Fat Bottlenecks in the Digital Bindery

I haven’t gulped a Mickey’s malt liquor since my over-21 college days, but my thirst recalls those wider bottlenecks, through which the beer-like beverage flowed oh, so freely. While the “Big Mouth” bottle metaphor may seem strange in a print finishing context, it is apropos, nonetheless.

“A ‘bottleneck’ is a phenomenon where the performance or capacity of an entire system is limited by a single or limited number of components or resources,” so says Wikipedia. In a bindery, that translates to something like this: It doesn’t matter how fast presses can print if postpress cannot keep up on the back end. Slow binding lines mean printed work sits idle in rolls or on pallets, waiting to be completed.

With production inkjet web presses, as with all printing, putting ink on paper is only the beginning. The increasing personalization of bound products presents publishers with new opportunities. (See separate article, “Custom ‘Printfomercials’ Are in the Mail,” on page 8.)

As digital color printing on coated paper becomes increasingly attractive, keeping up is what leading postpress solutions manufacturers such as Magnum Digital Solutions, Muller Martini Corp., and Standard Finishing Systems are trying to do. Their automated finishing solutions already can match the high, feet-per-minute (fpm) speeds of black-and-white inkjet output such as books, billing statements, and newspapers. And these systems are accelerating toward record paces for color output too, including applications such as direct mail and magalogs.

“Our finishing partners, such as Magnum and Muller Martini, are on a trajectory to hit the [necessary] speeds,” says Doug Sexton, manager of global publishing market development at HP’s Inkjet High-speed Production Solutions (IHPS) division. “They’re already there with 800 fpm in mono[chrome on uncoated stock], and color is coming.”

Today, “a single press [can] feed multiple near-line finishing solutions,” Sexton notes, “as roll-to-roll output is taken to a secondary finishing device at 400 fpm to 500 fpm.”

Andy Fetherman, division manager of digital solutions at Muller Martini, concurs: “The trend is there,” Fetherman acknowledges, citing an increase in coated inkjet paper supply as evidence. (See separate article, “Coated Paper Chase,” on page 15.)

“Color will migrate quickly, like [monochrome] book work has over the past three to four years,” he predicts. “We hit speed milestones every year in the book space.”

Fetherman adds that with the capability of high-speed, inline processing via its Sigmaline perfect binders, Muller Martini can get up to 800 fpm. “Color won’t run that fast at first,” he cautions, because the slicker coated stocks require an optimization process. “These aren’t workbooks,” Fetherman notes. “There may be more static issues, and the [paper] transfer process needs to be evaluated.”


Open House, Open Minds

Canadian finishing manufacturer Magnum was present at an open house that digital print innovator Strategic Content Imaging (SCI) hosted in New Jersey last winter, just before a major storm hit there. Steve Fyfe, director of digital development and owner of Magnum Digital Solutions, reports that a large part of the event’s focus was inkjet for commercial and retail applications. SCI, a subsidiary of Command Web Offset of Secaucus, NJ, employs several digital presses, including models from Kodak (Digimaster), Xeikon, and HP—Indigo as well as T300 and now T350 inkjet web presses.

In addition to one-off products for its more traditional healthcare and financial customers, Fyfe explains, “SCI is producing customized, four-color [inkjet] print on coated stocks for retail inserts and onserts for Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, and Christian Dior.” The firm has output 680,000 copies at full speed on its 30-inch HP T300 Color Inkjet Web Press, he adds.

SCI is investigating adapting its Magnum Flex Book system, installed inline two years ago on the back of the T300 inkjet web, to finish other types of inkjet-printed products.

Flex Book provides an efficient method for the production of high-quality, fused book blocks. Using cut-sheet technology, it produces blocks free of the common shingling and bottling problems found in folding technologies utilizing signature solutions. Blocks are made durable with its digitally controlled, sinusoidal fusing technology and can be fed inline to a binding system or offline.

Flex Book was developed with the future of digital printing in mind. The finishing system is capable of a web width up to 43 inches and speeds up to 800 fpm. This was the design goal in mind from its origins more than three years ago. The anticipation was that high-speed inkjet technology would evolve to these specifications over time, says Fyfe.


Digital Staples

So far as standard saddle-stitching for digitally printed output is concerned, “the need was not there [initially],” Fetherman said, “but we did not wait.”

One US customer presently is running Muller Martini’s roll-fed (roll-to-roll) Primera technology inline at 500 feet per minute (fpm), which translates to 9,000 copies per hour. “We envision going even faster in the future, maybe up to 16,000 per hour,” Fetherman projects.

The Primera can be fed inline with signatures from a web press, either offset or inkjet. Adds Steve Welkey, business manager for HP Inkjet Web Presses in the Americas, “If signatures are what they [the customers] do, then inline works great.” With sheet-stack features, 12x18-inch bleeds come off the saddle-stitcher, Welkey says, adding that there is flexibility for letters and posters, too.

At the annual, five-day Hunkeler Innovationdays exhibition in Switzerland this past February, Muller Martini presented its Presto II Digital saddle-stitching machine, the Primera’s “baby brother”, according to Fetherman. A new control system was shown in May 2012 at the quadrennial drupa trade fair in Dusseldorf, Germany. This past month, the Presto II device was displayed with a high-performance processing folder, two signature feeders, a cover folder feeder, the stitching machine, and a three-knife trimmer—in combination with an unwinding system, a fold/merge module, and a cross cutter from Hunkeler. Three different pieces were produced live in a continuous run, including four-across pre-printed web products, folded twice across the web “in a double-parallel fold,” Fetherman describs, “leading to variable cover possibilities.”

Of inkjet print, Dragan Volic, marketing director for print finishing systems at Muller Martini, comments: “Quality expectations regarding digitally printed, saddle stitched products are just as high as for conventional print products. With the Presto II Digital, we can offer the customary, first-class stitching quality and all the finishing options enabled by our flexible modular design.” High trim quality, center cutting, film wrapping, and palletizing are examples of the possibilities.

The Presto II Digital provides a high degree of investment protection as well, making it an ideal solution for small and medium-sized enterprises, according to Muller Martini. A saddle stitcher equipped with signature feeders for conventional (offset) use can be expanded for use in digital/inkjet print. “Switches between the two production types and combined products, i.e.: a combination of digitally printed signatures, conventionally printed signatures, and selective cover feeding, are possible at any time,” explains Volic.

As a first configuration, the Presto II Digital can be loaded from a preprinted roll, fitted with folding modules for multipage signatures, or equipped for single-sheet processing. Of course, the saddle-stitcher also can also be used as a fully integrated inline solution (digital printing with print finishing). The Connex data and process management system from Muller Martini enables the seamless interplay and optimal control of all aggregates, the firm adds.


Near-, In-, or Off-Line Versatility

“The Hunkeler pre/post for continuous feed and the Horizon finishing equipment [saddle stitching and perfect binding] transfers over to any type of finished publication that is stitched or perfect bound,” explains Don Dubuque, marketing director at Standard Finishing Systems, whether printed with inkjet or offset inks. “For example, the Hunkeler UW6 Unwinder and CS6 Cutter can be put inline with the Horizon StitchLiner 6000 SaddleStitcher, either inline with a continuous feed print engine or off-line.”

Houston-based mega print firm Consolidated Graphics (CGX) is heavily vested in digital printing, including inkjet web technology. Veritas Document Solutions, a CGX company situated in Buffalo Grove, IL, near Chicago, went inline and installed Standard Hunkeler roll-to-cut stack solutions on the back ends of digital presses from HP and Xerox. Also on its production floor are a Standard Horizon Stitchliner 5500, a BQ-470 Perfect Binder, and an HT-70 Three-knife Trimmer.