When it comes to digital output, flat’s not where it’s at. Today’s digital jobs, no matter how long or short the run may be, generally need to be collated or scored or folded or laminated or coated or bound or some combination of all of these processes. Also, for digital output some finishing steps are more important than they would be with offset output. One reason concerns the processes involved in putting the marks on the paper.
As I noted in an earlier article, for commercial production printers, digital output can be divided into two categories—inkjet and toner. Each presents its own set of considerations when it comes to paper selection and finishing steps and options. Currently, toner is far and away the leading digital output technology in the commercial printing industry. However, developments in inkjet are allowing that output technology to make significant inroads. Inkjet inks tend to soak into uncoated papers or sit on top of coated stock, which calls for UV or some other drying method before finishing. On the other hand, toner needs to be fused to the page and has a tendency to crack if not scored before folding.
Another consideration when it comes to finishing digital output is whether you do it in-line, near-line, or offline. Several years ago, a PRIMIR study found that most digital production printers were using mostly off-line finishing. At that time, about half of digital monochrome presses had some sort of in-line finishing capabilities, but less than 20 percent of color machines had any inline finishing options. However, nearly half of all color digital printer providers said they would opt for some types of in-line finishing when they bought a new color digital production press.
Today, nearly every color digital production press comes equipped with some inline finishing capabilities and optional roll-up or near-line finishing equipment, such as booklet makers. Finishing equipment manufacturers have adapted their equipment to meet the specifications and characteristics of the various digital production presses and have combined several finishing steps, such as slitting, cutting, and creasing, into one device.
Faster and Easier
At this year’s drupa, there seemed to be two major factors driving the enhancements, upgrades, and new introductions in the finishing arena—speed and automation. These two factors are a result of the increasingly shorter run lengths in today’s digital printing operations.
As the speed of digital production presses has increased over the years, finishing equipment manufacturers have had to keep up with the faster press output. However, there is more involved here than sheer throughput speeds. Where once a digital press might be running a couple of long-run jobs per shift, today it could be called upon to run dozens of shorter jobs per shift. This makes automation and makeready all the more important. If you are doing runs of 500 or 1,000 but have a 45 minute makeready time, you aren’t going to make money.
With shorter jobs, faster finishing setup is a must. With the need for speed, combining several finishing steps into one device is also important. Finally, simplicity of operation and computerized controls are becoming more and more important.
New at drupa
At drupa 2012, several manufacturers exhibited their latest efforts to improve and/or expand their offerings in the digital finishing arena to meet the needs of digital production printing. While it would be impossible to cover all the digital finishing products on display at the show, below are a few examples. Those North American-based manufacturers such as Spiel Associates, Count Machinery, etc. which did not exhibit at drupa will very likely be on the show floor this October at Graph Expo 2012 in Chicago.