Postpress: Integrating Finishing Equipment with Production Inkjet Devices

Whether it’s books, direct mail, transpromo, labels, newspapers or personalized catalogs, today’s inline and offline solutions can keep up with high-speed inkjet output. But when acquiring and integrating finishing equipment in your production workflow, there‘s no end to the factors that must be considered.

What capabilities do you need? How much of a price, and how much floor space, can you afford to exchange for great finishing capabilities? And finally, what are the relative merits of going with inline or offline solutions? All are questions worthy of putting to the authorities on this topic. So Inkjet’s Age went out to learn what the experts have to say about these purchase decisions.

Capabilities

When attention focuses on finishing capabilities, the first decision to be made is what form the output should take. So said Scott Peterson, product marketing manager for Lasermax Roll Tecnau Group, a manufacturer of feeding and finishing equipment for high-speed digital printers, based in Billerica, MA.

“Do you want it to come out in cut sheets or stacked sheets? Do you want a rewind roll inline with the printer, ending with cut sheets on the back end?” he asked. “Or do you want to run roll-to-roll and take care of your finishing offline?”

Ryan Manieri, marketing director for MBO Digital, a company that offers digital solutions that can accommodate roll-to-roll, roll-to-stack, roll-to-book, roll-to-booklet and roll-to-finish production for 20 and 30-inch web formats, said the capabilities sought depend on the needs of the PSP.

Automated set-up, variable finishing, and ease of use are all important technical considerations, he said. “Fully automated machines from MBO can auto-calibrate fold plates, air pressure and alignment systems based off data in a JDF,” he said. “This can greatly reduce set-up times between jobs.”

Variable finishing has evolved as digital printing has improved. A finishing solution equipped with variable capabilities can finish different length signatures from one roll. By combining different signatures on a single roll, paper waste can be reduced on each book, greatly trimming production time. For instance, a 76-page book could be built using 16-page and 12-page signatures, Manieri said.

“Combining the signatures onto one roll results in there being no stoppage for transition between rolls, no secondary set-up for the new signature, and no need to combine the signatures separately,” he said. “Variable finishing basically combines these three steps into one process.”

Ease of use is another capability meriting strong consideration. While it has always been important, it is even more so as the workforce undergoes a generational shift. “Easy-to-navigate touch screens play a part in the equation, but the accessibility of the machine’s components is also important,” he said.

“A lot of time can be gained or lost depending on the ’operator friendly’ nature of a machine and its components.”

Finishing equipment manufacturers need to comprehend and engineer for the many unique requirements of high-speed inkjet presses, to ensure non-stop operation and efficient production, observed Don Dubuque, director of marketing for Andover, MA-based Standard Finishing Systems. Considerations include web width, web speed, paper used, percent coverage, handling the wet sheets with care to avoid any smudging, and being able to remove any set-up or waste sheets during changeover and ramp-up set-up, he reported.

Inline versus Offline

Many print service providers are interested in having all finishing inline, Peterson said. That can include a saddle-stitch booklet maker or a perfect binder, both helpful in maximizing throughput and minimizing labor.

Still, there is a rationale for going offline, he added. As printers get faster and faster, they’re also growing more and more expensive. PSPs must optimize their investment return by keeping them up and running as much as possible.

“Going offline can help you do that, because operating roll-to-roll is the most reliable way to keep printers up and running,” he argued.

“The more equipment you chain together, the more points of potential failure there are, and the more down time you’re going to experience. Operating roll-to-roll, rewinders and unwinders are very reliable pieces of equipment.

“What that means is that you’re minimizing the potential downtime of your printer caused by feeding or finishing. Compare that to cutters and stackers moving stacks of paper, and it doesn’t take an engineering genius to realize there are more points of potential failure.”

Manieri said inline and offline finishing both serve a purpose. The real issue, he argued, is the respective advantages of each technique. Inline finishing is the ideal set-up for print providers who run one type of product, process sensitive documents or consistently process high-volume job runs.

“Offline—finishing sometimes called near-line finishing—is ideal for print providers that offer a wide range of products to customers, have short-medium job runs, or have separate plants for press and finishing processes,” he said.

Spatial Considerations    

Floor space considerations depend greatly on the print provider’s requirements, and tend to vary widely, Manieri said.

A book production line, for instance, will require a much larger footprint than a simple mailer, he pointed out.

Inline finishing can potentially provide more space-saving benefits, Peterson said. “If you’re operating roll-to-roll, you have a rewinder on the back of the printer, and feed it into the cutter,” he noted. “If you take it inline, you have eliminated the rewinder and the corresponding unwinder to reclaim more space.”

According to Dubuque, the need for space efficiency is a constant, and inkjet print and finishing lines are no exception. Modular finishing systems give PSPs more layout flexibility when configuring their finishing solutions, allowing those systems to fit within their current floor space requirements.

The Cost Question

Cost and space considerations are closely linked, Peterson said. Central to both is the speed-match issue. Your high-speed digital printer may operate faster or slower than your binding system. If that match is not optimal, you may need to slow down your printer to match the speed of the binding system, which may require adding another printer. But if your printer is not operating as fast as the binding equipment, you may be able to move the binding devices offline, and make do with fewer binding devices, resulting in economies.

“With mismatched equipment, you may have more equipment than you need, which again leads to cost and space efficiency questions,” Peterson said.

Manieri said that while having good finishing equipment is beneficial, the right holistic approach to the workflow is even more important. The right finishing equipment will positively impact all other areas of production. That means that while upfront costs can be intimidating, the real concern of any PSP buying finishing equipment should be the return on investment for a given solution.

“A line with high initial cost may be able to automate an entire processing step, optimize production capacity and boost the ROI of the printer upstream,” he said. “Customers who want to get the most from their production should consult with finishing experts even at the time of purchasing press equipment.”

Dubuque argued total cost of ownership is critically important to any PSP considering an inkjet investment, and the complementary finishing equipment is an important part of that equation. “There is a wide variety of finishing solutions available, so make sure you compare apples to apples and try to measure real output,” he advised. “Understand true labor costs with any solution, including set-up and changeover time, recovering time from jams and whether the promise of inline can be efficiently realized. In some cases striving for inline adds significant capital expense in the pursuit of labor savings, but in reality there can be associated penalties, [such as] overall system downtime or performing some steps manually because the inline system is impractical or cumbersome.”

It’s essential, he added, to very well understand your work mix, both current and anticipated, because that will ultimately shape optimal system configuration.

“If your finishing supplier offers a variety of solutions, from paper handling before and after the press to binding, folding and saddle-stitching, [that supplier] can be more impartial in guiding you through the selection process,” he said.

Coatings Consultation

Epic Products International Corp. is one of the first companies worldwide to coat inline on an offset press, and inline on a digital sheet-fed press. That has led the company to the development of coating inline for inkjet web presses, said Mike Barisonek, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Inkjet webs were first designed to print only on uncoated stocks, mostly for black text book pages. “But the print quality and the paper quality has improved so that they can now print on coated stocks, and coated stocks have the ability to be post-print coated,” he said. “Post-print coating for inkjet webs does the same thing as it does for all other printing, increasing scruff resistance.”

This makes inkjet web very close in quality and durability to offset printing and sheet-fed digital printing, with applications for both UV and aqueous coating.

Applications include direct mail advertising pieces and even commercial prints. “We’re not the only ones doing this, but we’re in the lead,” Barisonek said.

“We’re partners with HP to provide the coating process inline with their T-Series printers. You have to look at print quality, speed and versatility when shopping. For the first time, inkjet web with inline coating has the ability to allow you to take on new projects, but also move existing work from offset and sheet-fed digital to one machine, increasing your efficiency.”

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