Last time, I pointed out that, when digital printers, in volume, start investing in bindery equipment to increase their throughput and increase their application flexibility, you know we’ve really turned that corner in the digital printing marketplace. That is finally starting to happen.

Interviews with binding and finishing manufacturers in advance of Print 05 indicate that we have, in fact, turned that corner. In my last article, I gave four overarching trends in binding and finishing for the digital/POD environment for printers to keep an eye on at Print 05:

1. More equipment, more variety, more flexibility.
2. Increased demand for inline and near-line solutions.
3. Increased demand for after-hours support.
4. Increased demand for automation.

In this article, I will continue this discussion with three more.

5. Accommodation of continuous feed (CF) machines.

In years past, CF machines were restricted to the transactional marketspace, optimized for high volumes but low image quality requirements. Today, image quality is up (although not yet reaching that of commercial presses), manufacturers are adding color, and consequently, binding and finishing manufacturers are finding themselves developing equipment compatible with a growing number of high-quality CF machines.

Standard’s Hunkeler line is among those specifically aimed at this marketplace, and at Print 05, it will be showing inline, offline, and near-line with digital presses from HP, IBM, Nipson, Oce, and Xerox.

The new Standard Hunkeler UM520 Universal Module, for example, a pinless cutter featuring die-cutting, perforating, slitting, and double-cutting in one compact unit, will be shown in-line with the Nipson VaryPress 400, producing highly personalized self-mailers at speeds up to 400 fpm.

The new Standard Hunkeler Gen6 UW6 unwinder and RW6 rewinder will be demonstrated with the Océ 9000 printing system. This roll-to-roll solution delivers tight and uniformly wound rolls, reaching speeds from 30 to 720 fpm, with the capacity to handle paper from 40 to 300 gsm. The pre- and post-equipment will be connected to the Océ 9000 through a new UP3i interface, so the graphic user interface of the printer will display job status in real time.

Muller Martini is also planning to show off its compatibility with CF engines in the Xerox and Nipson booths. At the Xerox booth, it will be showing its SigmaLine technology (which won an Intertech award this year), the SigmaBinder/SigmaTower and SigmaTrimmer, inline with Xerox’ CF engine and MBO America’s folders and Palamides alpha500 accumlator. The idea, according to the company, is to show modularity. Variety of configurations will how show printers how they can start off which a small four-clamp, fully variable binder, then upgrade with tower and trimmer as volumes warrant.

At the Nipson booth, Muller Martini will be showing its SigmaBinder inline with the Nipson VaryPress 200. It will also be doing offline trimming, with its Esprit three-knife trimmer, at speeds of 3,000 per hour,

6. Meeting the needs of publishers

Although publishers have traditionally been slow to adopt digital printing technology, the ability of high-speed CF machines to output improved image quality — along with increased finishing options — has produced a noticeable bump in interest from publishers. As a result, finishing suppliers are seeing investment, both from printers serving the book publishing marketplace and publishers investing in their own in-house production.

To serve this market, MBO America will be duplicating its automated book production system, shown at On Demand in Philadelphia. As part of the Xerox CF Multiplex Line, MBO will fold and accumulate signatures using the Palamides alpha500, which uses a mark reader to track production, then feed them into a Muller Martini perfect binder. MBO will be showing two B-21 8-page units.

According to Hartmut Sohn, vice president special applications for MBO, there is a large publisher currently in serious evaluation of this set-up for in-house book production. “Publishers are really taking this technology seriously now,” he says. “Particularly for reprints, short runs, and test markets.”

Muller Martini also focusing on the publishing marketplace. It reports seeing a bump in orders from commercial printers for CF printers, with the accompanying high-end, automated finishing technology. Andrew Featherman, on-demand product manager, notes that Offset Paperback, one of the largest POD book printers in the country, recently invested in six CF engines and purchased a SigmaBinder to complement its production.

At Print05, Muller Martini will be introducing an upgrade of what was debuted in On Demand, based on feedback from users in the field. This new version offers a vertical (rather than horizontal) drum cover feeder design and new infeed design that allows easier feeding and monitoring. It also offers more accurate and higher speed servo drives.

Booklets and Slimmer Volumes

Of course, not every publisher is producing trade books. For booklets and slimmer volumes, Duplo Corporation is showing its new Square-Back bookletmaking solution as a technology demonstration. The module is located in the transfer station of Duplo's DBM 2KT two-knife trimmer, which forms part of its dual-line System 5000 Duetto offset and digital bookletmaker. This module automatically produces neat square spine booklets at production speeds of 3,600 booklets per hour, making it one of the fastest production devices available on the market.

Also in the bookletmaking marketplace, MBO will be showing its Digi-Finisher, comprised of a pile feeder, plow folding device, saddlestitcher, and three-knife trimmer, in the HP booth. The Digi-Finisher will receive printed sheets from the HP w3200 for producing saddlestitched brochures, and a barcode monitor will check the integrity of each finished product before the next booklet starts. It will also inserting variable data sheets into magazines or brochures.

7. Focus on putting it together (beyond speeds and feeds)

But more than looking at speeds and feeds, the final trend is that printers are looking at how equipment can be paired and integrated into new and existing workflows to create applications. Suppliers say that printers asking less about specs these days than about how to produce applications their customers are bringing to them. More and more often, they are wanting to do it inline.

Mark Hunt, director of marketing for Standard Finishing, gives the example of a customer who recently asked about producing cookbooks for fundraisers. “The books all used similar color inserts to designate chapters, but with different recipes from different church groups to fill them out,” he says. “He wanted to know how to make it fit together, inline.”

While it might be possible to perform this in-line, Hunt says it was more economical and ultimately better to utilize a near-line solution that included the Standard Horizon HOF high-speed sheet feeder, which can feed variable digitally-collated monochrome sheets (the recipes) and interpose them with the color sheets (the chapter tabs).

“We walk customers through a decision tree to determine what is and is not practical or cost-effective inline,” says Hunt. “These days, we are frequently serving as document finishing consultants.”

Another good example comes from Duplo Corporation. In the Books for Children booth, Duplo is participating in the production of 8 1/2 x 11” booklets used to teach writing skills. The printing will be done on a Duplo DP 460H Air Feed Digital Printing System, and then the Duplo System 5000 will collate, saddle stitch, fold and trim the booklets. The foil stamping and embossing will be done on a Kluge EHD Series Press. Paper is being donated by Wausau Paper. The final product will then be an 8.5” x 11” booklet with 24 pages that the schools will use to teach writing skills.

Duplo will also show its System 5000 collating and booklet making solution, with 2KT head and foot trimmer.

What does this all add up to? It adds up to a digital printing marketplace that is no longer a novelty, or a niche, but that has become a mainstream part of the graphic arts industry