Most print players concede what a recent study reminds: that a printed sheet only becomes a product when it is finished. Despite its integral role in the print production process, however, “finishing … usually remains below the radar of discussions in the printing industry,” an InfoTrends...
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Most print players concede what a recent study reminds: that a printed sheet only becomes a product when it is finished. Despite its integral role in the print production process, however, “finishing … usually remains below the radar of discussions in the printing industry,” an InfoTrends study stated matter-of-factly earlier this year. The research, conducted in late 2012, went on to point out that finishing is a major economic factor for print service providers (PSPs). The mean value added through finishing operations is nearly 29 percent. “Respondents also indicate that they expect the share to grow,” according to InfoTrends. “With the increasing pressure on margins, on improving efficiency, and in opening new revenue channels, finishing is moving more into the focus of the printing industry.”
In a separate white paper entitled Automating the Document: Feeding and Finishing Strategies for Production Digital Print and published in mid-2012, group director Jim Hamilton wrote, “Some of the most important advantages of digital print are occasionally overlooked. Although advantages like economic short runs, quick turnaround, and the ability to personalize documents are well-known and broadly acknowledged, others are lesser-known,” noted Hamilton, who is responsible for InfoTrends’ production hardware consulting services in the areas of production copying and digital printing, wide format, and labels/packaging. “For example, consider capabilities such as electronic collation, automatic duplexing, the ability to mix multiple paper stocks in a document, having one operator run multiple machines, and access to a range of finishing capabilities inline,” he continued. “These capabilities are a big part of what makes digital print attractive in theory and in practice.”
Three other key InfoTrends findings:
- The level of automation in finishing is relatively low, as is the use of job definition format (JDF) data for presetting finishing equipment.
- Only half of all sites have some form of finishing set-up automation, usually via barcodes or pre-set libraries. More comprehensive, networked approaches are rare, although the interest is high.
- Inline finishing is relatively under-implemented, but there is interest (presumably from sites that have larger volumes of dedicated applications).
Hamilton noted the integrated finishing theme prevalent at North America’s quadrennial PRINT 13 tradeshow last month, citing RISO’s newly launched ComColor X1 Series high-speed, full-color inkjet device. This printer was shown in a transpromo, inline print-to-mail example featuring a single operator on the show floor in Chicago. “After printing, it was laid on top of a prefixed envelope and then a letter was inserted,” Hamilton recalled. “It was variable-data printing inside and outside.” Also, the Canon Niagara, a high-volume, 14x20-inch (half-size), cut-sheet color inkjet press, was previewed. “It integrates with existing feeding and finishing equipment from the Canon-Océ VarioPrint 6000 series. Going with the A3+/B3 format was a strategic R&D decision for Canon,” he noted.
More inline to come?
“Commercial printers’ dependence on off-line finishing methods does not fully take advantage of digital printing’s key benefits,” InfoTrends’ Hamilton asserted in his white paper. “Workflows that take advantage of digital print and inline or near-line finishing are part of a larger trend toward optimization, automation, and lean manufacturing.”
Despite the relatively low usage of inline finishing, there is still good interest in exploring this option among printers. Nearly 60 percent of surveyed sites show some interest, with 13 percent even expressing “strong interest.” It is likely that many printers are still observing the market and are open to adopt inline solutions, but have not yet spotted the right option.