Green Bay, WI —Easy does it. That's the philosophy behind the new eXell™flexographic printing system from PCMC, a supplier of printing and converting equipment. Design goal: develop a machine with increased capabilities, but without increased complexity. One hallmark of the new printing system is the easy, quick changeover between jobs. With the help of an advanced operator control system featuring CIMPLICITY®software from GE Fanuc Automation, the new press slashes changeover time by 75%.
Designed to give converters more intense graphics capabilities, the 11-color eXell printing system uses 6- and 7-color high-fidelity color separation processes that run more effectively. That leaves an extra 3 or 4 decks vs. 1 or 2 for common 8-color capacity presses. What's more, the design allows operators and assistants to prepare the next job while the system is printing, making the converting operation more productive without stopping the presses. The operator only has to make sure the cartridges are available, and specify which cartridges to load through the CIMPLICITY human machine interface (HMI).
"We recognized that the control interface was going to be critical in reaching our goal of faster, easier changeovers," says Tom Jacques, PCMC marketing strategist for the flexographic printing division. "We chose CIMPLICITY for its features and capabilities that allow us to develop a graphical interface that gives operators more control, more flexibility, and faster operation."
The most prominent feature of CIMPLICITY is the graphical user interface (GUI). Because GUIs reinforce concepts more effectively than text-based interfaces, their use is expanding. Windows NT, for example, not only enables the simple point-and-click interface that has been around for years, but it also extends into other applications by making graphics technology available on the factory floor. For the machine operator, the graphical interface presents an understandable and easily learned interface.
The eXell's eight operator stations feature graphics-based touch screens, where selections are made simply by pointing at the appropriate area of the screen without typing or a mouse. With eight stations located strategically around the machine, operators have full line-of-sight access and the ultimate in convenience to run the system, reducing operator fatigue and boosting productivity, according to Jacques.
With the operator stations tied to a central server, the client/server-based architecture makes it easier to manage and upgrade controls over time. For example, explains Jacques, updating graphics at every station used to be time consuming, and therefore costly. With a server-based architecture, changes need to be made only once and appear across the entire system. This makes it extremely easy to manage the control software and to add new features.
Windows-based CIMPLICITY also offers a host of tools to ease development. Tools such as ActiveX, Open Database Connectivity (ODBC), Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE), and OLE for process control (OPC) enable easy exchange of real-time data across multiple application programs, from graphics and animation to databases. Applications are developed with drag-and-drop screen design. Graphics are imported from external sources that range from standard clip art to AutoCAD files. Programming, too, makes use of such standard tools as VisualBasic for Applications (VBA).
An additional benefit often unrecognized is the number of experienced programmers with remarkable skills with these tools. "Faster and easier development is essential in a system like the eXell press," says Todd Lemke, controls engineer. "With experienced programmers, we can speed the introduction of new equipment and refine the software further, adding features for greater functionality and ensuring maximum usability."
"An HMI like CIMPLICITY allows you to tie your printing system into your company," Jacques says. "You have historical data, which can be graphed in several ways, and you have instant access to real-time data. All this data can be reviewed on a local level or can be tied into a corporate ERP or MIS system. That means better scheduling, resource planning, and capacity planning."
"We've been asked why we chose CIMPLICITY for our new machine," Jacques says. "There are many reasons, but two stand out. First, CIMPLICITY is a true 32-bit architecture—not a 16-bit rewrite. In testing, we found it completed tasks faster than other programs we evaluated. That alone gave us the confidence that it could handle whatever use we could think of. Second, the client/server distributed architecture makes it easier to manage and simplifies software distribution."