The Future of Press Operation
VR implementation is a rising trend around the world. VR is not to be confused with AR (augmented reality). The core difference is that a true VR experience is a completely immersive experience that transports the user to another world, another place, etc. AR can alter or interact with the user currently sees in their present location. This alteration can come in many forms. The main use of this technology is to provide a HUD or heads up display in which the user can integrate with GPS directions, find out real time information about a product, place, or object, etc. In this case, we will be looking at how VR is being applied in the flexographic printing industry and all the benefits that come with it for both job seekers and employers. During the presentation, the Sonoco Institute placed a lot of emphasis of the importance training new recruits and given employers the capabilities of training current employees on new press procedures. Not only would this technology be a useful training and recruiting tool, but it also provided a controlled environment. By conducting training in a controlled environment, there are several benefits that printing shops could gain from utilizing this technology. A printer can reduce costs, create spatial awareness during press operation, and provide a safe environment for training.
This also gives educational institutions an opportunity for research and development. Providing valuable technical resources for the press room floor. The foundation for the project started with CUshop™. This AR program was used to assess consumer perception to product packaging. The Sonoco Institute is constantly looking for new ways to capitalize on this new technology and bring it into the printing and packaging industry. The industry has seen a 25% decrease in interest over the past decade, and Sonoco is providing an attractive way of creating interest once again. Other industries have also started doing a similar project for their employees and for job recruitment. A few examples were provided during the presentation. Walmart has a Black Friday simulator to give employees an expectation and preparedness for engaging with the excited consumers, Johnson and Johnson created a VR training program for surgeons, and UPS developed a VR driver training program to prepare couriers for the road.
Let’s dive right into the features that were in the presentation. Right off the bat, they demonstrated how movement would work when operating the press in the ship. There were glowing halos in front of each press station. By the click of a button, the operator was able to instantly teleport from station to station to set up the print job. Providing interaction with the safety covers, metering rollers, doctor blades, and anilox rollers. Engagement was also available for applying sticky back to the impression cylinder and there were three types of sticky back available for selections and would impact the printing process. The VR operator was also able to check print registration, inspect half dots, and change out anilox with presets with different LPI and BCM applications for the process. When the operator would check the half dots or registration, the screen had a side by side comparison of what your print looked versus what the print is supposed to look like. The simulation also provided an ink monitoring station, so if there was a problem, you could review which station was getting too little or too much ink throughout the process.
Press operators are also able to track the Ph balance of the inks used in the printing process, the attention to detail in the virtual environment was impressive. All the rendering in the simulation was based from CAD models given to Sonoco by the press manufacturer. The renders were broken down and simplified to focus on vital components that a press operator will work with from a day to day basis. There were some questions asked during the presentation why certain aspects of the press process were not included in the demo. Put simply, a lot of the printing process requires a lot of “touch and feel” and cannot be simulated in a virtual environment. The application can also be set up to simulate troubleshooting scenarios for training in specific situations. For example, selecting the wrong anilox roller, incorrect Ph balance, too much press on the doctor blade, etc. There are safety warnings also implemented into the simulations that will alarm the trainee and provide a prompt as to what they were doing wrong as well.
One of high notes of the presentation was the ability to provide instructions to students both remotely and while in the same room. This allows instructors to track user performance, analyze performance metrics, and provide feedback on actions that users take and provide awareness for strengths and weaknesses. Remote diagnosis of machines will also be possible using the software and provide a more detailed mechanical simulation of the press itself. Just like a video game, the level difficulty can be adjusted to accommodate new and experienced press operators alike.
The software will be free for distribution to educational institutions everywhere. An AR companion to the VR application is on the developer roadmap in the future, so keep an eye out for that. The system requirements for the VR application will be made available soon but should be able to run well on a video card such as the Nvidia 1060 series.
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