Online Exclusive

Getting Inline and More Automated

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.

Hamilton told me that he thinks it is “a mistake” for OEMs to only offer offset-like feed and delivery systems. Even though people may say they do not want inline finishing now, it is the future, he contends. “I’m on the bandwagon. Inline finishing is sort of a component of digital printing.” The trend is toward single operators running multiple devices, he added, citing a customer at the MGI dealer event at PRINT 13, who borrowed from baseball jargon to describe his flexible employees as “three-tool players” capable of running: 1) a color digital device, 2) a specialty output device, such as a Scodix dimensional press, and 3) something else.

However, Standard Finishing Systems sales director George Vergilis is not so sure about full inline finishing migration. “Inline may be a goal, but its implementation often is not successful,” he cautioned. “The hands-free goal is not realistic.” Near-line solutions are a good compromise, according to Vergilis. “You can move a [printed] roll to a finishing device, directly to a saddlestitcher, folder, or perfect binder, which we showed at PRINT 13, then to an automated trimmer at speeds up to 1,000 per hour.” He added that with a Hunkeler front on a 30-inch-wide production plow folder, four-, six-, or eight-page signatures can be cut, glued, pressed, and delivered to stacks at 650 fpm.

Digital print processes are capable of hands-off, lights-out production that takes place with minimal human intervention. This advantage extends to postpress finishing, too, said Spiel Associates co-owner David Spiel, although he admitted that he does not care for the “sexy” term digital bindery. “The digital part refers to the digitally controlled set up,” Spiel said, “[to] the loading and off-loading of the machine.”

According to Spiel, today’s bindery managers are looking for smaller machines that set-up quickly and do not require a skilled operator to run. “They also want machines that can run without an operator being there the entire time,” he said. His firm’s Sterling Digipunch device is controlled by a touchscreen computer that handles the entire set up, from size and sheet pick up to speed “and even tracking the maintenance of punching dyes – when to sharpen and lubricate,” Spiel explained. “A good operator will be binding books while the machine is punching,” he added. “You can have one operator on two machines.” The Digipunch can run up to 500,000 sheets daily; its Sterling Punchmaster counterpart can double that quantity (with fewer change-overs).

More automation, less labor

“The labor squeeze that has plagued Europe has raised its ugly head here in America,” Spiel noted. “We installed the first automatic cover flipper for a fully automatic wire binder in the U.S. This is a big labor saver.” In addition, the company’s popular Sterling Digibinder perfect binder now sports vacuum waste removal and extra heavy-duty roughing. Explained co-owner Michael Spiel, David’s brother, “Also, with our new iglue, digital printers can perfect bind coated stock, even if it is oil-infused or uses wax-based ink.”

“Printers doing work for Shutterfly called us for a solution for their calendar production problem,” Saul Spiel, another co-owner/brother, told the PRINT 13 Show Daily last month. “We developed an attachment for the Sterling Punchmaster that punched the hanger hole simultaneously with the Wire-O holes at the opposite end of the sheet. This allowed them to punch their large runs in one pass instead of two. Since all their calendars are one-offs, this staved off a lot of paper-handling headaches. We went from the idea to a full production model in under three months.” Spiel Associates has since installed five of these machines.

However, David Spiel pointed out that the amount of volume that Shutterfly outputs – tens of thousands of one-offs – does not really qualify as “short-run work.” Rollem International president Larry Corwin can relate to Spiel’s back-to-the-future run length assessment: “That’s why changeover speed has become more important than press speeds,” Corwin chimed in. “Digital presses, in tandem with the Internet and web-to-print, are what ushered in the digital print era. Now you can print five photo sheets for Mark and 12 for Marcy; there may be 1,000 orders for 50 photos. Photo books are selling at an all-time high globally, between 700 and 2,000 books per day.”

InfoTrends’ Hamilton agreed with Corwin and Spiel’s “short-run” arguments, especially when talking about the massive volumes generated by the wider inkjet web presses now on the market. “In light of today’s ever-changing marketplace, it is short-sighted to continue viewing production digital print only as a short-run, quick turnaround technology,” he concluded in his white paper. “The advantages that digital print can bring to the feeding and finishing market should not be overlooked. Features such as electronic collation, automatic duplexing, multiple paper drawers, and inline finishing are all central to digital printing’s identity. The digital printing market is expanding with the entrance of new high-speed inkjet technologies, and innovative finishing technologies provide a key component to help accomplish this revolution.”

PUR adhesive binding

The Digital Press, Dorset, U.K., has improved the quality of its binding by adding a DigiBook 150 from Morgana Systems, which uses strong, flexible polyurethane reactive (PUR) hot-melt adhesive, to complement its Xeikon 5000 color output. The print firm produces pre-runs and preview copies of paperback books for publishers, or final proof copies of some publications, short-run manuals, and property booklets.

The DigiBook 150 is capable of approximately 150 cycles per hour, it can bind publications with spine thicknesses from 2mm through to 50mm, in book sizes up to 14.7x12.5 inches. A key feature of the 150, and across the DigiBook range, is the patented glue application system. Spine and side glue are applied using an adjustable slot applicator, allowing accurate control over both functions to give the best possible results. All the machines have hermetically sealed glue and cleaning system which gives the quickest possible start-up and shutdown of the system with minimal glue wastage.

“We have a regular requirement to bind 200 to 300 page books with very short run lengths,” explained owner Peter Randall. “Our previous hot-melt system was not reliable, but other PUR systems are simply too large and expensive for runs that might be as low as just half-a-dozen copies. The DigiBook 150 is easy to set up, and is perfectly suited to run from six to 200 copies—which covers just about all of our needs.”

Standard Finishing Systems also introduced a host of new products to the North American market, including the Horizon BQ-280PUR Perfect Binder, which offers single-clamp PUR perfect binding with professional quality in a compact footprint. Specially designed for the production of digitally printed books, personalized photo books, smaller sample runs, and other ultra-short-run work, the BQ-280PUR can be operated by a single person and includes an automated, sensor activated digital caliper system for consistent measurement of book block thickness every time. The binder achieves production speeds up to 400 books per hour.

Colornet Press, Los Angeles, has brought short-run perfect binding in house with the BQ-280PUR Perfect Binder. The 24-year-old firm caters to the crème de la crème of print buyers—mostly high-end ad agencies, design firms, and the brands they represent. “The finishing is where we’re very meticulous,” president Nick Nejad told the PRINT 13 Show Daily publication last month. “That’s where a lot of things can go wrong right at the end, which is a disaster. Therefore, we want to control as much of our bindery right here, under strict supervision.”

Nejad had high expectations for a short-run perfect binder. He wanted the same quality as he was getting from his partners, which he says were some of the best binderies in the area. “When I saw the information on this machine, my eyes sparkled,” Nejad said. “The key here was taking the Standard Horizon single-clamp machine and marrying it with a PUR gluing system. When Standard Horizon manufactured these together, I said, ‘I’ve got to check this out!’ We were not only the first installation in Los Angeles, but in the entire U.S.”

The Standard Horizon BQ-280PUR affords print suppliers simple operation with touchscreen control and environmentally friendly PUR glue. An automated sensor-activated digital caliper system ensures consistent measurement of book block thickness every time. Operators need only to input book-block and cover information for quick setup—or call up any of the 200 job presets that may be stored and secured in the memory.

“We knew it would pay for itself in a very short time, but what’s more important is what it really brings to us in terms of service and capability,” Nejad remarked. “I had no idea that six months later, we’d think, ‘How could we do without this?’ The answer is, I don’t know how.”

Nejad notes that the new binding solution will also support longer run jobs. “Sometimes we may need to produce quantities of 5,000 to 10,000, which we’d bind outside. However, the customer may need a short turnaround, because they may need 50 copies for a show or a meeting. Well, we can buy ourselves a little time and produce 50 books, because I can take my signatures for 50 books and bind them here, and there will be no difference in the quality. This is definitely a great investment,” Nejad surmised.

PRINT 13 recap

At the quadrennial PRINT 13 tradeshow in Chicago last month, Morgana featured the U.S. launch of its DigiBook 300 PUR perfect binding machine. The unit can produce up to 300 8.5x11 inch books per hour. A patented solution controls the application of the PUR glue with a sealed nozzle system, making the 300 model quick and effective to set-up and shut down. The machine was shown producing a range of digitally printed and litho printed jobs on coated stock, and also produced book blocks with end-papers ready for casing into hardcover books.

Morgana also showed a complete new range of bookletmakers, including the System 2000S—a product that is capable of producing booklets of up to 120 pages. The system will be fed by the ACF510, a hybrid feeder capable of feeding pre-collated sets from a digital print engine, collating litho printed sections, or indeed combining both into a finished book product. The heavy-duty bookletmaking section comes complete with wire stitching heads, fore-edge trimmer, and the Morgana Squarefold 2000 to give a professional perfect bound effect to the finished product.

The System 2000S was shown with the optional CST unit. This unit can edge-trim the sheets before the bookletmaking section, meaning the work can be taken straight from the press to the finishing unit with no need to trim the edges on a guillotine, streamlining the entire process. The CST comes complete with a creasing mechanism helping to eliminate cracking on digital print or cross grained cover stock.

In addition to these launches, Morgana showed several machines from their Pro range of creasers and folders, all controlled with SmartScreen touchscreen software. The market leading AutoCreaser Pro 33 was shown with the latest software incorporating an application specifically designed for perfect bound cover production. It is also available with an option of side-stop perforating, ideal for applications such as draw tickets or tear-off vouchers. The larger format AutoCreaser Pro 50 ran with the AutoFold inline folding unit. AutoFold can be added to any existing Morgana creaser or to creasing equipment supplied by other manufacturers.

In another North American premiere, Standard showed the Hunkeler Roll-to-Signature Book Block Solution producing ready-to-bind, glued book blocks from digital webs up to 30 inches wide. Rolls are processed into four-, six- or eight-page signatures on the PF7 double-plow folder and transferred to the new high-performance CS6-HS cutter and SD7 double star wheel delivery stacker for non-stop operation up to 650 fpm.

In a world first, Standard demonstrated the Smart Binding System for continuous-feed digital print, producing short-run, variable books of different size and thickness from a 20-inch roll with no manual touch points. The system features the Standard Hunkeler unwinder and rotary cutter inline with the Horizon AF-566F Folder. Glued book blocks are presented to the Horizon SB-09V perfect binder and then trimmed on the HT-1000V variable trimmer.

An integrated roll-to-fold solution featuring full web inspection also was shown producing complex variable-data direct mail pieces in one pass at 500 fpm with dynamic perforating from sheet to sheet for coupons, reply cards, and convenience checks. Standard partnered with key digital print manufacturers including Canon, HP, Ricoh, Screen, and Xerox on a range of applications to bring highly integrated feeding and finishing solutions to the show floor.

More from the show floor

Another debut at PRINT 13 was Duplo’s new mid-range digital color finisher, the DC-646 Slitter/Cutter/Creaser. Set to succeed the popular DC-645 model, the DC-646 provides small to mid-volume printers the ability to produce a wider range of unique full-bleed documents with more efficiency and flexibility. Performing up to six slits, 25 cuts, and 20 creases in a single pass, the DC-646 eliminates white borders and prevents toner cracking on fold lines up to 30 sheets per minute and also offers optional rotary tool and cross perforating modules for increased versatility.

Also debuting was the entry-level 150C Booklet System, which incorporates the new DBM-150 Bookletmaker with the DSC-10/20 Suction Collator. New features on the DBM-150 Bookletmaker include an Isaberg Rapid Stapler and a high capacity staple cartridge for enhanced stapling performance and 16-job memory for fast job setup. Ideal for low volume production, the 150C Booklet System produces up to 2,400 booklets per hour and offers the reliability for efficient bookletmaking.

The new Ultra 300Ai UV Coater with the SF-200 PLUS Suction Feeder and the entry-level Ultra 100A UV Coater with the Hand Feed Module were demonstrated as well. The Ultra 300Ai applies a smear-free gloss, satin, or matte finish to offset and digitally printed documents at high speeds of up to 148 feet per minute. The Ultra 300Ai is fully connectable inline with any HP Indigo 7000 digital press or can be connected to other digital printers via a bridge unit.

Also on display was the Mitabook, a hardcover casing-in solution designed to economically produce short-run hard cover and photo books on demand. The Mitabook automatically feeds and glues book blocks onto pre-made hard covers and delivers finished books in a matter of minutes with only a single operator required. For a complete solution, users can use the Mitacase to create quality hard covers and the Mitamax to create book blocks quickly and efficiently.

The change in change-overs

Standard sales director Vergilis laughed when asked about changeover times from an historical perspective. “The average change-over time on a manual folder is 40 minutes – anywhere from 10 minutes to three hours.” When Standard introduced its half-size AFS 566 Automated Folder 12 years ago, some 85 percent of the labor was taken out. For perfect binders, eight-minute changeovers seemed quick at one time, recalled the 18-year company veteran. “Now, with high-quality stepper motors, change-overs take a few seconds for thickness and just under one minute for total format changes, including covers and book blocks.” Managing quality and consistency are more important than ever, Vergilis explained, “because finishing ‘screw-ups’ are costly,” especially with low-volume photo industry printing.

Rollem’s Corwin has a good memory as well. The firm’s 50th anniversary celebration kicked off at PRINT 13 with the introduction of the Delta Die-Cutting system designed for companies seeking growth opportunities in the label, custom packaging, and direct mail markets. “The Delta series is a new class of machine built for the short-run market,” said Corwin, who added that its sheet speed is “web-like” at 17,000 sph. Featuring quick changeovers, the Delta models are one-quarter of the price of any product in its class before, according to Rollem. “It’s ideal for a printer with an [HP] Indigo or [Xerox] iGen who wants to get into labels or boxing,” he noted.

“I remember … when sheetfed technology approached web-offset speeds,” Corwin added. “Five thousand sheets became 8,000, then 10,000, 12,000, and 16,000. When the Indigo first came out, 1,000 to 1,500 [sph] was considered fast for digital. Now it’s 3,000 to 4,000 sph.” The initial lack of speed, he said, explains the types of products that migrated early to digital printing – personalized items and photo products. “Early on, the presses were slower and the sheets were smaller. High volumes were not what people were looking for. But that has changed,” he said, pointing out that niche printers now can profitably sell business cards at $12 per thousand – nearly one-fourth of the cost three decades ago. By gang-running on modern technology, “high volumes can be produced using less labor. They can take orders, accept files, and get paid efficiently and economically.”

Going forward, Spiel Associates foresees incremental improvements but no bold finishing revolutions in the next five to 10 years. “Automated set up is leveling off,” concluded David Spiel, whose firm is celebrating its 45th business anniversary in 2013. “Servo motors can maybe be a little faster, but other than that, everything is [about] as fast as it can be.” The bigger, faster machines tend to be less automated, he added. “They’re more industrial – less for quick printers and more for commercial production,” Spiel explained, “so there’s an assumption that skilled operators are required to run these machines.”

JDF Still Slow Going in Postpress

Results of the InfoTrends 2013 study, “Emerging Trends: Finishing in Production Print,” show that the adoption of automation is relatively low, and simpler off-line approaches are clearly favored over networked solutions set-ups. The most frequently used process today are barcodes for an automated set-up, although this used by only 28 percent of sites surveyed. This approach reduces set-up time at the finishing device for repeat jobs and can reduce human error in the set-up. Having libraries for an automated set-up of repeat jobs directly at the finishing device is used by 20 percent of the companies and is an even easier approach, which should at least speed up the set-up process for repeat jobs.

Job Definition Format (JDF) is a standard for print job definitions and process information exchange, by now widely used in printing workflows. “JDF adoption has been slow in postpress, but it’s getting there,” InfoTrends group director Jim Hamilton told me. But for many printers, vendor-specific solutions may be better, he added. JDF adoption in postpress, however, remains limited, not least because most (advanced) finishing devices are automated through bindery specifications that are not supported in JDF. Just over 10 percent of sites use JDF data at least for off-line entries, which does reduce human error and good potential for a quick and flexible equipment set-up.

The most advanced option would be a JDF set-up via network, which does not only give the greatest flexibility in the set-up and a very potential for errors but also offers return information for capacity planning, accounting, and job tracking. Nevertheless, only 6.5 percent of respondents use this approach. Almost 10 percent use a vendor-specific network approach, which can bring the same benefits but has less flexibility than a general standard in the long term.

Source: InfoTrends

Wide-format Finishing Debut

At the Specialty Graphics Imaging Association (SGIA) exposition later this month (Oct. 23-25 in Orlando), Esko will launch a completely new digital finishing platform when it demonstrates the Kongsberg C64 at booth 1201. The C64 model will be shown working with 126-inch-wide x 126-inch-long materials to accommodate today’s large format printing sizes. (Also available is the C60 model to accommodate 126-inch-wide x 63-inch-long sizes.

“This is not just a new Kongsberg table – it is a completely re-engineered and redesigned platform for Kongsberg finishing systems” said Steve Bennett, VP of Esko’s Digital Finishing Business. “We call this the C-series after a decade of the highly successful and well known Kongsberg X-series. Among the many great new features, one of the eye catchers will be the innovative composite traverse technology that provides the fastest throughput along with the highest quality and precision in cutting and routing compared to all other systems of the same size.

“Just as impressive, the Kongsberg C provides the highest versatility for all sign, display, and packaging applications,” Bennett added. “It does all this while making it easy to use the machine - from the new, simple interface to the ease of replacing tools on the table …. With the new Kongsberg C64, we set a new standard for digital finishing and extend our ‘best-in-class product line to a very wide 3.2-meter-wide table,” he concluded. “We bring a solution that can keep up with the faster, wider printers of today and tomorrow, while maintaining the standards in quality, versatility, precision and productivity that Kongsberg tables are noted for.”