By Katrina Ceruolo
Finishing is an essential component in commercial print workflow. Popular equipment includes perfect binders, precision cutters, specialized coaters, perforators, and folders. Manufacturers continue to offer inline and offline options to address an increase in short-run applications.
To effectively and profitability fulfill on demand orders, print service providers (PSPs) rely on solutions best equipped to handle digitally printed work, including single-clamp binders for individual book production and camera-based inspection systems to enable quality control, end-to-end system management, document reporting, and tracking. Additionally, automation helps simplify processes, improve efficiency, and reduce waste.
“Printers new to digital should consider learning and understanding the different types of finishing methods available before investing in a finishing solution,” says Si Nguyen, national business development director, Duplo USA Corp. “It’s important to understand the difference between scoring and creasing, as well as knife and buckle folding because what may work with offset printed applications may not work for digitally printed documents.”
In addition to the right tools, automation is an important aspect to digital printing. Digital technologies provide unique income opportunities with low-volume runs by creating a streamlined workflow that improve profit and productivity. “Digital printers want machines that set up automatically. This is what differentiates digital finishing equipment from traditional equipment. Also, they prefer machines that can run without the watchful eye of an operator so they can utilize two or three machines at once,” says David Spiel, owner, Spiel Associates Inc.
As digital print gains ground, more PSPs look to add on demand services. However, before investing in printing and finishing solutions, it is important to consider both the latest capabilities and challenges presented by such technologies.
Adding new services to a PSP’s production environment requires skill, knowledge, as well as trial and error. In addition to new capabilities, new issues emerge as a shop transitions from traditional offset to digital.
Workflow is one consideration. Ryan Manieri, marketing coordinator, MBO America, notes a trend towards greater variable capability, high speeds, and high efficiency.
With automated solutions that tie into streamlined workflows, PSPs improve productivity to take on more work, increase order complexity, and reduce minimum run lengths.
“Digital production entails a different process than offset, with different mechanics, workflow logistics, and production issues,” says Richard Trapilo, EVP/GM, C.P. Bourg Inc. “Mechanically, finishing processes must be able to accept transport, crease, fold, trim, and bind or stitch printed coated paper in one automated process that maintains set integrity. Logistically, on demand finishers must be able to produce high-quality and high-margin custom books and booklets of one, automatically by the thousands with unparalleled efficiency,” he adds.
Andrew J. Fetherman, director of digital solutions, Muller Martini Corp., points out that the need to process both offset and digitally printed products in a single print operation is on the rise. For example, many traditional sheet-fed offset printers have expanded into digital and now have two parallel production methods that require finishing. “As a result there is an increased demand for finishing solutions that have the capability and flexibility to process output from both types of production,” he says.
“Digitally printed documents are more costly to print compared to offset, so choosing a finishing solution that provides a highly automated setup and job storing can keep waste down to zero while increasing profits,” says Nguyen.
Britt Cary, director—sales, The Challenge Machinery Company, sees an uptick in finishing equipment that runs without constant operator involvement. “Different than inline solutions, these near or offline machines provide the flexibility of finishing products from different print engines, but have the ability to run unmanned. This allows a single operator to run multiple machines and functions simultaneously, providing greatly improved efficiency,” he adds.
Lamination and Coating
In addition to deploying a streamlined workflow and implementing automation, several finishing processes are available to improve the look and quality of a printed piece after it is output. It is important to consider the capabilities available, and which investments will make the most sense for a particular operation, including digitally printed applications that require or benefit from specialty coating or lamination.
“Initial consideration should include the output device, the type of substrates to be laminated, and the application of the graphic. Additionally, the type and quality of the laminating equipment affects what you can and can’t do as well as the quality of the finished graphic,” says Wayne Colbath, national sales manager, Southern U.S., Drytac Corporation.
Colbath explains that the most common quality issues include silvering, the laminate not adhering to the substrate, cracking, yellowing, and edge shrinkage. For problems that may arise with laminating and coating, he suggests matching the proper laminate to the application that the graphic will be used for, making sure the laminate is compatible with the substrate and ink set in use, and purchasing the proper laminating equipment for the job.
Ensuring compatibility with ink sets is also important when using coatings and laminates. “Digital ink responds differently to coating than conventional inks, some more than others. Comprised of toners, waxes, or UV-cured, digitally printed pages have unique characteristics,” says Scott Michels, VP of sales and marketing, Harris & Bruno International. “Lower dyne levels may affect adhesion, coating may dive slightly into the inks, or too much heat may impact lay down—among other things. These issues are overcome by selecting a coater with enough abilities to compensate for each unique situation. It also helps to speak with coating suppliers about coating developed specific to your digital press,” he adds.
Durability and appearance are elements addressed and managed in binding.
“As with all bookbinding processes, digital publishers need to be concerned with both the appearance and the durability of finished books. Precise, even application of adhesive to the spine gives a book a high-quality, professional appearance. Likewise, the precise, even adhesive application gives the book durability to withstand temperature extremes as well as long-term, extensive use,” notes Rick Pallante, industry specialist bookbinding, Nordson Corporation.
To guarantee that perfect bound books maintain strength, durability, and appearance, Pallante suggests using hot melt polyurethane (PUR) adhesives for binding. Utilizing PUR adhesives instead of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) adhesives create a better bond, as many inks, toners, oils, and papers common to digital printing do not cooperate with EVA adhesives. For improved long-term durability as well as dispensing accuracy, appearance, and improved production process, PUR adhesives are an ideal adhesive option for on demand printing.
“As the demand for book-of-one printing increases and run lengths continue to decrease, publishers and printers need smarter, more efficient production systems,” suggests Neal Swanson, director of marketing communications, Standard Finishing Systems.
Standard Horizon and Standard Hunkeler have teamed up to develop flexible, quick setup, integrated solutions that convert digitally printed output into a variety of end-user products. “Tightly integrated modules—such as saddlestitchers or folders placed inline with a digital web press—can wring labor cost from the equation. PUR perfect binding systems have become the go-to solution for photobook and other digital color book applications, producing quality bound books from a digitally printed roll or sheets. Variable data direct mail can be produced with inline folding at high speed, with inspection systems to guarantee quality and data accuracy,” remarks Swanson.
If PSPs consider difficulties as well as benefits, adding on demand finishing applications to their production process could lead to an increase in business as well as profit.
Digitally printed applications present separate challenges from offset applications in terms of handling for finishing.
For example, Duplo’s Nguyen points out that shifting is a normal occurrence when it comes to digitally printed output and it can sometimes move up to two to three millimeters. “We recommend investing in a digital finishing device that offers image shift compensation to keep waste at zero,” he adds.
Challenge Machinery’s Cary notes that the toner of the image from digital print is adhered to the top of the paper versus traditional print where the ink permeates into the fibers of the paper. “This creates complications when finishing digitally printed products, such as cutting or folding. In either case, the image will tend to crack instead of being cut or folded cleanly, causing the white of the paper to be exposed and the fold or cut edge to look jagged in appearance,” he cautions.
Muller Martini’s Fetherman notes that when finishing digitally printed output—especially at high speeds, it is important to carefully monitor the moisture content of the paper throughout the process. “With toner-based systems that have a tendency to dry out the paper during the hot roller fusing process, one must look to re-moisturizing units to stabilize the moisture content of the paper prior to finishing,” he explains.
With inkjet-based systems that add moisture to the paper during the printing process, he suggests carefully monitoring the dryer settings of the print technology to ensure an optimal moisture content range for the substrate prior to finishing.
“As higher speeds and lighter weight stocks become more of the norm, especially with continuous feed technologies, processing the web into signatures rather than single sheets helps to improve the handling and finishing efficiencies downstream,” he adds.
To avoid these conditions, creasing the image before folding, coating, or laminating the product—such as book covers—can help.
Nguyen points out that static can be another challenge. “Printers new to digital should also expect that more static is generated with digitally printed applications, so we recommend investing in a finishing solution that is air-fed and has some type of anti-static control,” he says.
Cary suggests that to reduce or eliminate static, printers can try blowing air between the sheets prior to finishing.
Overall, implementing on demand applications in a way that increases production and profit is the goal.
“Issues of static, registration, and cracking are less of a problem on most digital presses. I believe the more important issue for digital printers is the ability to develop products and utilize the variable data technology to create and market these products. Subsequently, once these products and markets are realized it is important that applications can be finished and produced in a cost-effective manner, resulting in high quality. In essence, the finishing solutions must keep up and maintain the flow of production,” says Doug Sherwood, westerns regional sales manager, Rollem USA.
Manufacturers continue to keep pace with the increase in on demand applications, working on numerous ways to assist printers in avoiding obstacles.
In addition to functional tasks, such as automation, modern digital finishing devices are designed to be more attractive then their predecessors. “Finishing has become not only more automated, but sleek too,” says Duplo’s Nguyen. “Finishing equipment no longer has parts sticking out, or require a toolbox to set up. More private sectors are bringing their print and finishing work in house.”
He adds that you can find Duplo finishing equipment installed in many multi-million dollar private companies including art galleries and hair salon corporations that are not only looking for a finishing solution to fulfill their needs, but also a device that looks smart and professional and operates quietly for use within their workspaces.
The Future of Finishing
Manufactures, PSPs, in-house operations, and customers notice increased demand for short-run production as well as the need for advancements to on demand finishing products.
With changes such as single-clamp binders and a shift to PUR adhesives, on demand finishing is on the right track.
Manufacturers continue to dedicate their time to creating new and improved laminates, liquid coatings, binders, adhesives, perforators, die cutters, and many other devices and products to maintain the growing momentum of on demand finishing.
As a result of important updates an advancements, the digital print provider—whether a print for pay or in-house operation—is able to provide more applications, expanding their role to the organizations or departments they serve. In addition to automation and speed improvements, ergonomic and aesthetic upgrades also go a long way in the modern print or office environment. dps
Jan2014, DPS Magazine