Mechatronics system runs production by the book

Modernizing old-world media

C.H.Beck Group (CHB) in Noerdlingen, Germany, is Europe’s largest publisher of law books. CHB launched in 1763 when it took over a small publishing company that was established in 1632. While printing, binding, warehousing, logistics, and delivery operations are still located in Noerdlingen, CHB’s headquarters moved to Munich in 1889. Printing is handled at two sites, one inside and one outside the city walls. Both locations use modern equipment, though the in-city plant is housed in historic buildings, including the original facility.

Current production includes 26 million softcover books, more than 14 million trade magazines, and about 5 million books in loose-leaf binders per year. The company started multimedia operations in 1995 and now offers CD/DVD and online/on-demand printing. More than a dozen programmers work in the media section.

A critical step in softcover book production is hot-gluing and cooling stacks of printed, cut, and folded paper sheets in a solid block to avoid trapping air between the pages. CHB completes this process using a Siemens S5 Series programmable logic controller (Figure 1) to control a cooling paternoster. This paternoster comprises a set of moving platforms, about 2 m x 6 m (7' x 20') each, mounted on a vertical chain drive 10 layers high. It also acts as a first-in, first-out buffer. The mechanical part of this structure was adapted from a commercial cold storage warehouse paternoster.

Figure 1: A Siemens S5 programmable logic controller made from a set of small boards helps manage production at Europe’s largest legal book publishing company.

CHB personnel developed control algorithms to adapt this mechanical/electrical/informatics (mechatronics) system for book production. The staff selected sensors to check for air between pages, glue temperature, cooling time, mechanical stacking, and accurate stack alignment.

The rotating storage paternoster (shown in Figure 2) processes two books in one piece end-to-end, upside down. This allows for faster production, easier handling, and more solidly stacked pages. When the glue has cooled and dried, the system separates the two books, then turns one around, aligns it with the other book, and cuts it to size on three sides. After setup and thorough fine-tuning, the complete system has functioned properly for several years.

Figure 2: CHB uses a computer-controlled 10-layer-high Paternoster rotating platform to cool and cut stacks of books.

CHB’s printing and media operations in Noerdlingen are certified to several printing standards, including ISO 12647-2 Process Standard Offset, ISO 9001, Forest Stewardship Council, and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes. CHB received the Works Printer of the Year Award on November 6, 2008. The company also operates a Web order, printing, and delivery system for Ford Europe. This system produces vehicle owner’s manuals available in 23 languages as printed documents or as audio guides via the Internet.

Technology events

Hannover Fair (Hannovermesse), the world’s largest industrial event, has transformed into an industrial technology trade show. This past April, more than 210,000 visitors (193,000 last year) came to see about 4,000 new technologies from 6,150 exhibitors. In May, Intersolar 2009, the world’s largest event for photo-voltaic/solar cell products and control electronics, attracted 60,000 visitors (52,000 in 2008) from 150 nations to a venue in Munich with 37 percent larger exhibition space than last year.

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