While I was wandering around the show floor at AIIM/On Demand, someone asked me what I thought the theme of the show was this year. Shows always have a theme. “The workflow show.” “The JDF show.” But when I was asked this question, it occurred to me that I really didn’t see an “it” theme this year.
It wasn’t until the last day of the show, as I was watching yet another product demonstration, that I figured out what it was. This year is the “fixing the bugs” show.
Digital printing has been around a long time now — long enough that we have a really good handle on what the problems are and what needs to be done to fix them. At least, on the press side. But digital printing is about much more than the presses. It’s about the consumables, software, finishing, applications, data processing and handling. It’s about all of the challenges, roadblocks, and workarounds that spring up around digital presses like mushrooms.
At this show, I noticed that many of the new products or upgrades to existing products were designed around fixing these problems. This way, printers can get on with developing applications and stop stumbling over the technology.
Here are just a few examples:
Fixes for Digital Print
The process of fusing digital press toner to the sheet generates a lot of heat. This prevents most digital presses from running plastic substrates, a major limitation for printers who want to use these presses to produce specialty applications or packaging.
At the show, Nipson answered these problems by showcasing its Varypress, introduced late last year, which is designed with Nipson’s own magnetographic imaging and cold flash fusion technology. Because cold flash fusion technology does not generate heat, it allows the press to run substrates like labels, foil, carbonless stock, heavy stocks, and plastic affixed cards, as well as traditional coated and uncoated sheets. Problem solved.
There were fixes on the finishing side, as well. One of the traditional digital printing finishing bugaboos has always been that the toner tends to crack across the fold. This year, Morgana Systems Ltd. showcased its AutoCreaser — the first time the machine has been seen in the U.S. — which embosses the sheet before creasing to prevent toner cracking across the fold.
Another traditional problem is that many digitally printed products, such as Xerox iGen3 and DocuTech prints, do not always laminate properly because of the silicones in the toner. To solve this problem, Foliant used this year’s On Demand to roll out its Gemini 400, which uses a hydropneumatic pressure system to provide very high working pressures that allow the machine to laminate these products. Its products were also shown in the Xerox booth.
Fixes for Variable Data
As anyone who has ever designed a variable data print piece knows, one of the greatest challenges is setting up the rules for the variable content (if this, then run that text or image; if that, then run that text or image). This can be quite intimidating for creatives and printers alike.
To solve the problem, Meadows Publishing added a feature to its DesignMerge product that turns rule-making into simple dropdown menu that contains dozens of rules like “is,” “is not,” “contains,” “does not contain,” “ends with,” “starts with,” and dozens more. It makes the process of applying rules incredibly simple.
Another Meadows fix is the ability to quickly check the file for common design challenges, like when a field might be too long for the proposed space. A two-inch box might fit every name you can think of, but you might have forgotten about John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. So the software includes a “longest line check,” among others. It also has a “fit text to box” function that will resize the text of any article or text element to fit the box in case an unanticipated combination of variable elements results in a text runover. Instead of cutting the text off mid-sentence, leaving the dreaded red “x box” at the end of the last line, it just shrinks the text to fit within the parameters.
Fixes for Data Management
Fixes abounded on the data management and processing side, as well. For example, in order to create VDP pieces, you must have the data to begin with. Or know what to do with the data you have — a huge problem for companies that have multiple databases, in disparate places, who often don’t know what they have or how to get at it.
Group 1 / Pitney Bowes showed a solution for that, too. When the companies merged, Group 1 / Pitney Bowes now had several products designed to help customers access, append, and process data. Engineers took the best features and jettisoned the rest. The result was the e2 Suite, introduced at AIIM/ON Demand. Now, when an insurance company says, “I want to build individual benefit booklets pinpointed by geographic region — down to the city block,” there is a simpler, comprehensive solution to help them do it.
And let’s not forget about paper. Another real headache for printers with HP Indigo presses, in particular, has been the short shelf-life of the Sapphire-treated papers. The coating can expire in a matter of months, resulting in unprintable sheets and broken cartons of unusable paper inventory.
After a year of dedicated research and partnership with chemical company Nalco, Mohawk Digital Papers has introduced Superfine i-Tone, a premium sheet with excellent printing characteristics that does not require Sapphire coasting and has no shelf-life issues. Just run it like any other sheet.
Other suppliers have introduced their own solutions to these and other on-demand workflows, of course. The point is, we have been using the technology long enough, and spent enough time with it, and developed enough applications, that developers are really starting to plug the holes and fix the remaining bugs in the workflow. These days, it’s not about, “How do we do it?” Or “what do we do it with?” It’s now, “Okay, we can do it. Now, how do we optimize it?”
Finally, we’re asking the right questions.