Future-proofing Australian printing with Industry 4.0

This article was first published in the July 2020 issue of AP. The digital version of the magazine is available here.

The fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, takes advantage of automation and data-driven innovation to transform traditional manufacturing. For business, it means enhanced competitiveness and greater resilience.

NSW Smart Sensing Network (NSSN) development manager Dr Donald McCallum said printers are both enablers and users of the technology that is in and around the Internet of Things (IoT).

“As enablers, printers have an important role to play in [printing] the sensors and tagging devices needed in an interconnected world,” Dr McCallum said.

“Our established label makers and converters are well placed and have the capacity to create printed tags and printed electronics.”

Dr McCallum mentioned that IoT offers particular opportunities for printers – whether it’s having the flexibility to produce exotic inks or more futuristic printed electronics.

“We’re going to need millions and billions of tags and labels as people will increasingly want personalised information,” Dr McCallum said.

“When you want to make 10,000 of [smart tags and labels], technologies like reel to reel printing are key.

“There is a call for increased onshore capacity, and I think the printing industry can be a part of that mission. Within the manufacturing industry, printing has got some very exciting capability that can move forward as Australia looks to shore up supply lines.”

As users of the technology, printers can benefit from digitising the traditional manufacturing operations, automate processes and use data analytics to gain complete visibility across the supply and distribution chains.

Dr McCallum said although the stockpiling craze that came with the COVID-19 pandemic was unpredictable, data analytics coupled with Artificial Intelligence (AI) could empower businesses to manage their operations smoothly and potentially predict future trends.

“Printers can use the information around customer behaviour and usage cycles to predict future trends,” Dr McCallum said.

“Data analytics can look at historical data and reveal information about your processes. Data can also work in real time, particularly when sensors are involved.

“There can be sensors and readers at warehouses, the trucks, the destinations, at midpoints and other wait points, which means we have complete visibility on our [distribution] lines.”

Companies can access expertise and technology from across NSW’s leading universities and gain an enduring competitive advantage by partnering with the NSW Smart Sensing Network (NSSN).

The NSSN provides access to hundreds of nationally and internationally renowned researchers with expertise in material science, surface chemistry, nanotechnology, automation, energy processes, and low-cost printing of the actual sensors.

“NSSN has excellent coverage of the capability of our eight leading research-intensive universities across New South Wales, and ACT,” Dr McCallum said.

“We know the state of the art of sensing, and we are in touch with industry groups and industrial companies.”

Tags and smart labels create more data points that correspond to more physical locations, and this allows print managers to have a greater knowledge of how the operations are running.

“We can have full knowledge of what’s going on in the factory and outside of the factory,” Dr McCallum said.

According to Dr McCallum, smart factories can help predict future orders, measure production capacity, help with accurately pricing products, source cheaper energy, water and other utilities and more.

“COVID-19 has shown us that many people are able to work from home. So many of the staff who might have been thought to be critical to be on the site may actually be able to work from home. Smart factories have a big role to play,” Dr McCallum added.

NSSN development manager Dr Donald McCallum, as interviewed by NSSN media and public relations officer Shahrzad Abbasi 

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