Smart thinking3 April 2017
Eva Weber, senior product marketing manager, ABBYY, talks to Converting Today about how software is being used to grow and support converters.
Converting Today: Can you outline the software applications that converters are using to drive their businesses?
Eva Weber: For manufacturing businesses, including converters, equipment providers and IT solutions providers, it is now the era of industry 4.0. In this new digital reality, automation, the internet of things (IoT), and greater transparency of production and logistics processes are expected. As converters enter a new generation of engineering, smart or artificially intelligent IT applications will play a critical role.
Technologies that can deliver high levels of accuracy, help to raise quality standards in production, and enable manufacturers to achieve new legal and security standards will be essential in the automation of quality-assurance processes. These technologies include digital document management for R&D and product lifecycles, automated technologies that enable higher-functioning robots, and machines operating at the production line ‘reading’ and checking the quality of printed texts.
What are the software trends in the converting industry at the moment?
Software in manufacturing is becoming smarter. Artificial intelligence is increasingly being added to manufacturing processes, such as detailed quality inspection and testing. Algorithms relying on visually-acquired information use modern machine-vision and computer-vision systems, where the combination of an industrial camera and a computer-processing unit simulates the function of human visual control.
Machine-vision-based robotic systems are going beyond the limitations of merely ‘seeing’ and making decisions based on the visual inputs like material characteristics or defects. By incorporating sophisticated text recognition, like optical character recognition (OCR) technologies, machine-vision systems can gain ‘reading’ capabilities.
Text-based information printed on labels, products, packaging or even text displayed on computer screens can be captured, interpreted and processed. As in both scenarios, the textual information is available as ‘image-only’ information. OCR technology is then needed to convert this and make it machine readable, searchable and usable. There is a huge opportunity for manufacturers of machine-vision and testing equipment to add extra value to their products for the converting industry.
What challenges do converters face when they are looking for software to help them add value to their products?
Every converting factory is an individual ecosystem with its own processes, production lines and issues. Production lines are stable environments, built to run large cycles. These can be updated but rarely deviate from their main process. The IT industry, on the other hand, is in constant flux: companies emerge, get folded in or disappear. Software is always improving, changing, or can be suddenly discontinued.
When choosing software to support systems and improve the quality of products, converters need to consider their IT partners carefully: will their software be supported and maintained over the next ten years? Will they provide quick technical support under the threat of costly delays in production? There is no one-size-fits-all solution on the market, so is the software product flexible enough to be adjusted to the converter’s needs?
IT projects for converters are individual and must be tailored to efficiently solve specific challenges – does the IT partner provide consultancy and does it have enough technical personnel to support the project? For this reason, converters and manufacturers must carefully evaluate software providers alongside the features of the software itself.
What do you think the future of software for the converting industry looks like?
Integration is key. Converters are not only looking into software that brings new functionality and improves their products and processes – a major concern is how easily a smart technology can be integrated into existing systems, IT solutions and workflows. The real benefit of intelligent software can only prevail if it comes with a fast return on investment – no converter can afford any downtime or overly costly testing phases. Another crucial point is scalability – whether a software or technology grow with new requirements, such as further production sites adding more languages, or new legal and security restrictions.