April 25, 2005 -- Digital printing is often thought of as a stand-alone operation for producing documents containing variable data and/or short print runs. But with the right equipment, it can be integrated with traditional offset or flexo presses and finishing equipment to streamline operations and build business. Such hybrid printing systems offer the best of both worlds – the high quality color production of traditional presses and the fully variable printing capability of digital technology. The benefits of hybrid configurations, though, go beyond just producing a top-notch product. The workflow and job processing improvements they enable can have a significant economic impact on a plant's operations. Specifically, an integrated system allows you to run a complete job, from blank roll of paper to finished product, in a single operation, minimizing material handling steps, work-in-process inventories, and a lot of the labor that typically goes into such jobs when run in multiple steps. This saves, time, saves money, reduces waste, and drastically reduces the need for inventories. Moreover, the expanded capabilities of this type of configuration can open up new market opportunities, broadening the business base and providing a significant "leg-up" on one's competitors. An integrated hybrid system allows you to run a complete job, from a blank roll of paper to a finished product, in a single operation. To realize the many benefits of such a hybrid printing system, one must choose carefully the digital equipment that will become part of this system. Typically, someone considering this type of configuration already has an offset or flexo press. The value of creating a hybrid system, then, often is to leverage the initial investment by enabling a much broader range of print applications and thus open up many new opportunities for incremental business. From direct mail to financial printing to publishing, there are important lessons in technology and market trends that can be leveraged to build business with integrated digital printing. The key, then, is bringing together the right combination of products to enable the most potential opportunities. Technology Matters When it comes to digital printing technologies, magnetographic imaging technology is well-suited for hybrid systems, especially when combined with a flash fusing system to fix the toner to the substrate. The key is assembling the combination of products that will enable the most potential opportunities. Magnetography uses a series of micro-electronic electromagnets (600 per inch) to create precise magnetic images on the surface of a specially coated metal cylinder. Toner with magnetic properties is then attracted selectively to the magnetic image to "develop" it, and it is then transferred to the substrate. With flash fusing, the toner is then fused to the substrate without heating it. High energy light flashes impart energy selectively to the toner, causing it to melt and adhere to the substrate, while the substrate reflects most of the energy striking it and stays cool. This means that it does not warp, does not shrink, does not distort, and does not dry out. Static electricity on the web, which can cause difficulties in finishing operations, is all but eliminated, and finished pages lie flat at the output of the process. So, what makes magnetography the ideal choice for integration with traditional printing equipment? First of all, it's fast. At up to 410 ft. per minute (125 m/min.), and a high up-time rating, it ranks as one of the most productive toner-based digital printing technologies on the market today. What's more, it is available in a "tension-web" configuration, so it can be put directly in line with a printing press and "slaved" to the web, meaning that it prints at whatever speed the web is moving, ensuring accurate registration and top output quality regardless of the material being printed. Look Beyond Speed Magnetographic printers ability to run at high speeds for extended periods of operation in production environments is a key element in an integrated system. A digital print engine must be able to operate at speeds compatible with an offset or flexo press. Still, some types of offset presses will have to run at speeds way below their capabilities to accommodate an in-line digital press, so there clearly have to be additional features of the digital unit that come into play in a hybrid configuration. 53.6 percent of the transaction oriented in-plant printers interviewed cited reducing preprinted inventory by using digital printing as a major goal One of the key additional features is the flexibility of the magnetography printer. Because its flash fusing technology does not impart any heat to the substrate, magnetographic printers can image on a wide variety of materials, including papers (from very lightweight to very heavyweight), synthetics, labels, affixed plastic cards, foils, and even pressure- and thermal-sensitive stocks. This offers the potential for expansion of a business into new areas. Adding variable printing capabilities to one's flexo press and being able to run many different types of stock, can provide the tools needed to satisfy a broader range of customers' needs, providing more of a "one-stop-shopping" opportunity that can greatly increase business. Inventory Reduction Reduces More Than Inventory In a recent survey conducted by InfoTrends/CAP Ventures and OutputLinks.com, 53.6 percent of the transaction oriented in-plant printers interviewed cited reducing preprinted inventory by using digital printing as a major goal in the next two years. Over 70 percent stated that they intend to reduce the number of stocks with the goal of reducing inventory. Clearly, the industry recognizes the value of inventory reduction. Hybrid printing with integrated finishing answers this need: it eliminates inventory at several points in the process. The need to stock pre-printed rolls is eliminated as well as work-in-process inventory. Reduced inventory translates not only into saved space, but lowered overhead costs as well. Moreover, there is less material handling required, so labor costs are reduced and operations become more efficient. Hybrid printing with integrated finishing eliminates inventory at several points in the process. In addition, the benefits of inventory reduction can be passed along to customers. For instance, Nipson worked with RR Donnelley to produce an Inventory Management Solution in book publishing. The IMS allows RR Donnelley to pass inventory savings along to customers with a fully integrated digital printing book on demand line using Mueller Martini, Hunkeler and Nipson equipment integrated seamlessly. Since books can be created in small quantities without the typical make-ready costs of traditional methods, customers can order just what they need, without carrying excessive inventory or paying huge penalties for small orders. More Products = More Business Making a process faster, cheaper, and better is always a desirable business goal. Creating new products at the same time further maximizes the ROI on technology investments. In integrated digital print, entirely new products can be offered to customers. The ability to print on a wide range of substrates allows for a greater range of finished products to be produced. More importantly, it lets print providers anticipate requests from customers for special foils, films, tipped on cards and thin or thick weights of paper. In addition, the non-heat, non-impact nature of the technology reduces downtime and allows for these products to be smoothly printed with variable data, folded, stamped, cut, and glued all in one seamless process. In integrated digital print, entirely new products can be offered to customers. MICR printing offers another good example of cost effective product expansion. Since magnetography uses toner particles that have magnetic properties, it can print MICR characters by default. Users can switch seamlessly between MICR and non-MICR applications with no downtime or need to switch to more expensive toners. This can help printers diversify markets and take advantage of new developments such as the new Check 21 law recently put into effect in the U.S. Applications such as this show that printers must have a flexible variable data printing technology on hand that can cost-effectively produce documents the market is demanding. Summary Choosing the right technology combination is essential to realizing a full return on investment on an integrated digital printing line. Speed is important, but flexibility is truly the key to successfully integrating traditional, digital, and finishing technologies. This ensures a printing operation can reduce costs while offering better and more varied applications. Alain Flament is Chief Marketing Officer for Nipson SAS