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Artificial Intelligence Will Help Further Improve Quality and Productivity

drupa 2020 is approaching. In an interview, Dr. Markus Rall, Managing Director of POLAR-Mohr in Hofheim, Germany, explains which cutting innovations visitors to drupa can expect from 16 to 26 June 2020 at the company's stand in Hall 1

Only six months until drupa. What are your plans for the fair?

Dr. Markus Rall: First of all, we are proud that we will have our stand in the new Hall 1. This spectacular building will attract many visitors. Together with Heidelberg and other partners, we are creating a large arena there to jointly set a visual and content highlight for drupa. The clear focus of POLAR-Mohr is the industrialization and automation of further processing. The market demands solutions. What began a few years ago in the pressroom with reduced makeready times, higher process speeds and increased productivity, is now being absorbed by postpress. At drupa we will present innovative cutting systems based on knives, punches and lasers.

What role do the drupa trends Artificial Intelligence, Connected Customer, Platform Economy and Circular Economy play for POLAR-Mohr?

Rall: One focus is the Connected Customer. This is about our software Compucut, for which we present a new release at drupa. In addition, there are production data acquisition (PDA) systems that automatically extract production data from the cutting machine, such as when a job starts and how long it takes. A capacity calculation tool makes cutting processes calculatory transparent, which will lead to more precise production control. Print shops know exactly how many cutting jobs their machines can handle per shift. We're also bringing a premiere. So much can be revealed: It is a 4.0 solution that creates optimization possibilities based on Artificial Intelligence and extends to predictive maintenance. The trend towards Platform Economy also remains central for us. Web-to-print platforms are the pioneers of industrialized, fully automated finishing - and thus very successful on the market.

In your opinion, what are the most important market trends in the print sector?

Rall: There is still a lot of personnel in the finishing area. The shortage of skilled workers is depressing. Productivity can be increased. Quality is partly not reproducible. That's why professional print shops rely on automation. To reduce makeready times, they use workflow systems such as our Compucut software for smooth data exchange between prepress and postpress. The demand for automated cutting technology is increasing. There will continue to be small, creative print service providers who demand simple cutting technology. But the focus is shifting in the direction of cutting systems. Investments are advancing into the seven-digit euro range. This is accompanied by market consolidation. Medium-sized print shops are faced with the decision of whether to invest in their competitiveness or to continue as niche providers. The drivers of industrialization are web-to-print platforms. They could no longer handle their order volume without fully automated, networked process chains from prepress to postpress. These are highly productive, completely rationalised industrial companies.

The growth of the print industry is shifting towards packaging and industrial printing as well as Asia. Does this also apply to POLAR-Mohr?

Rall: The industrialization described has its focus on the shortage of skilled workers in the classic industrial countries, i.e. above all in Europe as well as in the USA and Japan. It also takes place mainly in commercial printing. For Asia, cost pressure is high. In order to serve the growth markets there, we have had a plant in China since 2006.

How have your target markets changed technologically since drupa 2016 - and what further changes do you expect in the medium term?

Rall: Further processing focuses on makeready times and invests on a completely different scale than we knew. Until a few years ago, our customers would also have waved for one million euros at a cutting system. But the industry is realizing that cost-cutting potential is no longer in the pressroom, but in postpress. This area has developed into a bottleneck alongside the highly equipped printing technology.

Which technologies in your market segment do you also attribute particular future potential to?

Rall: In addition to our automated conventional cutting and punching technology, we believe that digital laser cutting has good market potential. Some customers are still struggling with the system change, which affects upstream and downstream processes and must fit the orders. But if you think this technology through to the end, a similar dynamic can emerge as in digital printing. Laser cutting systems can process sheets individually sheet by sheet and refine them by surface treatment. In well-planned workflows, complex shapes and real increases in the value of printed products can be achieved. This applies above all to individualized industry 4.0 processes...

...to whom our penultimate question applies. What contribution does POLAR-Mohr make to fully networked Print 4.0 process chains?

Rall: The networking from the prepress to our cutting systems is guaranteed by the Compucut. By coupling with PDA systems, data flows in both directions, which is the prerequisite for achieving optimum machine utilization via more precise production control. Artificial Intelligence will help to further increase quality and productivity. And our digital laser cutting technology serves to establish mass customization in further processing. It will be possible to cut stickers, labels and mailings in any shape and to finish, perforate or engrave prints. There are no limits to creativity. The recorded operating data also fill a knowledge database that tells us more and more about the condition of machines and knives for predictive maintenance.

How do you see your company in 2030?

Rall: We are going through a process that will change POLAR-Mohr from the ground up. Due to the changed demand, we are changing from a series machine manufacturer to a plant manufacturer. In addition to the development, manufacture and sale of smaller machines, we also carry out projects in which we implement complex cutting systems - and connect these individually to the existing process chains of our customers in close cooperation with them. In order to offer our customers the optimal solution for every application, we will continue to develop knife, punch and laser-based systems. POLAR-Mohr offers industrial solutions for highly flexible, individualized Print 4.0 processes.
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