JDF Workflow Automation at colordruck Baiersbronn

When you think of the Black Forest in southern Germany, you probably think of vast fir forests with lots of hiking trails, idyllic villages with half-timbered houses and the obligatory cuckoo clocks. You certainly don't expect to find a state-of-the-art packaging print shop there.

State-of-the-art Packaging Print Shop

View of Baiersbronn in the Black Forest

But that's exactly what the highly-automated colordruck print shop in Baiersbronn is. The enterprise was founded there almost 70 years ago and is still family-owned, in its 3rd generation. Baiersbronn is a small, tranquil town with a population of around 5,000 people, and is far away from any major city. However, colordruck Baiersbronn is an up-to-date, modern printing enterprise established within the town. They focus upon packaging printing; with sheetfed offset and digital printing. The printing company has a large production and storage area of 33,000 m2. With nearly 300 employees, they produce around 1 billion packaging units per year, generating a revenue of approximately 60 million euros. With a training quota of 7.3%, future packaging specialists are mainly trained in-house.

For their customers in the food, consumer, pharmaceutical and confectionery sectors, they offer the entire process chain. Beginning with the development of multi-part packaging solutions, utilizing flexible and run-dependent print production processes, and completion to fulfillment. For example, colordruck Baiersbronn even has the capability to fill Advent calendars with confectionery items fully-automated internally. However, the majority of the filling process takes place at the print shop's customers.

The Colordruck packaging print shop

In addition to mass-production with longer runs in offset, colordruck Baiersbronn invested in digital printing for the first time in 2016 in order to address the increasing variance in print jobs and, in particular the individualization of products.

Smart Factory Web-to-Print Solution

In addition to the purchase of a digital press from HP, the entry into the new business division PACKAGING DIGITAL was the implementation of a web-to-print solution.

"The focus of our web stores is on B2B",
explains Marketing Manager at colordruck Baiersbronn, Mrs. Sarah Hagen.

The development of the completely paperless production control is supported by the workflow specialists from ctrl-s. As a result, since the initial investment, new projects have been regularly completed in the aforementioned project network. The aim is always to minimize possible sources of error, such as ink and paper selection, or the specification of run lengths, and to achieve an even higher overall percentage of on-time shipments. Although the digital printing production area (still) has a relatively low turnover compared to offset, it is almost doubling every year.

In April 2023, the company invested in an HP Indigo 35K Digital Press, which prints B2 sheets up to 500 µm thick with up to seven colors. Depending upon the requirements, run length and substrate properties, different die cutting technologies are used in the finishing of the digitally printed sheets. These include using laser die cutting, polymer plates, and rotary die cutting plates that can also be used to produce braille. By making the various technologies available, the predefined dimensions of the CAD templates can also be adapted and punched. Varnishing and further finishing of the printed sheets is standard to traditional offset. The actual packaging production ends with the gluing of the blanks. This department of 6 to 8 employees works two to three shifts depending on workload.

Data preparation of the print jobs for the HP Indigo is handled by the object-and-cloud based smart factory framework Symphony, from the Stuttgart-based company ctrl-s, together with the CloudFlow prepress workflow system from Hybrid Software. A preflight check is automatically performed in advance of the job beginning, using Callas' pdfToolbox. Symphony then generally controls job processing, and compiles all the information and technical parameters required for the digital printing and finishing processes. These parameters include, for example, details of the substrate, associated color settings, the print run, and whether single- or double-sided printing is to take place. In particular, the software also determines the separations that need to be ripped and subsequently printed. Most Pantone colors, or even individual house colors in the customer data, are rendered in a combination of the seven - or even fewer - standard colors of the press. Subsequent production-relevant settings are also made by Symphony using decision trees, e.g., the type of die-cutting, or the specific technology used for gluing. The most important resource for all decisions, and thus for mapping and automating intelligence is always the printing stock itself and its color settings in relation to the press. If a new substrate is used, the corresponding logic is automatically configured accordingly in the system. In order to make this logic of the decision trees as comprehensible as possible, they are usually based on a binary answer spectrum (yes, no). More rarely, complex decisions are made by calculating possibility values. Symphony also enables the creation of batches by means of this logic. These are production groups that collect similar print jobs (same substrate, cutting die, gluing machine, etc.). This can significantly reduce makeready times on the press, as well as the subsequent production units. For this purpose, print jobs are collected in advance for at 24 hours.

Automating Decisions based on JDF

HP Indigo 35K

In the past, operators had to make the above-mentioned manufacturing and production decisions themself, even though the data for them was already available. In addition, they had to manually copy the parameters from Symphony to the console of the press. This naturally took a certain amount of time for each job, which accounted for a considerable amount of work each day, as well as opening the opportunity for human-error. In addition, errors were made in the manual, and in particular, the experience-based decisions, which resulted in a further time delay, as well as increased waste, a lower on-time shipment rate, and less reliability on job completion. All this, of course, caused extra costs. Content data in PDF format was sent to the press RIP via a hot folder.

Since April 2023, however, the Job Definition Format (JDF) has been used for this interface. Manual transfer of the data is a thing of the past.

"There are virtually no more errors in print production",
says Florian Günther, manager of the PACKAGING DIGITAL department.

Implementing JDF technology has reduced waste and increased machine utilization. The implementation of this JDF interface was actually a small step, but with a valuable resultant effect. The subsequent cost reduction in production has improved the profit potential considerably.

The integration project between Symphony and the HP Indigo 35K started in April 2023 and was swiftly completed by early May 2023. The short project duration is due, in particular, to the modular structure of the Symphony framework and to the already fully-specified and implemented JDF interface of the digital press. This means that no programming activities had to be performed, only configuration services. As a result, the three major milestones of the project: definition, setup, and implementation - could be achieved after roughly only two weeks. The entire project was mainly managed by four project managers; two from colordruck Baiersbronn, and two from ctrl-s.

The next project in the PACKAGING DIGITAL area is the extension of the Job Messaging Format (JMF) interface. Currently, their implementation is limited to status information, such as when a job is finished printing. This automatic status recording is then visible in the symphony job list and can trigger the next production process if necessary. In the future, operational data will be automatically sent back to Symphony in JDF format for each print job. This will enable more precise shop floor data analysis. This project is scheduled for August/September 2023.

It can be summarized that by implementing a JDF interface and automating the manufacturing and production-related decisions, the operator saves time, and a higher, more profitable utilization of the press is possible. As a result, errors have been reduced along the entire process chain and production lead-times have decreased. Today, express shipping within 4 days is only possible thanks to JDF.