Adding Closed Loop Automation to Your Workflow

August 20, 2017

Hitting offset lithographic color targets isn’t always fast or easy. The manual process of measuring color bars and making ink key adjustments takes time and opens the door to operator error. Meanwhile, the press is running (and wasting) paper and ink. To achieve accurate and repeatable color, printers need to convert their printing operation to an efficient manufacturing process and drive efficiencies in all phases of their operation. For many, a closed-loop automated solution is the answer.

Closed-loop automates the process by capturing spectral data directly from the press sheet, then automatically updating the ink keys. It cuts down on paper and ink expenses that accumulate when you’re not getting up to color quickly, makes short runs more profitable, and minimizes operator intervention. It’s so much faster and more accurate than a traditional workflow that it pays for itself almost immediately.

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Today we’re looking at the options available for a closed-loop solution to help you determine if your printing operation is ready to upgrade to automation.

Tools to automate press sheet scanning

Capturing spectral data is the first step in automating your workflow, and we offer three devices that tie nicely into closed-loop control. While all three can be used on their own, they gain more power as part of a complete solution.

IntelliTrax2 Automated Scanning System

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Our ultra-fast IntelliTrax2 automatically scans the color bar of a typical press sheet in less than 10 seconds, then provides instant, on-screen reports. As this instrument is non-contact, you do not need to worry about smudging or scratching the image during the measurement process. The advanced imaging technology in IntelliTrax2 automatically adjusts the scanning head to locate the color bar, ensuring faster sheet positioning and accurate measurements every time.

X-Rite eXactTM Scan Spectrophotometer and Scanning Device

exact-scan_01The wireless, portable eXact helps printers and converters control color from anywhere on the pressroom floor. It supports measurement of continuous and non-continuous strips/color bars – up to 112 cm / 44” long – and can simultaneously measure M0, M2 and M3 in scan mode. eXact is the only device on the market that measures for optical brighteners for both inks and substrates.

In addition to scanning, eXact Scan can measure in house or print standards as well as spot colors on the sheet to ensure they are accurately represented on the package area.

EasyTrax Semi-Automated Scanning System

easytrax_in_use_01EasyTrax is designed for offset printing operations using 29” (74cm) or 40” (102cm) presses. It can take scan or spot measurements anywhere on the sheet at a speed of 150mm/second. EasyTrax Density measures ink density and displays data against set targets to easily determine required ink zone changes, while EasyTrax Spectral adds the ability to capture both density and spectral data in a single scan.

Software to automate ink key adjustments

Rutherford Graphics offers three products that interact with eXact Scan, IntelliTrax2 and EasyTrax to automatically update ink keys without manual operator adjustment. Each offers a touch screen interface that allows operators to initiate or reject closed-loop action after the scan with one touch, empowering users to print to G7, ISO Standards or in-house standards with ease and confidence.

IntelliLoop + IntelliSet

Compatible with IntelliTrax2, this complete system works with up to 20 web and sheetfed presses of any width.

Before you start the press, the CIP or TIFF files from prepress will provide all the information that IntelliSet needs to automatically preset the ink keys. Simply choose the print job and paper type on the touch-screen monitor and IntelliSet does the rest.

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Once you start the job, scan the color bar of a press sheet to get spectral and density data and IntelliLoop will take care of adjusting ink keys. During the press run, periodic scans of the color bar feed color data into IntelliLoop. The software will let the press operator know if there are any auto-adjustments needed to keep color consistent.

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ExactLoopTM

Rutherford’s entry-level closed-loop system, ExactLoop, works with the eXact Scan portable spectrophotometer. Simply scan sheet fed color bars with the eXact Scan, and the data will be sent to ExactLoop to make automatic adjustments to the ink keys on press. It can support up to five printing units and a 32” sheet width.

EasyLoop + EasySet

Easy Loop + EasySet works like ExactLoop, but is compatible with both EasyTrax and IntelliTrax2. It offers support for 6 printing units and an unlimited sheet width.

To learn more about all of the features and benefits of a Rutherford system, visit their website.

Is a closed-loop system worth the investment?

One success story comes from Glasgow academic book and journal printer Bell & Bain. Always an early-adopter of the latest systems, this respected operation is one of the few Scottish academic printers to have survived the centuries to thrive in today’s ultra-competitive market.

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“The IntelliTrax scanning color measurement system with the AutoPilot Closed-Loop Color Control System from Rutherford Graphic Products is great,” says Scott Hill, Bell & Bain Print Manager. “Now that we are perfecting our four-colour work, the new system has brought our make-readies down to just 20 minutes instead of the nearly one hour we consumed before. It has been an excellent addition to our printing department. The closed-loop system lets our press operators concentrate on other things, such as the quality of the delivery pile, filling ink ducts and preparation of the next job. If you have to manually change eight duct settings every 250 sheets on short runs and 500 on long runs, you are not left with much time for other important activities.”

Learn more by reading the full case study, available on our website, or get in touch for custom help. To see a closed-loop solution in action, be sure to visit X-Rite and Rutherford at PRINT17, booth #535, from September 10-14 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

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