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Look, Ma, no hands!

Oct 1, 2003 12:00 AM

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Quad/Graphics (Sussex, WI) has 11,000 employees who work at 38 print-production and parcel-sortation facilities on three continents. The company relies on the most advanced systems to produce high-quality products for some of the world's largest publishing and catalog companies, including National Geographic and Victoria's Secret.

In its efforts to run the most efficient operation possible, Quad approached Polar, a business unit of Heidelberg USA (Kennesaw, GA), to create a system that would streamline the cutting process at its Martinsburg, WV, facility. The system had to work within the facility's existing layout, and preferably increase the number of high-volume jobs it was completing. Quad's goal: to install the latest in loading, jogging, buffering, cutting, gripping, transporting and unloading technology to create the highest-performing cutting system in the industry with the least amount of human intervention.

No human assistance

“We were excited with the idea of creating a fully automated cutting system,” says Rob Kuehl, director, postpress packaging and cutting systems at Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA). “We enjoy pushing the limits of our equipment and creating unique, customized machines for our customers — and it has become another way for us to learn from our customers.”

Today, the Martinsburg facility houses a precision-guided, interconnected line of equipment capable of automatically cutting, loading and unloading tens of millions of finished sheets, 24 hours a day, seven days a week — without human assistance.

The system begins with a Pile Turner Jogger Aerator, an automated jogger that aligns whole skids of paper in one turn. A Transomat Loader then slides under the sheets and rear-loads them automatically onto the cutter table with gripper systems.

Extra features incorporated into the system include a fully automatic, four-side trim for large quantities; automated high-speed loading via gripper systems; and automated offloading. The Turning gripper automatically turns the stock at the rear of the cutter and loads it onto a shuttle. A Transomat palletizer automatically unloads the stock.

While the entire equipment line can run without people power, operators have the option of switching off the fully automated control and running the cutter in conventional mode. This lets operators cut multiple products with dividing, cross and intermediate cuts.

Optimized equipment

Ironically, the entire cutting workflow actually consists of standard modular equipment from the Polar line of products; for Quad's high-volume-output needs, pieces were upgraded and arranged to optimize their capabilities. Thus:

  • Lifts are automatically loaded via the Polar Transomat 3BL and chip maker
  • The Polar gripper-loading system automatically brings lifts to and from the knife
  • A turning gripper automatically turns and positions lifts for cutting
  • Autotrim automatically removes waste underneath the cutter and a Polar vacuum system takes it away
  • The backgauge is fitted with swivel tilting backgauge for exact squareness of the cut
  • The knife is fitted with programmable clamping pressure, a central lubrication system and retractable side gauges
  • Gripper systems automatically transfer the finished-cut lift
  • Polar Transomat E automatically palletizes lifts on to a skid.

‘Future of printing’

Whereas previous cutting systems comprised standalone cutters with paper-handling equipment that required human intervention, Quad's finishing operation produces finished projects on its own while increasing output and eliminating waste.

“Process automation is the future of printing,” observes Bill Graushar, Quad/Graphics finishing systems development manager. “We've found that using the most innovative and advanced equipment allows us to stay one step ahead of the competition. Automated systems, such as the Polar cutting system, are a step in the right direction.”

Next up for the finishing department at Quad's Martinsburg location: analyzing the possibility of adding a driverless transport system for loading and unloading, and incorporating unattended feeding of the folding machine.