Backfield in Motion: Postpress Forges Ahead by Bringing Up the Rear
The printing industry likes to associate one mega-
By WhatTheyThink Guest Contributor
Published: May 19, 2008
The printing industry likes to associate one mega-trend with each new edition of the quadrennial drupa trade fair. In 2004, the so-called “JDF drupa” advanced the concept of a fully integrated manufacturing workflow on several fronts, including the bindery, where automation lay the groundwork for dramatic improvements in speed, productivity and operator safety. That was then. In the interim, the concept of an integrated bindery has percolated throughout the industry to the point where the JDF discussion is more implicit than explicit, and bolstered by an accumulation of tangible successes in the field. On the eve of drupa 2008, Whattheythink.com asked Mark Hunt, Director of Marketing, Standard Finishing Systems (Hall 13/B35); Dan Maurer, Vice President, Product Management Postpress, Heidelberg USA (Halls 1 and 2); and Werner Naegeli, President and CEO, Mueller Martini Corp. (Hall14/B38) to comment on postpress trends heading into the show.
WTT: The notion of an integrated bindery was still a relatively new concept on the eve of drupa 2004. Four years later, how would you assess its market acceptance?
MH: The idea of a seamless flow of job data from prepress to postpress remains largely unfulfilled. Printers have tended to apply their capital investment dollars in other areas where they needed to upgrade or catch up. However, companies also seem to be gaining an understanding of where and how to deploy bindery automation for maximum effect.
DM: Technology achieves market acceptance only when customers realize incremental profits from its adoption, and when it is easy to implement and work with every day. drupa 2004 was the JDF drupa, but it is just within the past 24 months that we have really seen the wide acceptance of a fully integrated manufacturing workflow. Monitoring operational performance data leads the way, with JDF integrated workflow job ticketing or makeready usually being adopted next. Heidelberg’s approach to this is unique, since we are the only manufacturer to provide a complete line of bindery and packaging solutions along with our Prinect workflow solutions software suite.
Our challenge as a manufacturer is to deliver modular, scalable solutions that provide entry to automation at all the price points
WTT: Now that vendors can demonstrate the practical benefits of automation and integrated postpress workflow, are customers persuaded?
MH: Customers prioritize areas of gain and return. The fact is, not every printer needs a “Star Wars” workflow. Standard has a very robust JDF-compliant system that enables us to consume and send parameters, perform real-time tracking and capture productivity statistics and errors, but generally we find that customers are looking to wring more efficiency out of their upstream processes first, before turning their attention to the bindery.
DM: Based on the feedback we receive, customers who first sought the benefits of automation are now interested in optimizing their workflow efficiency through operational data analysis. Our challenge as a manufacturer is to deliver modular, scalable solutions that provide entry to automation at all the price points, and drive the advantages of automation down into the smaller-format equipment where smaller shops can benefit.
WN: Mueller Martini continues to pioneer the development of fully networked, workflow-enabled solutions offering entirely new functionality and user-friendliness. This year’s drupa will be no exception. In focusing on how operators interact with the machines, we’ll take a scientific approach to the human being. We have addressed the height and look of machine interfaces, touch screens and safety with an eye to squeezing more efficiencies out of the process. We have standardized our GUI to emphasize clarity and ease of operation. All of our machines will look and feel the same when you operate them, and will guide the operator through makeready in a more logical way.
WTT: How much of an obstacle to investment is the current economic climate?
DM: Everyone tightens their budgets when the economy is weak. There is a natural tendency to wait out the storm until print volumes increase. The problem with that line of thinking is that in competitive, technology driven times like these, sitting still poses the greater risk. Faced with challenging conditions, printers have an opportunity to review where efficiency improvements can yield consistent cash flows and secure business relationships with existing customers.
WN: A weaker U.S. economy certainly aggravates printers’ reluctance to invest. Many people are hesitant. On the other hand, many others use available tax incentive programs to upgrade their equipment.
WTT: What is the relationship between automated material handling and full postpress integration with MIS?
DM: Material handling is a perennial bottleneck. Feeding production data from postpress through MIS enables a shop to improve its productivity by understanding its manufacturing pinch points. Another aspect of integration is automating workflow through job ticketing. An example is our POLAR P.A.C.E. system, which uses job information to drive automated loading, jogging, gripper acquisition, stack rotation and offloading, reducing the number of cutter operators from two to one and reducing fatigue on the remaining operator.
WTT: Now that so many conventional offset business have acquired digital print capacity to become full-service providers to their customers, what does the word “hybrid” mean to you in postpress terms?
MH: At Standard, we talk about our equipment as straddling the conventional and digital worlds. The same equipment that can be equipped with suction collating towers also can be outfitted with a different sheet feeder suitable for digital output. In addition to straddling the conventional and digital worlds, another growth driver for conventional postpress we see is related to technology shift. In some cases, providers looking to finish the output of their digital devices have very different needs. Not only have we seen a lot of growth helping companies manage convergence, but we also are going to see further opportunities to bring value-added bindery solution utilizing wider web widths, a wider range of substrates and paper weights, and more varied end products.
DM: I see hybrid capability in the bindery as the capability to process both digital press and offset press output. Most color digital output is coming from short-run work and web-to-print, and so, like the differentiation that variable content output can provide, printers and trade binderies are looking to provide more value-added finished products from digitally printed output that sell at higher prices and higher margins. As a result, they are embracing near- and off-line finishing solutions more than in-line for the flexibility to process a variety of applications from multiple digital presses. Customers benefit from one bindery operation, as opposed to a bindery for offset work and a separate digital finishing department. A good example of hybrid capability is perfect binding with PUR gluing, which provides a superior bind quality with digitally printed output that contains fuser oil, as well as with aqueous coated offset output. Stitchers with multiple cover feeders also can be used to process digital output directly, eliminating the need for folding into signatures. Digital and offset work also can be combined for stitched products.
WN: “Hybrid” is a slippery term. The output of digital devices and conventional devices is very different, as are the requirements for binding and finishing. For example, one is already collated, while the other has to be collated first. The ability to operate fully integrated equipment in digital inline mode alongside conventional postpress equipment is another matter.
WTT: Where will the growth come from in the market for conventional finishing equipment, and do you see some major postpress trends heading into drupa?
We think there is a huge opportunity to capture labor cost savings in bindery
MH: The adoption rates for JDF in the postpress area are glacial, but we amplify the drumbeat and participate in implementations where we can. We’ve also had some success with our i2i system, networking the bindery independently and later plugging into the rest of the system. Most customers respond positively to intelligent automation at the machine level, and our i2i system enables them to keep an eye on things, capture bindery metrics and resolve postpress issues. We think there is a huge opportunity to capture labor cost savings in bindery.
DM: Not only are classic bindery operations being automated to provide maximum efficiency and flexibility, but customers also are seeking new ways to use “conventional equipment” integrated to provide new, differentiated products. Multiple operations are being combined into in-line modular systems that save time and labor and have a more compact footprint better suited for smaller shops. Mailing systems that feature gluing, ink jetting, plow folding and diecutting are attracting a lot of interest because of their flexibility. They also are produce a high return on investment by producing unique new products that yield better response rates, command higher prices and result in higher margins. Conventional stitchers are adding new features such as in-line card gluing, bar coding for quality and security value, and inkjetting for personalization.
Investments are driven by the need to replace old, inefficient equipment and drive cost out of the system... Everything has to happen faster.
WN: Investments are driven by the need to replace old, inefficient equipment and drive cost out of the system in terms of waste, time, personnel, etc. Everything has to happen faster.
WTT: What theme will you be highlighting at drupa, and where, other than your booth, can your solutions be equipment be seen?
MH: We’ll be with the Horizon and Hunkeler, as well as with Hewlett-Packard, Xerox, Pitney Bowes, InfoPrint solutions, Xerox, Océ. We’ll be emphasizing “intelligent automation,” which we define as the kind of on-board intelligence that transcends simple stepper motor control and presents a sophisticated assist to the operator. Hunkeler is stepping into the digital color space with its ‘Huncolor-ready’ paper-handling solutions for the transpromotional, direct mail and publishing markets.
DM: HEI Value/HEI Performance, full workflow connectivity via Prinect, and packaging solutions will be Heidelberg’s themes for drupa this year. I think the drupa attendees will like what they see.
WN: We will unveil new, ultramodern ergonomic designs across our product line. We’ll also show a brand-new family of saddlestitchers for the mid-performance range. Mueller Martini continues to enjoy many productive partnerships with companies involved in the graphic arts. At drupa, outside the Mueller Martini stand itself, our 4-color Concepta press may be seen running under production conditions in the Kodak area, and both the Océ and Xerox displays will feature digital book production with our SigmaLine components. There will also be an animation clip showing in the Hewlett-Packard booth.