By Cassandra Balentine
With continued advancement in cutsheet inkjet, the sheet-fed digital production market continues to improve, hitting high volumes into the millions. Features like B2 sheet sizes and automation improve productivity in this segment.
Moving to B2
Wider sheet sizes, like B2—23×29 inches, are becoming more readily available in the high-volume production print space. Moving from B3—12×19 inches, B2 offers added productivity.
“Making the jump from B3 size digital presses to B2 offers huge impact on productivity with no additional press labor,” points out Lance Martin, VP marketing, Komori America & MBO America. He says there is a minimum double output going one up on B3 to two up on B2 and, in some cases, it is possible to find three- or four-up layouts for odd sizes that fit the larger sheet better.
Additionally, Martin says short run, larger formats and square-inch work can be moved from traditional print to digital print much more easily since the B2 format matches up to a common 20×29 or 23×29 inch sheet size in the conventional print world. “With the higher productivity, zero makeready waste, and sheet size similarity to offset, the B2 digital press is an outstanding complementary production process for the traditional print provider. Our experience points to a print provider model of complementary processes that include offset print, digital print and an array of embellishment processes.”
Komori sees solution demand from the commercial print segment, the packaging print segment and the specialty print segments all looking for high-value, personalized content, along with superior economics for short runs and start-up projects.
Both applications and productivity drive demand for the larger B2 sheet size. Aarona Tesch, product marketing manager, Inkjet Technologies, Fujifilm North America Corporation, says the ability to print six-up on a page takes advantage of the larger size and maximizes output volume.
As the transformation from traditional offset printing to digital continues, Bill Troxil, president, industrial and production print, Konica Minolta Business Solutions, U.S.A., Inc., says commercial printers prefer a larger sheet size to maximize imposition for greater productivity.
Lisa Weese, director of marketing, Canon Solutions America, Production Print Solutions, points out that people are conditioned to think that—“If I can print multiple jobs on a big sheet, that’s the best option.” “This has led to the assumption that B2-format presses—with larger sheets and more up on a page—equal faster speed and lower cost. But this is not necessarily the case.”
Weese says there’s a lot more to consider than just paper size. “You need to evaluate all the factors involved in total cost of ownership—from operating costs, productivity, uptime, and efficiency to your current customers’ needs and future application opportunities.”
The Era of Automation
Automation is increasingly essential and many equipment vendors are stepping up to ensure it’s accessible.
“Automation is more important than ever, especially with the current labor market. Print operations need to be automated and streamlined in order to minimize touchpoints, bottlenecks, and manual interventions,” says Weese.
As technology evolves, the demand for automation increases for process improvement. “With current labor shortages, especially for skilled labor such as an experienced pressperson, not only do digital devices not require that level of expertise, but the increased automation eliminates the need for that skill set, allowing for cross training of other production staff,” says Tesch.
From a productivity standpoint, Tesch explains that automation decreases the number of steps involved in processing jobs, the more profit realized. “The more automated the workflow, the greater the productivity, the more jobs out the door. This pertains to all steps in the print process from file set up to paper handling.”
Martin says the drive for automation in B2 is similar to the drive for automation in all segments of manufacturing. “The print industry has moved into a phase where automation is now a requirement, not just a consideration. Digital presses typically have a shorter learning curve for operators and operate with a single person.”
Labor shortages are impacting the entire print industry, automation and workflow simplification are critical to producing printed products economically. “Minimal touches during the manufacturing process result in greater productivity and profitability. Digital production is highly automated in the front end, eliminating the need for printing plates, laborious press setup, makeready time and materials waste. A file is simply sent to the device and the first sheet printed is sellable. On the back end, the finishing can be automated with the right finishing equipment for the application,” says Troxil.
Steve Coburn, director, global production print product management, BlueCrest, sees two key areas for automation—automated tracking and labor. When it comes to automated tracking, its clients are demanding automated piece-level and job level tracking and reconciliation of every page printed and mailed within their environments.
“It’s not enough to track only printed pages or only assembled mailpieces. Our clients, and by extension their clients, need to know that when a page was printed, it was assembled correctly, inserted into an envelope, and addressed accurately—and with easily accessible data or “proof of process” for each step to support a compliance audit. Additionally, with changing USPS service levels, our clients are tracking the mailpiece to from the point of induction to delivery using the USPS Intelligent Mail barcode. This provides important data that the mail piece was delivered on-time and to the correct recipient,” says Coburn.
For labor automation, as labor costs increase and labor scarcity remains a challenge, Coburn says clients are looking at options that reduce the amount of labor required to produce their output. “Our clients are opting for high-capacity inputs and outputs to minimize manual interventions. They are also leveraging software automation to consolidate small jobs into a single longer production run to that minimizes roll changeover and eliminates paper waste.”
Further, with rising paper costs and scarcity, Coburn says clients are also taking advantage of white paper input and digital, color inkjet output to not only minimize labor associated with changes but also reduce or eliminate paper waste associated with pre-printed stock.
High-volume production print includes both toner and inkjet solutions that reach volumes from one to ten million impressions per month. Many advancements in sheetfed/cutsheet production print engines support higher volumes and quality, making it easier for operators to hit new markets.
Aug2021, DPS Magazine