Can Digital Finishing Improve Your Bottom Line?

As wide-format PSPs seek ways to improve efficiency and profitability, automation is growing increasingly important. Cutting systems and routers have become critical elements in the profitability equation.These systems provide growth-oriented PSPs with benefits including flexibility, material savings, and far greater control. The equipment allows shops to grow and evolve as market opportunities appear. Aided by marketing strategies that trumpet a wider range of capabilities, they can serve a broader market and begin enjoying all the profit potential that entails.


Swiss Precision, Wide Variety

Given the new breed of printers that can print on virtually any type of substrate, the need for finishing products is growing exponentially, said Reto Woodtli, general manager of Franklin, WI-based Zund America.

“All those materials, on which you can print all kinds of graphics, provide opportunities undreamt of 10 years ago,” Woodtli said. “But you can only reach the full potential of all these capabilities if you keep up on the finishing side, and acquire finishing equipment that can keep up with all the printers and is flexible and modular enough to handle all these different materials.”

That’s important in an industry where too many PSPs buy equipment based on what they’re producing now, rather than looking out three years or even one year, Woodtli said. They fail to consider whether their new equipment can quickly adapt to growing productivity needs, or to new solutions the house may want to provide its customers.

That’s one of the biggest changes impacting the printing industry today, Woodtli said. “You’re not buying a specific machine for a specific job. What you’re buying is equipment that is able to grow together with your company.”

The bottom line, Woodtli noted, is the tendency of PSPs to invest in the output on the printing side, without taking the crucial issue of finishing into consideration. That creates a bottleneck in the workflow that limits the return on investment in printers. “Whenever you buy equipment, you’re investing in the future, so think out of the box,” he said. “Choose a system flexible enough to grow with you.”

Multi-Purpose Digital Finishing

With the growth of digital printing directly to materials, PSPs need a machine that can digitally finish the process. “You’re out of the square-foot commodity business and selling a product by the piece, not by the square foot,” said Steve Bennett, vice-president of the sign display business of EskoArtwork. “And you’re selling a solution. We’re trying to get sign shops to deliver solutions rather than commodities.”

With the tools now available to them, digital printers and digital finishers in combination can provide products to many markets. They can go from producing simple commodity signs to high-end POP materials. That can result in a margin improvement of two to 10 times the margin obtainable in commodity signs. “But to earn that, we have to caution, requires more than simply buying the hardware,” Bennett said. “You need to use the 3D tab software, and decorate it with beautiful graphics. Then you’re out of two-dimensional signs and into three-dimensional displays.”

Using a digital finisher and better layout, shops can garner better material yields than they could with no finisher and a sloppy layout. Bennett reported hearing clients tout improvements of 20 or even 30 percent, which “goes directly to the bottom line.”

It is important, he added, to invest in operator training, as well as in efforts to go out, knock on doors, and show clients and prospects what you can do.

“Many shops have the financial resources to buy equipment. But who’s going to run it? A sign shop that doesn’t have a proactive marketing plan, as opposed to a reactive marketing plan, isn’t going to reap as much benefit. The operator training cannot be stressed enough, and a proactive marketing plan to market their services to new and prospective clients is critical.”


Bringing Dye Production In-House

Among shops witnessing the benefits of cutting systems and routers is York, PA's Strine Printing, reported lead employee for die making Mike Beard. Beard works at Strine Packaging, the sister company of Strine Printing. In the past, Strine was highly dependent on its die supplier to not only supply dies, but also to remake and resend dies that weren’t quite right, leading to a corresponding enormous loss of time, Beard said.

Strine’s cutting systems provide the company with the flexibility of making its own dyes. “In the early morning, when a file comes down, they’ll say we need these dies done,” Beard said. “By that night, we can have those dies done and on the truck over to Strine Printing. We also have the versatility to alter dies or make all new layouts if customers want changes.”

The router handles one specific part of the dye-making manufacturing process, Beard says. A typical die set will have the cutting die, a set of strippers (male and female), and a set of counters. “Our laser will burn the die board, make a male stripper, and then the die board will go to the bender where the rule will be processed, and be placed into the board,” he explained. “And of course, we have a water jet that cuts the rubber, and that rubber gets placed onto the die around the cutting knife. In this process, the router will make the female stripping board and the counters. Counters create the channel and sheet for a die board. To buy them outside is very expensive, but they have a very long run life. So if we can make our own counters, using the routers, those counters can last hundreds of thousands of impressions. That’s a tremendous savings.”

The router has the versatility to cut different kinds of materials, including Styrene, foam-core, and thin metal plates, Beard added.

Asked if integrating newer equipment into the workflow has been tough, Beard noted there is “definitely a learning curve.” But Strine now handles 90 to 95 percent of its own dye work in house, and the transition has been smooth. Strine also has benefited from more reliable scheduling. That’s because, Beard said, Strine can get dies done quickly, reliably, and exactly as it wants them done.

It has been just a bit more than three years since Strine has moved to production of its own dies. Said Beard: “Within the first year, we recouped the costs of the cutting systems and routers—easily.”


Satisfying PacBlue’s Need for Speed

Another shop singing the praises of cutting systems is PacBlue Printing in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Marketing communications manager Nicolas Slobinsky reported the shop recently added the Océ ProCut flatbed digital cutter.

Said Slobinsky: “Until now, much of the company’s work involved time-consuming and labor-intensive manual finishing and cutting. With the addition of the Océ ProCut flatbed digital cutter and Zund cutter, we have sped up the production process as well as removed the margin for error. Because of PacBlue Printing’s ability to work across all sizes and types of material, we acquired a cutter that reflects the same amount of versatility in operation and is able to work with a variety of thicknesses, lengths, and widths. We’ve successfully cut our turnaround times, our outsourcing costs, and our production times.

“The cutter has also opened up new business opportunities by allowing us to do contour cutting, custom-made boxes, and more,” he added.