Software Management System – iCE LiNK

Cloud Based Management System

Take a moment and learn about iCE LiNK. What is it? What does it do? why does it exist? This category of product is a bit confusing at first but those manufactures who truly understand the value of automation, reporting and feedback are the ones who excel and dominate the industry. We constantly hear the same requests to speed things up and to reduce waste and labor. All of these needs have one common goal, automation and information. 

Technology never stops progressing. Manual tasks are going by the way side, recently there’s been a new wave of innovation taking over the manufacturing sector. Taking complex systems and managing them with intelligent oversight that maximizes every subsystem. We see this same concept in how Uber has upended the Taxi cab industry. New software reporting tools have made it possible for plant managers to have a new level of knowledge about how their plant is operating in real time. This allows them to make sound decisions. Knowing your shortfalls and strengths leads to better decision making. 

The industry has been working on these tools for many years. The Job Definition Format (JDF) and international Cooperation for integration of prepress, press and post press, known as CIP, have been working to define file format standards. These file format standards serve as conduits for passing information back and forth between machines. An example being a printing press automatically setting up for paper size and color profile of a printed job when the operator loads a file. we also saw early implantations of the CIP protocols in paper cutters. operators could load a jo file and cut-program on their hydraulic cutter would be created automatically on-the-fly based on the information built into the original artwork. 

Many vendors have been collaborating and working together to create the new standards. That upfront work makes for a smooth runway when these high level tools are actually being implemented. Lately we’ve been seeing more complex installations that utilize these types of intercommunication. The partnership between HP and Horizon has been particularly strong. They initially launched a product called SmartStacker together. This machine was created to be a perfect pair for the HP indigo line of digital presses. the Horizon SmartStacker would handle all of the cutting, stacking, creasing and perforating automatically with almost no intervention from a human operator. 

But setting up machines and reducing human intervention is still only half of the story. What comes next is intelligent reporting that can inform management about what us going on. Taking a factory of equipment giving someone a high-level view of the ever-changing circumstances of production is not an easy task. Modern tools let management pull up an app and see exactly what machines and running or idle. they cam see which machines are running at sub-optimal speeds and they can even see which operators tend to run slowly or quickly. 

Horizon has been on the cutting edge of factory automation for a long time. Automation has been a core pillar of their design philosophy since the beginning and they’ve stayed in tune with the latest developments. For a long time Horizon has included the PXNet software option with their machines. This was an application of JDF that worked quite well. In the years since it was released the industry specifications around standards have matured. Other manufactures have  also greatly improved.

In 2019 in Kyoto, Japan Horizon held a special expo that was created specifically to highlight these new automation standards. The event was called the Smart Factory Expo, many manufactures attended. They demonstrated their ability to interconnect with these management systems and work cooperatively in a high-communication environment. The floor was active with attendees and occasionally we’d have to step aside for a robotic cart that was moving in process jobs one site to another. A vendor showed a robotic arm loading book blocks into a perfect binder. All of these machines were feeding their data back into a management system which gave a high level picture of what was happening in real time. 

To take something and make it smart can really breathe new life into old systems. By improving the usage of equipment in a production facility you can quickly identify any weaknesses in a production scheme. being able to watch and see how optimal machines are operating it becomes much easier to make necessary improvements. Being informed is the most important part of decision making, fortnightly in the era of smart manufacturing we have incredible new opportunities that impress us every day.

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