Commentary & Analysis
Raising the Bar on Printing and Binding
By Noel Ward,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: June 6, 2006
By Noel Ward, Executive Editor, On Demand Journal June 6, 2006 -- Travel to yet another conference conspired to distract me from further comments on the On Demand Show in Philly last month. As I headed out a few days after the show, my May 22 column noted that I had a few words to say about finishing and another print engine I saw at the show. We'll start with the print engine and wind up finishing, just like in a typical print shop. Screen first displayed new inkjet machine at PRINT 05. It didn't seem to spend a whole lot of time running and was not really the focal point of their stand. At On Demand it was a lot more apparent and drew a lot of interest from both attendees the companies that will be competing with it in the marketplace. Even on the last day of the show, in the half hour or so I was poking my head inside the box and eyeballing the output I found marketing and engineering types from IBM, Kodak, Nipson, Océ, Xeikon and Xerox breathing heavily on the blue and beige machine. Screen TruePress Jet250 The box is the TruePress Jet 520, a 210-fpm roll-fed inkjet printer that uses piezo print heads rather than the CIJ or thermal units common in other inkjet machines. The heads come from the piezo gurus at Seiko Epson and deliver 2-bit imaging (4 tones per drop) to provide image quality equivalent to a higher resolution. The Jet520 provides 720 x 360 resolution and can print up to 20-inches wide. The standard unit is simplex and incorporates separate unwinder and rewinder units. Adding turn bars inside the machine enables duplex printing and the printer can be operated in both color and monochrome modes. Like most continuous-feed machines, the Jet250 can also be run in tandem for maximum throughput. Third-party post-processing equipment such as cutters and folders can also be connected to the machine. The 210-fpm print speed translates into some 420 single-sided A4 pages per minute. And that's in color. I'm a fan of piezo printing because of the durability of the heads and the smaller drop size that lessens the tendency of ink jet printers to saturate a page with ink. This may help overcome an critical barrier to high speed ink jet adoption in the direct mail and transactional space. The water-based pigment inks used are both water and weather resistant and sources both at Screen and elsewhere tell me tests done on coated and uncoated stocks, even standard laser grade roll-fed paper, have produced satisfactory results--at least in the eyes of those running the tests. Sounds, good, but time--and real world apps--will give us the answer on that. The Jet250 is slower than the machines it will compete with from Kodak Versamark, but it also comes with a lower price--a bit north of $2 million in simplex configuration--so it will be a worthy contender in a market where inkjet is beginning to gain some traction. I know service bureau owners seeking cost-effective means to deliver full color and several I spoke with at and following the show were very intrigued by Screen's new box, and are looking forward to seeing more of it when it becomes formerly available at Graph Expo in October. The buzz around Screen's box also had rumors bouncing around the show floor. At least two major vendors of toner-based roll-fed machines are very interested in adding the TruePress Jet250 to their offerings in an OEM deal. Some digging and careful questions found that at least one of these is close to being a wrap, and we should hear more about that in a few weeks. Inkjet's day is coming. Perfecting Perfect Binding One of the digital printing applications that's about to explode is books. In most cases they can be printed quickly enough, but the bottleneck comes in the bindery. This is hardly news, but many of the proffered perfect binding solutions have failed to reach the standards required for high-volume, high-quality work that will satisfy booksellers and their customers. Part of it has been the hardware and software interface between print engines and finishing equipment and the complexity of printing and binding in a single production line. In addition, many digital print providers who've been producing books either already had near-line or offline bindery operations and found it more efficient and cost-effective to use those than to switch to a slower (and often lower quality) in-line system. Standard Horizon BQ-470 But each year inline systems get better and the major bindery equipment firms keep raising the bar. At On Demand, Standard Finishing Equipment was showing off the StandardHorizon BQ-470 Perfect Binder. It uses servo-motor controlled automation to bring professional quality perfect binding to the mid-range binding market. It can handle books up to 2.5 inches thick and has interchangeable glue tanks for both EVA and PUR adhesives. The ability to bind thicker books is a significant advantage, as it opens the market for inline production just about any kind of book. Most important, the bound pages stay that way. I tend to abuse sample books at shows and the glue on both the thin (1/8th-inch) and thick (2.5-inch) held the pages tight even when I deliberately bent the book spine so much that librarians all over Pennsylvania cringed and sent forth a tremendous volume of hate mail. Nirvana is a multi-folded brochure Bindery, though, is only part of finishing. There's folding, and it's always been a time-consuming pain. And expensive. "In fact," notes Mark Hunt, director of marketing at Standard, "one of the better-paid employees in some print plants has been the guy who ran the folding machinery." Hunt says the task requires excellent spatial skills to envision how a sheet of paper can be folded matched with top-notch mechanical abilities to adjust the equipment correctly to achieve those same folds. The new Standard Horizon AFC-566FKT may well be folding Nirvana for commercial and in-plant printers, and trade binderies. It has advanced set-up features accessed via a 10.4-inch touch screen that displays all common folding formats and sheet sizes, along with room to develop and store custom folds. Select the sheet size and fold desired and press the go button. The machine adjusts itself and then steadily works through the job, fully automated. Changeover time between jobs is limited to loading new stock and specifying the folds required. This machine is going to save (and make) some printers a lot of money. At On Demand I also met with a variety of people from different vendors and I'll be filtering some of their comments and thoughts into upcoming columns. But for now it's back on the road. There's a digital book conference coming up and I'm planning to dig into that market a bit deeper. There is huge potential there for those with the vision to see--and seize--the opportunity.