The transition from transactional printing to direct mail and commercial printing will bring with it a need for inline finishing. The motivation is the same as adding finishing lines to web offset presses: productivity is enhanced, handling errors reduced and double handling eliminated.
However, while some of the same technologies can be replicated, digital does not suffer the same restrictions as litho where there is a set cut off length. It means that finishing systems need to cope with different print lengths, triggered by identification marks or barcodes on the print product.
The shift means too that finishing lines need to match the increasing speed of the presses. This was on display at Drupa 2016 where Muller Martini, Manroland Web Systems, Vits and others had finishing lines hooked to different printing presses producing magazines and catalogues as well as sheeting. And the growing interest in the potential of this technology is sparking inquiries.
John Ellis, managing director of Manroland Web Systems in the UK, says: “We are having conversations and running tests for prospects. We find there is a lot of interest from newspapers but none has yet taken the step into digital production.”
The company has finishing lines for newspaper production in France and has a FoldLine in Switzerland which had been producing newspapers each night before the publisher decided it would be most cost effective to adopt contract printing. The FoldLine remains in place inline to an HP T400 series press for books and commercial printing.
The doors will be opened when magazine publishers feel comfortable with the quality of inkjet printing and its ability to print on the same papers, says Ellis. “They are watching how the technology develops. In an ideal world they would be able to decide at the last minute whether to do digital or litho.”
Vits had a finishing line alongside the Manroland line linked to a Kodak Prosper and has taken an order from GI Solutions to build a line for its HP T490. “With digital we are not constrained by the repeat issues which is an advantage for direct mail,” says VP sales at Vits Nick Gerovac. “Digital allows you to run any size and you can customise a piece of direct mail to fit the customer’s exact needs.”
The line for GI Solutions will be thoroughly tested in New York before shipping to Leicester. Vits has supplied a similar line to a direct mail printer in Florida attached to a Kodak Prosper. “GI Solutions is getting a fairly complex and complete mailing line. There will not be many products that they will not be in position to do,” he says. “We are starting to see printers investigate the potential for continuous web digital alongside what they already do and we are having those conversations.”
Such technology may be a step too far for many printers. Instead of a complex finishing line, printers want to come off with a variable length sheet, perhaps with perforations in place. This is within the capabilities of suppliers like Tecnau, handled in the UK by IFS, and Hunkeler, handled by Friedheim.
Friedheim’s Robin Brown explains: “A lot of direct mail printers are running reel to reel and finishing separately, though inkjet is changing that.” Friedheim is supplying the finishing line for First Move, the first UK user for the Xerox Trivor inkjet web press which delivers a sheeted product, as offset stacks if required, for subsequent folding and inserting on existing equipment.
Hunkeler has probably the most extensive range of web finishing lines, including unit for books, direct mail with variable perforation, die cutting and laser cutting of scripted signatures. At the forthcoming Innovation Days it will unveil the first units of its Popp 8 range, which will be stronger and faster than modules from previous ranges.
It is not saying anything about the new modules as yet, running either from a printed reel or inline. Brown detects growing interest in inline finishing from book printers pointing to Ashford Colour Press which had two Hunkeler BookLines to run from reels printed on its HP T230 web presses, but for its latest Domino inkjet press, has decided to run inline.
Italian supplier Tecnau has also installed its LibraOne book production line inline and from printed reels, the choice being up to the customer. IFS also represents Horizon which in conjunction with Hunkeler has delivered inline perfect binding using conveyors to move blocks into the binder and then to the three-knife trimmer.
Likewise Muller Martini has driven inline book production using incarnations of its SigmaLine, with buffer zones to compensate for job changes or for the difference in speed when book thickness varies. This factor can encourage some printers to remain with offline finishing, but the tide is running towards inline production. The economic benefits are too strong to hold back progress for too long.
The Hunkeler Bookline can be an inline option for creating book blocks or can be operated as an offline pierce of equipment. The choice of which to use is expanding as equipment starts to offer more comprehensive inline options and the speeds needed to keep up with the presses.
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