This year’s edition of On Demand is a powerful reminder that the “on demand” nature of short-run digital production is as much about the binding and finishing as it is about the printing.
When we say that something is being printed on demand, we’re saying that it’s being produced at or very near the place where it’s going to be used, at or very nearly at the time when its intended end-user wants to read or distribute it. Those expectations place a great deal of pressure on what happens at the back end, and the pressures are different from the requirements we deal with in conventional production.
Once those toner or inkjet pages emerge from the print engine, they’re ready to go to the next stage, and they’d better be—somebody wanted them five minutes ago.
In conventional production, for most commercial and publishing work, we’re printing signatures in multiples of eight pages up, and we’re working with a standard assortment of bindery impositions. The time frame may include drying the sheets and staging them to await their turn to go into the bindery department (assuming that we’re not sending them to an outside trade bindery). Then we trim, fold, cut, bind, pack, and ship, doing all of this as expeditiously as possible—but probably not at a pace that anyone would mistake for an on-demand turnaround.
Postpress for digital print-on-demand follows a different set of rules. For one thing, there probably won’t be any signatures, as we’re printing either individual sheets or pages imposed two or three across. Once those toner or inkjet pages emerge from the print engine, they’re ready to go to the next stage, and they’d better be—somebody wanted them five minutes ago.
This means that they’ll need to be collated with other pages right then and there. We may want to interleave sheets for versioning, or we may want to insert tabs. Hole-punching may be necessary. Now we can proceed to bind the sheets into booklets, and the binding could take the form of glue, saddle wire, or any of a number of types of plastic and metal hardware. All of this must be done either inline with the digital press or as near-line to the press as possible so that we don’t lose the seamless integrity that makes digital print-on-demand an exemplar of just-in-time manufacturing.
The Other “Engine That Could”
So, although print engines tend to command the spotlight at On Demand, there would be no such thing as “print on demand” without equally fast and flexible solutions for binding and finishing on demand. In that sense, this category of print-on-demand technology is the most fundamental aspect of the show.
Although print engines tend to command the spotlight at On Demand, there would be no such thing as “print on demand” without equally fast and flexible solutions for binding and finishing on demand.
It’s significant that of the 200 exhibitors taking part in this edition of On Demand, more than 30 are categorized as providers of bindery, feeding, and finishing equipment and services. Their product panoply includes adhesive binders, collators, cutters, folders, laminators, coaters, saddle stitchers, punches, drills, slitters, scorers, perforators, creasers, bookletmakers, numberers, stackers, unwinders, rewinders, and a slew of systems for mechanical binding.
In this category you’ll find products that can bind books more than 2" thick at the rate of thousands of books per hour, if that many are wanted—or in batches that can be counted on the fingers of one hand. There are table-top units and floor systems, most of them featuring programmable operation via touchscreen control. All of these solutions have been designed not just to bind and finish sheets, but to satisfy criteria that apply to all aspects of digital and conventional production: waste reduction—improved throughput—makeready automation—operability by less-skilled workers and with less labor overall.
If there’s a common thread to the binding and finishing solutions to be seen at this year’s edition of On Demand, it’s problem-solving.
Problems? No Problem!
If there’s a common thread to the binding and finishing solutions to be seen at this year’s edition of On Demand, it’s problem-solving. It’s true of both digital and conventional binding that problems we can’t solve at the postpress stage potentially can subtract all of the value that we have added to the job in prepress and printing. That’s to say that the job is sunk if, for example, the toner starts to crack when we fold—a problem that can be solved by creasing devices from Baum (booth 1361), Morgana Systems Ltd. (booth 1347), and Standard Finishing Systems (booth 930). Lamination used to be dicey for short-run digital work until quick-warmup, easy-to-operate one- and two-sided laminators from Dry-Lam (booth 616), GBC (booth 1231) and Graphica Technologies Ltd. (booth 125) made film protection practicable and affordable for printed output of all kinds.
There are many places to look for problem-solving innovation at On Demand, but one technology area merits special attention: offline UV coating. It’s an interesting coincidence that Print UV 2008, the industry’s first conference focusing exclusively on UV production, is taking place this week in Las Vegas. The demand for UV printing and coating is growing, driven strongly by the offset press manufacturers’ vigorous promotion of inline UV for sheetfed equipment. Digital printing with UV inks is possible with wide-format inkjet devices, and that market is benefiting from the introduction of high-output inkjet heads and new UV ink formulations. But for the far more numerous users of toner-based digital presses, UV coating is the process with the broadest range of potential applications, and On Demand presents an exceptional opportunity to learn all about them.
Put on Your Coat
At least six exhibitors—Duplo (booth 616), Kompac Technologies (booth 613), MGI (booth 659), Prisco (booth 518), Ultra Systems (booth 1574), and xpedx (booth (1243)—are showing or sharing information about offline coating and curing systems that can apply protective, appearance-enhancing UV finishes to digital and conventional output alike, thus supporting every press in the shop. These systems should prove particularly valuable for direct-mail products by using UV to shield addresses, barcodes, and other critical elements from the indignities they often suffer as they make their way through the postal stream.
It’s often said that the smartest way to plan a printing job is to plan backwards from the bindery. Perhaps this is a canny strategy for investigating a digital print expo as well. The key to taking full advantage of On Demand is to invest enough time and shoe leather in discovering all that it has to offer at the back end of the process as well as at the front. Binding and finishing may be the last words in traditional production, but at this show, they’re the prologue to the real story behind the growth and success of digital print on demand.
Please offer your feedback to Patrick. He can be reached at [email protected].