By Olivia Cahoon
Users in direct mail, transactional, publishing, and graphic arts rely on continuous-feed inkjet devices for monthly duty cycles of ten million impressions or higher. With print speeds upwards of 100 feet per minute (fpm), media handling is essential to reduce downtime, eliminate costly errors, and improve workflow.
Unwind/rewind systems handle large roll media handling while automated post-processing solutions expedite cutting, stacking, folding, and binding. Depending on the industry segment—direct mail, transactional, publishing, and graphic arts—each sector relies on a different type of automated finishing.
Above: The Hunkeler WI8 Web Inspection System from Standard Finishing is a high-performance solution for production monitoring and quality control.
The direct mail market looks to digital printing technologies to streamline an increasingly complex production process. Today, direct mail providers require less equipment while adding deeper personalized touches.
Continuous-feed inkjet provides advantages for direct mail in high-volume and high-throughput mailing operations while also offering low operating costs and high speeds. It’s flexible and easy to integrate into finishing operations.
Direct mail houses rely on finishing equipment like folders, inserting equipment, and mailing systems. Finishing for direct mail includes functions such as cutting, document printing, and folding.
Continuous-feed users in direct mail generally rely on variability, quality print, quick turnaround, and the ability to link into a comprehensive system of production. Applications include advertisements, coupons, inserts, reply cards, self mailers, and statements sent to consumers via the USPS mail system.
The direct mail industry relies on fast turnarounds. To save time and minimize waste, this environment benefits from automated finishing features such as automated cut size change, job recall capabilities, and automated movement of equipment used on specific job information, shares Nick Gerovac, director of sales, VITS International.
“Inkjet allows the printer such great flexibility and minimal waste on press that the finishing equipment needs to compliment that flexibility and efficiency,” he adds.
In addition to integrated solutions, multifunction machines are important to direct mail. According to Mark Hunt, director of strategic alliances, Standard Finishing Systems, these systems perform several finishing processes, allowing for a range of output possibilities from a single machine. For example, select devices can perform slitting, creasing, and perforating in one pass including advanced functionality for t-perfs and l-perfs.
Many direct mailers require pinfeed holes for older inserters or other finishing processes. With a static processor, users acquire less expensive unprocessed paper and add pinfeed holes as well as fanfold perforation as required for paper savings, says Scott Peterson, product marketing manager, Tecnau. “Users may further broaden offerings by combining pinfeed punching with dynamic perforating in a single box.”
Trends in Direct Mail
In recent years, direct mail marketing increased with rising demands for customized products. This led to requests for more variable die cutting, mail packs, loyalty cards attached to marketing pieces, and targeted advertising based on shopping history. Higher customization allows direct mailers to standout in the mailbox.
To meet these needs, continuous-feed presses—specifically inkjet, and finishing evolves to rival offset as the preferred go-to method. “Offset could never provide the targeted advertising that inkjet offers,” admits Gerovac. With inkjet, the direct mail industry can personalize every piece of the product—customizing a specific message.
“As inkjet gets better print quality, faster running speeds, and reduced ink costs, it becomes a very real alternative to producing similar products on an offset press,” says Gerovac.
Transactional & Transpromo
Transactional printing is heavily dependent on variable data content with each invoice, check, and statement requiring personalization. For this reason, the transactional/transpromo industry drove the adoption of high-volume continuous-feed inkjet adoption over the past decade.
With advancements in inkjet, print providers transform white space on transactional documents to effective marketing strategies. Due to high volumes and strict deadlines, transactional printers focus on productivity and throughput. The ability to print sharp text and accurate color is also essential, as well as the need for streamlined finishing.
Continuous-feed inkjet users in transactional environments are familiar with digital finishing. However, Peterson believes these users seek further production efficiencies found with the latest generation innovations in inkjet workflow, printing, and finishing.
One of the biggest demands for this segment is accurate inspection and oversight that keeps up with the high speeds of continuous-feed digital presses. According to Hunt, it’s important that transactional print providers balance high volumes and quick turnarounds with a level of accuracy that stands up to a regulatory audit. “Providers in this space also need the flexibility to handle longer or shorter runs on a variety of stocks with the option to produce extras like inserts in house.”
Transactional/transpromo providers require finishing solutions that handle large amounts of variable data while also ensuring the content is accurate. For this reason, continuous-feed inkjet devices with high speeds, accurate detection, and continuous operation are ideal.
In this segment, continuous-feed inkjet users benefit from a perforating system. While inkjet printing allows users to eliminate the use of offset color pre-printed shells, a move to unprocessed paper means the loss of other finishing features such as perforations. “A dynamic perforator allows users to place remit stub perforations only on the appropriate pages, while also opening up transpromo opportunities through the creation of coupons to accompany bills and statements,” explains Peterson.
Producing high volumes of bills and statements is enhanced by a splicing system. According to Peterson, with a splicing system the press may run non-stop while rewound rolls move to the inserter operation for feeding.
Trends & Evolution
Similar to other areas of the print industry, print providers in the transactional/transpromo segment increasingly look to bring outside work in house to expand on the capacity gained moving to inkjet production.
Hunt believes it’s important for this segment to continue advancing oversight and inspection to improve quality and reduce waste throughout the production process. “As customers demand more customization and personalization, in longer runs, with a shorter turnaround time, print providers need solutions that can keep them ahead of competition.”
In this space, continuous-feed presses and finishing equipment work together to ensure variable data is accurate throughout the production process. The back-end needs to communicate with the front-end and vice versa to help providers reduce waste, production stoppage, and improve efficiency. “New software is doing a lot on this front to help every stage of production communicate, but hardware is also improving to handle high volumes of variable product,” shares Hunt.
While many are quick to imply that the printed book is disappearing, the book printing process is actually transforming. The latest digital printing and finishing systems facilitate the publishing industry’s future. High-speed production solutions allow publishers and book manufacturers to print runs as needed—reducing warehousing costs and unsold stock waste.
Continuous-feed applications found in the publishing industry include pocket novels, textbooks, short-run magazines, and specialty books. The high speeds granted by these devices allow publishers to provide higher page value with color, customization, and automated finishing. It also offers new business models such as mass customization, personalization, and self publishing.
Book manufacturers require a certain level of production flexibility. They need the capability for long runs but the freedom to change quickly for on demand jobs and one off orders. “Being able to deliver such a range of customer requests in this way helps providers increase their overall production and profits,” says Hunt.
It’s important for book manufacturers to invest in an efficient binding system that maintains press speeds. Otherwise, Hunt says finishing can cause bottlenecks in terms of both speed and the labor needed to produce high-quality bound books.
Similar to direct mail, the publishing industry relies on automated cut size change, job recall capability, and automated movement of equipment based on specific job information, shares Gerovac. “The benefits of automated finishing are universal across market segments and need to be implemented whenever possible.”
Specifically, publishers benefit from a roll-splicing system for several reasons. “Productivity is enhanced by the non-stop printing nature of such a system—presses keep running, and white paper waste generated by starting/stopping an inkjet printer is eliminated,” says Peterson.
Publishers producing short runs or one offs benefit from the availability of an auto-queuing feature with associated software. According to Peterson, it allows alternation between input rolls to address urgent orders appropriately as required. For example, one roll does not need to be fully depleted before switching to a different roll.
Of course, finishing systems such as gluing, binding, and folding are integral to the publishing industry. Inline gluing devices benefit one-off book production with the ability to install with high-speed inkjet presses. “Books may change from one format to the next across the full spec of spine length, spine to face, and book thickness dimensions without restriction,” shares Peterson.
The growth in digital print in the graphic arts is explosive. In addition to advancements in speed and quality, sophisticated workflows, reduced touch points, and automated equipment options pave the way for inkjet’s integration.
Printhead technology advancements provide enhanced color and resolution, allowing commercial print and packaging to migrate from traditional printing to continuous-feed inkjet printing. Graphic arts applications that benefit from continuous-feed inkjet include posters, promotional products, and retail items.
For further integration into the graphic arts, users need to understand the leap from traditional offset to digital inkjet printing.
“Users are looking to understand what role their traditional finishing equipment can still play, and where new finishing processes are required or advantageous,” says Peterson.
Graphic arts users benefit from systems that allow them to utilize legacy finishing equipment brought over from traditional offset print operations. For example, Peterson points to large format stackers.
Continuous-feed presses must also produce short-run work efficiently to keep up with customer demand and enable print providers to chase high-value, personalized, data-driven graphic arts work. “Print providers need equipment that can deliver high-quality end products within shorter and shorter delivery windows,” shares Hunt.
This means outfitting shops with equipment that maintains press speed, handles inkjet-printed paper challenges, and processes the variety of formats, applications, and stocks used in the graphic arts. “At the end of the day, print providers who made the leap to continuous inkjet printers now need to consider how to make their entire shop complement the press to be the most productive and efficient,” adds Hunt.
Automated finishing is essential for graphic arts applications produced with continuous-feed engines. For this market, it is imperative that finishing equipment maintains printer speeds, eliminates finishing bottlenecks, and reduces waste.
To meet these challenges, finishing manufacturers make strides in automation and develop inline configurations and multi-functional machines handle a range of applications without creating a production bottleneck, says Hunt. “Certain modern integrated solutions go from white paper roll to finished product with no manual touchpoints while providing a high level of customization on a range of substrates.”
Additionally, with the right equipment, print providers differentiate themselves and add value to finished products. For example, Hunt says die cutting, embossing/debossing, and other finishing touches allow greater customization and flexibility.
Unwinder and rewinder splicing systems offer advantages in heavy paper applications. “A 50-inch diameter roll of 9-point paper depletes in just over a half hour in a 500 feet per minute inkjet printer,” explains Peterson. By using a splicing system, users increase press productivity by up to 40 percent.
For continuous-feed digital production press users, media handling and finishing functions are integral to the overall workflow. Continuous-feed presses—especially inkjet—deliver applications at record speeds and high quality, but it’s essential that finishing does its part to keep production running too.
Depending on the industry, direct mail, transactional, graphic arts, and publishing—the proper finishing device paired with a continuous-feed inkjet workflow enhances productivity.
Nov2019, DPS Magazine