Commentary & Analysis
FREE: For Postpress Vendors To The Offset Market, It’s All Automation, All The Time Part 2 of 2
In Part 1 of this interview,
Published: September 2, 2005
In Part 1 of this interview, a quartet of postpress executives [Mark Hunt, director of marketing, Standard Finishing Systems (booth 2845); Werner Naegeli, president and CEO, Muller Martini Corp. (booth 4018); Ralph Pasquariello, director of postpress product management, Heidelberg USA (booth 1200); and Rick Trapilo, executive vice president and general manager, C.P. Bourg (booth 4805)] discussed issues related to the trend toward bindery automation, including customers’ attitudes toward JDF, investment in automated solutions and what it takes to stay competitive as run lengths decline and customer requirements force printers to streamline for added speed and productivity.
We paused as Mr. Pasquariello observed, “It’s wrongheaded to think you’re going to solve a competitive problem by putting in a fully automated piece of equipment when your whole plant isn’t thinking that way.”
Follow-up to RP: Would you care to elaborate on that point?
RP: Digitally enhanced equipment only works well when you use it to its full capacity. There are certain pieces of bindery equipment that are equipped with automation that operators refuse to use. This resistance to change can make or break the ROI on a new piece of equipment. As a result, one shop may benefit wonderfully by purchasing a new machine and using it as it was designed to function, while another may resist and circumvent the automation.
WTT: Why does this happen?
RP: It’s management‘s mindset that drives the implementation of automated technology. The decision has to be executed from the top down, then monitored by the managers. I’ve witnessed many instances when an operator ignores the available technology on a new machine because it's not familiar and reverts to his old habits out of convenience.
WTT: Are there other obstacles to the adoption of automated technology?
RP: Another problem is poor communication among departments, for example, new purchases in the prepress area being made with little or no consideration for future integration with the postpress department. Planning ahead for full a plant renovation, even when it is done one department at a time can save substantial money and time. It's like buying a set of snow tires in the summer because they were on sale, but when winter comes along you find out they don't fit your vehicle. Automation is designed for the convenience and benefit of the entire facility. Properly installed, and provided its operators undergo sufficient training, new equipment should yield a more efficient shop run by employees with a positive attitude.
WTT: Dr. Phil could not have said it better.
RP: It’s true. The productivity and reliability of any machine is directly related to the operator’s friendliness towards it. It's great to see an operator who loves his new machine and brags about all the new things it can do. When people are happy at their jobs it shows.
WTT: What about the printer who maintains it’s cheaper for him to “throw more bodies” into the bindery than to automate?
RP: More bodies are not going to make ready any faster. If a guy has the capacity to do 10 jobs a day on a folding machine but physically, because of makeready restraints, he can do only five, you can put as many people on that machine as possible and it’s still not going to solve your problem.
RT: You’ll see printers with a very labor-intensive operation on one side of town and another printer with a nominally labor-intensive environment across town. Guess which printer is going to survive? The market has had such a shakeout in the past couple of years in terms of the number of commercial printers that those that are left standing realize how efficient they have to be in all of their operations, including the bindery. And their efficiency as a company is judged by the efficiency of their equipment.
WTT: Is it possible to retrofit older bindery equipment?
RT: Unfortunately, you really can’t retrofit older bindery equipment because of the complexity of the upgrade from nonautomated to automated devices.
WTT: What are “hybrid” solutions?
MH: Offset and digital are destined to live in happy harmony for a number of years yet, and there’s good reason for it. There’s a place for both. Most of our offset customers have found that it’s very difficult to migrate from offset to digital unless it’s ultra short run or there’s a very specific variable data requirement that makes digital uniquely qualified. But typically what you’re doing by showcasing that capability is introducing the customer to a new idea. Now the customer is saying, “I never thought I could do that before. How about if I try this new direct mailer?” Digital isn’t taking pages off the press, it’s actually adding pages to the equation - at least that’s what we hear from our customers.
WN: A real hybrid solution permits the coexistence of equipment for both offset and digital without conflict, provided we look at the coexistence of these two printing processes. For example, we can run a fully integrated binder or stitcher in digital inline mode while we allow conventional printed products to be finished on the other.
RP: “Hybrid” equipment works in both offset and digital environments.
RT: In the finishing area, “hybrid” refers to equipment that can bind both kinds of output. These machines were developed as a result of the technology and the economy, that is, with printers needing to survive and become more competitive - probably more the latter if you look at the economy over the past 2-3 years.
Follow-up to RT: Are things picking up?
WTT: Can equipment for both offset and digital binding and finishing coexist peacefully within a single shop?
MH: Related to this hybrid word is “convergence.” What we encounter in the marketplace are some print environments that had been traditionally oriented but now are moving in a different direction. Maybe a large service bureau, which has been doing nothing but monthly billing statements, suddenly realizes they can no longer afford to run their equipment 24/7 two weeks a month and let the machines sit idle for the other two weeks. In order to take in some book publishing work during those other two weeks, they have to outfit themselves accordingly. As a postpress supplier, we have to make equipment that is sufficiently flexible to support both of those applications. This convergence model is thriving in the industry in a significant way, and it’s causing customers to think differently about their investments. As a result, they’re looking for extra levels of flexibility and automation they may not have needed in the past.
Follow-up to MH: Do you find your customers are tolerant of different workflows under the same roof?
MH: Absolutely, provided the coexistence of different printing and finishing processes under the same roof is necessitated by the unique finishing requirements of a digitally imaged product. In some cases your digital output can be run through the very same equipment you use to perform post-processing for conventionally output product.
Follow-up to MH: Practically speaking, how much “convergence” do you see?
MH: We do business with quite a few shops that are all digital, all the time but most of the digital activity we see is, in fact, conventional printers that are augmenting their capabilities by bringing in digital equipment. Most of our print-on-demand business is a subset of our offset business.
WN: All of our newer machines that are compatible with JDF/JMF (Job Messaging Format) can take data from the digital workflow or data can be entered manually via touchscreen. We even have a measuring station available that measures the actual product and sends the data to the machine for motorized makeready.
RT: In my opinion, offset and digital merged about three or four years ago, when customers began utilizing offset equipment for some high-quality, long-run color work and using a digital press to do the short-run, high-quality color work.
WTT: Can you describe the typical bindery employee in 2005 as opposed to, say, 1995?
MH: In the same way we’ve seen press operators evolve from mechanically oriented employees into employees who possess a sophisticated, technical skill set, we’re seeing a similar transition in the bindery. Because we’re building so much technical ability into the brains of the machines, and because we’ll be integrating those machines into digital workflows, bindery employees will need a different skill set to make all of it work together properly.
RP: I don’t know too many people who said they wanted to be a bindery worker when they grew up. It’s not glamorous. It’s hard, labor-intensive work. In shops that are progressive that is changing, however, and wages are coming up for really qualified operators. The owner of a bindery who doubts that his workers couldn’t or wouldn’t want to program a machine is selling his employees short, in my opinion.
RT: There is a radical difference. In the past, you might have had an operator who ran a particular large folder for an entire career, and he was an artist. Today, to find a 22-year-old male or female with the ability to do that is virtually impossible, and the only way manufacturers can get the same quality output is through automation. Operators today are more technically inclined, they know how to use computers, they know how to set up the devices with all the built-in automation.
WTT: But do they necessarily plan on spending their careers in the bindery?
RT: The bindery is usually an entry-level position. This is a challenge for manufacturers because bindery operators are the people who produce the final result, and you do judge a book by its cover. However, it’s tough for the owner of a commercial print operation to put an entry-level person effectively in charge of all of the work that previously took place to put those sheets of paper into that individual’s hands. Consequently, they achieve that quality in large part today with automated equipment.
WTT: What are you highlighting or announcing at Print?
MH: The centerpiece of our “Think Automation” theme for Print 05 is our Bindery Automation Theater, where we’ll present two live jobs that are part of a digitally integrated JDF workflow that is interoperable among six different partners. One workflow involves EFI, Screen and Komori. Another involves Hiflex, Ryobi and Kodak. We’ll be using the next generation of our Horizon i2i Bindery Control System to leverage the power of JDF across the bindery with 16 different JDF applications being run on our stand. We’re introducing the Standard Horizon AFC-544FKT floor model folder, designed to serve both the graphic arts and digital print markets with ultra-fast changeover and the ability to handle sensitive, digitally printed sheets without marking. Finally, visitors to our booth (2845) will also see the BQ-470 perfect binder, the first machine in its class to feature interchangeable glue tanks to support both EVA and PUR adhesives.
WN: We will be demonstrating our newest high-speed, high-end saddle-stitcher, the Tempo 22, with typical setup for low-cost inkjetting at maximum speeds. Also on our stand (4018) we’ll have the Bolero 3028 perfect binder, featuring a front trimmer that can produce gatefold books in one pass and an in-line drilling solution. We like to show customers that processes like drilling can be accomplished efficiently - no more stacking on pallets and moving to the drill. When you’re scrubbing excess time and labor from your binding and finishing operations, you don’t want to stop during a shift to change drills. We’re also showing a small stitcher for CD booklet applications where we do in-line banding: one person will load and operate the machine, then take the product off and put it in boxes. If you stop by our booth you’ll also see a mid-range saddlestitcher with inkjet addressing, inside and out. We want to enable the not-so-big companies to offer these services and generate additional revenue.
RP:The next-generation automation on our on Heidelberg machines is superb. In the Heidelberg booth (1200), visitors will be able to see semi- and fully automated postpress solutions matched with the prepress and press offerings in our Quick Print, Commercial, Industrial and Packaging Centers. Highlights include the Stitchmaster ST 400, a computer-enabled, fully automated stitcher designed to meet the demand for shorter runs and higher productivity; and the 2005 GATF InterTech Award-winning Stahlfolder TH/KH; and the one-operator, entry-level Stahlfolder TA 52 in 20-inch format, ideally suited for short and ultra-short runs. We’re also showing the space-saving POLAR Cutting System L-R-P-137-T, tailored to the complex operating sequences of commercial print shops and bookbinderies; POLAR Autojog, which mimics the action of human hands in the arrangement and movement of shets; and the half-format KAMA TS 74-60 HFS Die Cutter, designed to replace hand cutters and cylindrical die cutters used by packaging printers. In our Packaging Solutions Center, the Dymatrix 106 CSB high-speed die cutter will be running at 9,000 sheets per hour and will feature continuous feeder and delivery with Heidelberg logistics on the feeder. Finally, with our POLAR Compucut and Prinect FCS 100 Compufold/Compustitch software printers can maximize the performance of their high-speed cutters, cutting systems, stitchers and folders to reduce makeready and avoid downtime. There’s considerably more, of course, and we cordially invite everyone to come and see it all first-hand.
RT: On the offset side, we’ll show standalone collators and standalone perfect binders. We’ll also take the output from two-, four-, six-, and eight-color presses and make a saddlestitched booklet and a high-quality perfect bound booklet. We’ll show saddle stitching with a nice square-edge feature that enables you to give a corner to the booklet for a nice, perfect-bound look. And speaking of convergence, our new Bourg BB3000 perfect binder is truly designed for the offset world as well as for the digital world. It’s quick to set up and change over, ergonomically designed and user-friendly. It also features a unique adhesive mechanism that is designed to apply a proper binding adhesive for digital output, which is important because of the complexities of binding digital output, and it also works well with offset materials. You’ll be able to view it on our stand (4805).