have allowed manufacturers to develop devices and controls to exact specifications. For example, a device can now be designed and programmed to precisely adjust the speed of all modular sections of the folder/gluer in proportion to one another. This allows the operator to utilize one button control to fine tune production speeds rather than having to adjust up to seven speed controls one at a time.

Automation has had an impact on pre-feeders and carton packers as well. Most high-speed folding/gluing operations have integrated both as part of their line. Variable pre-feeders allow the operator to place a large stack of cartons in a hopper without having to fan out the cartons. Having to fan out cartons before placing them into a feeder is extremely time consuming. A pre-feeder does this for the operator and can also be set up to perform an additional fold process before the folder/gluers feed hopper is filled. Carton packers will allow the machine to run faster by automatically packing the cartons into corrugated cases. The only limitation to this is the inability to effectively pack automatic lock-bottom cartons that have one thicker side. However, manufacturers are working on developing a reliable solution for this and a potential answer appears to be on the horizon.

Computers and automation have developed more sophisticated folder/gluers as well. Gluers are now being built to accept a CD-ROM or DVD placed directly into a wallet as it folds and glues it. Whether it is a pick-n-place type feeder or a friction feeder, a new niche has been formed for the folding/gluing marketplace. At an affordable cost, these types of feeders can be added to existing machines to begin to place CDs, 3 discs, business card CDs, credit cards, and more all in-line with the folding/gluing process. This type of automation allows trade finishers to offer folding/gluing and fulfillment services all with one machine and create new markets for their services.

How have gluing systems changed and what is the latest technology in this area?

In the infancy of glue systems, the technology was comprised of little more than applying glue to paper. Over time, stocks and application needs have changed, forcing glue system manufacturers to develop new features to accommodate these needs. Many advancements in technology that were only found on higher end systems are now commonplace on more affordable gluing systems.

Glue system components such as photocells, encoders, and applicator heads are designed to be more compact. This gives users greater flexibility when setting up jobs. The glue controller inputs and outputs have expanded as well. A single controller can now accept multiple encoder and photocell inputs. Glue systems today not only control hot and cold glue applications, but also control tipper plates, placement of products such as CDs, air-blast nozzles, and air ram cylinders, just to mention a few. In addition, gluing systems today can gain full coverage with a few heads and less glue, rather than having to use rollers or blankets. This technology is much more efficient and less messy for the operator.

The very latest technology with glue systems is utilizing touch screen controls with Windows Operating Systems. These systems are equipped with automated flush systems, job memory, and modem connections for on-line service troubleshooting. As advancements continue to improve, the technology possibilities are endless.

InsideFinishing would like to thank Jeff Wilcox of American International Machinery (414-764-3223), Chris Pett of Brandtjen & Kluge (800-826-7320), and Mark Fasano of Moll Group LLC (800-223-3922) for their assistance with this Q&A article.