Welcome to the fifth and final installment of WhatTheyThink’s Technology Outlook Week. These five sessions have looked at the latest trends, technologies, and products in a wide array of categories from software and workflow to production inkjet printing. Today, we finish up with finishing. The session was presented by Trish Witkowski of Fold Factory and Kevin Abergel of Taktiful, and sponsored by Standard Finishing and Matik/SEI Laser. (You can watch the full session here.)
These days, “finishing” is defined far more broadly than it used to be. It includes “traditional” finishing such as cutting, folding, binding, and gluing, as well as the wide range of embellishments that have become part of the unique value of print. “More and more categories are getting pulled into the finishing, which is really exciting,” says Abergel.
After setting the stage, Witkowski and Abergel launched into a roundup of introductions in the finishing marketplace. While not every company contacted for the round up contributed (likely saving their announcements for drupa), the number of products covered was substantial.
“So let’s gets started,” says Abergel.
- DuSense DDC-8000 B2
- DSM-1000 B2 Platen Die Cutter
On the embellishment side, Duplo is known for its DDC 810, an A3 unit that enables both spot and raised varnish. Now, Abergel says, it has introduced a B2 version. The unit has 600 x 600 dpi heads and offers both spot and raised varnish, as well as a cold foiling unit.
“The cold foiling unit allows you to stick the foil to that raised varnish in a very cool way,” he says. “People are also talking how easy it is to use.”
Next, Witkowski discussed the DSM-1000 B2 Platen Die Cutter, which offers an affordable solution for short-run packaging and other cutting and creasing applications such as pocket folders and shape cutting. The unit is managed and controlled using Duplo’s PC controller software, so it runs off with a PC back. Duplo is planning to launch the product just before Printing United.
“So watch for this one,” says Witkowski. “it’s really cool.”
“It's important to note that these two products actually play well together,” adds Abergel. “Anybody who's ever worked with dimensional raised varnish and foil knows that putting a thick lift through a guillotine is hard. The best way to cut embellished products is using this type of technology.”
- EcoLeaf LA430
Printing with Ricoh Gen 5 inkjet heads and using nano metallography purchased from Landa in 2017, Acetga’s EcoLeaf LA430 prints with what Actega called “liquid foil,” eliminating the waste associated with traditional foil. “The technology is coming off beta now,” says Abergel.
The unit is currently available only in narrow web format, but word is that Actega will soon have something available for commercial printing for publishing, flexible packaging, and folding cartons. “Embellishment has many shapes and forms, and this is a really interesting spin on how embellishments can look using digital technologies,” he says.
“It is awesome that they're aggressively attacking that question of sustainability and waste and foil,” says Witkowski. “That is a reoccurring theme that a lot of people are paying attention to.”
Actega EcoLeaf LA430
- TH-82P Folder with P Stacker
- Mastermatrix 106-CSB
For its part, Heidelberg has introduced the TH-82 P Folder with pallet feeder featuring an innovative shingling technology. It can fold up to 20,000 sheets per hour (depending on format) with a lower belt speed. “They are shingling it, and it’s lower belt speed, which makes it less challenging for the operator,” says Witkowski. “If you add their robotic P Stacker to the end, you can completely automate the process, no operator required. This really helps to address some of the industry’s labor challenges.”
“The robots are taking over,” jokes Abergel.
Also from Heidelberg, and launching in the U.S. market in 2023, is the Mastermatrix 106-CSB 41” die cutter which, according to Heidelberg, can match any machine on the market in terms of productivity. “This thing is hard core,” says Witkowski. “They mean business.”
Heidelberg Mastermatrix 106-CSB
- BEAM2C Nonstop
Highcon is introducing truly innovative technologies, as well. Its introductions reflect another theme seen throughout the roundup: connectivity, analytics, and shop floor data analysis.
Witkowski notes that, in 2023, Highcon made the first two installations of its Beam2C Nonstop, a field-upgradable, nonstop feeding, stacking, and waste removal configuration first introduced in 2020. The first two customers started with the pallet-based standard configuration, then upgraded to the nonstop version once they were ready. “The system is working really well, and it's proving that Highcon laser cutting can be productive for runs longer than what would normally be feasible in a pallet-based delivery system,” she says.
“Until now, printing is really where the digital workflow stopped,” Abergel adds. “Now we're seeing it come to embellishment and cutting, as well.”
This led to discussion of HighConnect, which offers real-time operational information on Highcon’s business intelligence portal. Highcon reports the number of users on the portal as growing steadily, giving their customers a lot of new opportunities to analyze their productivity and operational effectiveness.
“Often, management’s beliefs about what's happening on the floor don't necessarily reflect reality,” says Witkowski. “This is helping make sure that perceptions are data driven and accurate. So keep an eye on this.”
Koenig & Bauer
Koenig & Bauer is introducing Logotronics, its full job interface software. Witkowski notes that “Logotronics” may sound familiar since Koenig & Bauer uses it on its Rapida line of printing presses, and now, the company is introducing it on its gluers and cutters. The software offers a dashboard for production planning, tracking and reporting, business intelligence, shop floor data, and more.
“It offers a mobile option, too, which is another trend in these systems,” she says. “They are cloud-based and mobile friendly.”
- iCE LiNK
- iCE StitchLiner Mark IV
Continuing the theme of data and connectivity, Witkowski turned to Horizon and its new iCE LiNK cloud-based information and diagnostics tool.
“Having next level production management across multiple finishing not only increases operational efficiency, but the software self-diagnoses, so it lets you know when a part is wearing out or something needs to be changed out. It keeps you up and running.”
Other features include job scheduling, reporting, and seamless workflow for job changeovers. “It’s all part of the trend of offering real-time, cloud-based data,” she says. “A lot of these systems have dashboards and graphics that, thanks to cloud-based workflow, can be accessed from anywhere.”
Abergel notes that this kind of data not only helps printers increase their uptime, but decreases service costs by being able to anticipate preventative maintenance.
Turning to the recently released iCE StitchLiner Mark4 Saddle Stitcher, Witkowski notes that it combines the efficiency and ease of flat sheet collating with the productivity, versatility, and quality of a traditional saddle stitching system. “The beauty here is that all processes, including signature, scoring and folding, saddle stitching, and three-knife trimming, are performed in one pass,” she says.
On the iCE StitchLiner, stitch length, balance adjustment, and thickness settings can be changed automatically from booklet to booklet during operation. “This gives you true variable booklet production with consistent quality. Plus, this machine can run at speeds of up to 6,000 booklets per hour for A4 portrait and 5,300 booklet booklets per hour for A4 landscape. It's all about single-pass production.”
“These machines are getting not only more and more sophisticated, but easier and easier to use,” says Abergel. “Everybody has Airpods in their ears and an iPhone in their pocket these days, so you not only have a fewer workers, but the ones you do have are more distracted. That’s why it’s so important to eliminate the human touches that can create error.”
Horizon ICE StitchLiner Mark4 Saddle Stitcher
- Starbook PlowFolder
- BSM Book Sorting Module
Next is the Hunkeler Starbook PlowFolder book block solution, which Witowski called “amazing.” The unit is designed to run inline or nearline in high-volume digital print environments, including books of one and variable thickness applications. It produces glued book blocks from 4-, 6-, or 8-page signatures that can be easily transferred to a perfect binder and three-knife trimmer for book finishing.
The PlowFolder can run at speeds of up to 2000 individual stacks per hour or 820 fpm with automated changeover between folding patterns. Book blocks can be delivered individually or in stacks of multiple book blocks using the Hunkeler BD8 Book Delivery Module.
“Then they have a new BSM Book Sorting Module, as well, that sorts book blocks and places them in different transport containers,” says Witkowski. “If you’re doing books of one, you need that organization at the end, too.” The modular BSM can sort up to 2000 book blocks per hour and can be installed behind all Hunkeler book solutions. “I'm excited by how many problems they are solving in one book ecosystem,” she says.
Hunkeler Starbook PlowFolder Book Block Solution + BSM Book Sorting Module
- Accurio Shine 3600
- iFoil 1
Next up is the Accurio Shine 3600, KM’s entry-level digital embellishment unit. The machine can handle 14x14.3x29.5” sheets, which allows for a longer sheet format for trifolds and brochures and has a built-in Corona treater for surface treatment. It offers KM’s intelligent AIS scanner for automatic sheet detection and sheet distortion catchup module and has the ability to register very quickly, sheet to sheet.
Also new is the I Foil 1, the newest version of the I Foil, which has the same (“more or less”) capabilities, but has been really reduced in size.
- FC23 Flood Coater
- Autopilot Software
MBO recently launched the FC 23 Flood Coater for web finishing. The company is now developing new modules suited for embellishment. It will have three new embellishing and automation modules for rollfed finishing lines showing at Printing United 23.
For folding machines, the company recently launched its Autopilot software and quality check module for its folding machines. That software allows the folder to run autonomously, performing its own quality checks and monitoring sheet count and good copies.
“The goal, of course, is removing the need for labor,” says Witkowski. “With this software, along with the CoboStack Robotic Palletizer, folding labor could be reduced to one person for two machines and still maintain full speed of operation.”
- Uniliner 2D
- Uniliner 3D
Kurz is coming to market with three (more or less) new types of products: the Uniliner 2D, the Unliner 3D, and the Smartliner, all of which are geared towards digitally printed embellishments. Foils can either be flat or raised. Each machine produces embellishments differently.
Witkowski is particularly impressed with the Uniliner 2D, which has a unique approach. “Typically, you print a polymer or a varnish, building up the thickness, and the foil sticks to that. With the Unliner 2D, however, instead of dropping that onto the sheet, they're dropping and pin curing it directly on the back of the foil. This allows them to transfer a much thinner layer of foil to the sheet and do what's called 2D foil, which is really hard to do with inkjet technologies,” she says.
This design allows for uncoated applications, as well. “We're seeing this on the webfed side,” says Abergel. “There are a lot of applications in the wine, label, and spirits industries where they like to embellish flat, high details onto uncoated materials. Until now, uncoated materials absorbed that varnish, making it really hard to transfer. So this is really cool technology.”
- MGI Connect
- MGI Approve
- JetForce user’s group
Abergel notes that MGI has multiple new launches this year, starting with MGI Connect. “It allows users to really see what’s going on inside their dashboards, inside their machines, and makes servicing a lot easier,” he says. “It’s part of the larger trend.”
Next is the AlphaJet, which is more like a factory than a production unit. Abergel noted that it starts with a blank sheet (B2), followed by flood coating, CMYK inkjet printing, then embellishment, all in one single pass.
He then turned to MGI Approve, a soft proofing process designed for complex print. Once the file is uploaded to the MGI Approve, it can be viewed in 3D: “The customer can see how the file will look, fold the box, see what their varnish and foil layers look like,” he says. “You can play with the different colors of foil. You can make things bigger. You can make them smaller, thicker, or thinner, and then have a live conversation with your client through the software to get an approval to go to production.”
Not only does this speed approvals, Abergel continues, but it creates opportunities for the salespeople to upsell additional embellishments. “It’s nice to see a vendor take that approach—helping their customers increase their sales.”
Then finally—the last “product” launched by MGI—is a digital embellishment user community that MGI is calling the JetForce, where operators are able to get together and share information. May the Force be with you.
- Record Album Folding Machine
Witkowski refers to the Record Album Folding Machine as one of her favorite updates because this is great example of an equipment manufacturer developing a product to meet a specific need in the marketplace—in this case, the “skyrocketing” need for LP vinyl jackets and inner sleeves to meet the resurgence of the popularity of vinyl records.
“Jackets and the sleeves for records look very simple to product, but they’re actually not,” says Witkowski. “So they are using today’s technology like servos and controllers to improve the process. Unlike dedicated machines from the past, this solution is flexible enough to finish many other presentation and commercial print pieces, as well.”
B&R Moll Record Album Folding Machine
- New controls for Insignia 7 Die Cutter
- New controls for XY Slit/Perf System
The Roland Insignia 7 die cutter for B2 size sheets offers run speeds of up to 5,000 sph with easy operation and quick changeover times. Both this machine and the Rollem XY Slitting Perfing System are getting new electronic control makeovers this year, allowing for more automation, easier setup, and more efficient production tracking. Rollem expects to showcase these updates at Printing United.
- LQM 105 Hot Foil Stamper
Sakurai has long been active in the embellishment game with its screen printing technology. Now it is improving productivity by enabling screen printing and hot foil technology as an optional processing function in one system. The LQM 105, which can be installed on an existing screen press, has high accuracy of registration because the foil can be put on multiple imposition.
“This gives you a foil that doesn’t need any tooling—no dies or tools,” says Abergel. “Plus, it offers versatility and low cost without using foil mold.”
- Tecnau Connect
- Stack 1212 enhancements
Tecnau is offering Tecnau Connect, an IoT option for its Revolution 50 high-speed, high-volume finishing family. Tecnau Connect provides actionable production, data service diagnostics, and remote support with the goal of increased finishing line productivity. Tecnau will be rolling out some new features to the Connect, as well as continuing to work with press vendors to integrate with other user dashboards.
“That's another key element with a lot of these connected systems, whether they can play well with others,” says Witkowski. “That is a huge trend—these integrations being able to connect with other workflows.”
Witkowski has also gotten word that Technau is finishing up an integration of its Stack 1212 with its compact Phoenix 20 pallet feeder. “They are offering the ability to bring in a pallet of B2-printed output and load it into the feeder with no manual handling,” she says. “Then there's a second step, which is to integrate their Phoenix Duplex Coater, which will allow users to start with printed sheets, then coat, cut, and stack finished output like postcards and marketing materials.”
In the fall of 2022, Scodix (which is known for its toner embellishment process) released SHD, a high-definition toner. The company has developed a new algorithm that allows the Scodix to create very, very fine details, as well as flat areas. “That's typically one of the hard things to do on a sheet—be able to balance these two things,” says Abergel. “Using this technology, the SHD really gets really fine details. It almost looks like a laser etching of an etch dye.”
He notes that Scodix is also putting a lot of time, effort, and research and money into sustainability. This includes an audit of the press in which the company found that it was saving close to 80% when it came to environmental impact. Scodix also recently concluded a large environmental impact study in conjunction with Michigan State.
Scodix has additional products on the verge of being released, but is not yet ready to talk about them.
- 410 KC I
W&D just launched its award-winning W&D BB 1000, an all-in-one envelope finishing and inserting unit for completely one-to-one data-driven envelope letter mail packages. To illustrate its capabilities, Witkowski pointed to the slide showing an example of a completely one-to-one package. “You can see there’s the front and the back of the envelopes and they're completely personalized and variable on both sides,” she says. “They're real envelopes—not wraps.”
This makes the BB1000 a complete direct mail production, finishing, and inserting system for inkjet press output. “It’s just…wow,” she says. “They’ve won several awards with it.”
W&D has also introduced its 410 KCI , an envelope and direct mail finishing system for both static and variable print envelopes and unique self-mailers and postcard-type products. “This is neat because the 410 I will piece track with camera technology, inkjet preprinted variable data direct mail using a 2D barcode. It’s tracking everything,” says Witkowski.
The unit will also convert and finish three different static or variable data, direct mail formats at speeds of up to 33,000 per hour. This includes trailing edge die-cut envelopes in a wide range of sizes (and with or without windows), as well as foil patched enhancements, all converted in line as one workflow.
W&D has released a new secure postcard-type, interactive direct mail product, as well.
W&D 410 KC I
Witkowski and Abergel wrapped up the presentation with overall themes they saw running through all of the announcements:
- Tech is leading with the need to automate, largely due to the challenges with labor.
- More sustainable solutions. “Sustainability is no longer a ‘nice to have,’” says Witkowski. It’s a ‘need to have.’”
- Emphasis on equipment connectivity, data analysis, and business intelligence. “The theme was integration of workflows and systems that talk to each other throughout the process,” says Witkowski. “As a side benefit, it keeps the equipment running and creates a more efficient shop.”
- More players entering the digital embellishment field to help printers go after new types of applications.
- More robotics.
“There are all sorts of cool things coming,” concludes Abergel. “But we are starting to get into that blackout period where a lot of the manufacturers are holding onto those announcements for drupa. So stay tuned!”