Overcoming Obstacles, Generating Profits On-demand book manufacturing solutions offer new challenges and opportunities by Andrew J. Fetherman April 4, 2007 -- Over the past several years, publishers have developed several key initiatives such as tighter inventory management control and one-off book manufacturing that have further increased the demand for shorter runs, something that the marketplace has been faced with for quite some time now. This has created a growing need for printers, binderies, in-house operations and other graphics-related businesses of all sizes to complement their existing book manufacturing capabilities by adding greater efficiency and diversity to their operations. As a result, on-demand solutions are widening their foothold in our industry and have resulted in several important advantages for companies that address the challenges and embrace the opportunities of this emerging technology. Jobs can be readied for production literally in seconds, allowing for more projects to be completed during a given production shift and making almost no deadline impossible to meet. Whether the decision is made to use a near-line or in-line workflow, book manufacturers benefit from the in-line collation advantages and minimal make-ready times of the latest on-demand book manufacturing systems. Jobs can be readied for production literally in seconds, allowing for more projects to be completed during a given production shift and making almost no deadline impossible to meet. Work in progress is also nearly non-existent, resulting in reduced inventory carrying costs both during the book manufacturing process and storage of the finished product. Printed pieces can be created in smaller quantities that are utilized immediately instead of being packed away in warehouses, where demand forecasting was required and product spoilage can ensue. The list of benefits inherent to digital printing goes on; however, the binding and finishing processes needed to complete a job are not without their challenges. For instance, digital book manufacturing systems historically have a lack of hands-on control over the complete printing and finishing operation. What’s more, until recently, digital finishing quality has not fully measured up with traditional offset manufacturing approaches. Production itself has often lacked the output speed needed to satisfy the growing market demands, due in part to the equipment capabilities and other technical limitations of the process. However, many of these obstacles have been addressed with the latest developments in digital printing and finishing equipment. Now, let’s take a closer look at the challenges and continually emerging benefits of new print finishing advancements in the ever-expanding digital printing world--and why today’s printers should look carefully at on-demand book manufacturing solutions. Greater Control Over Production No one can argue the fact that with traditional offset-related production, there is more human control at virtually every phase of the finishing operation. People manually handle signatures and they are personally involved with the overall workflow process and quality control, as opposed to end-to-end, in-line digital book manufacturing systems where you start with a roll of paper and the system is automated all the way through to the bound piece. No one can argue the fact that with traditional offset-related production, there is more human control at virtually every phase of the finishing operation. The latest on-demand digital book manufacturing solutions have raised the bar when it comes to print finishing control capabilities. For instance, SigmaBinder Perfect Binder boasts integrated cover matching technology that continuously matches the cover to the book block for accurate production results every time. At the same time, SigmaControl utilizes a JDF/JMF interface to combine and coordinate all functions of the printing and binding process, including job reporting, product tracking, and management information that provides critical job status while allowing for automated format and job changes. Better Quality Of Finished Products In its relatively short history, digital book manufacturing systems have typically not been able to achieve a level of consistent quality that is equal to that of traditional offset workflow. This is changing though, as companies such as Oce, Xerox and IBM have increased digital printing quality to a level more comparable to offset printing. Just as IBM, Oce, and Xerox have increased digital printing quality to a level more comparable to offset printing, digital finishing has followed suit with state-of-the-art, commercial-quality solutions. Digital finishing has likewise met the challenge and followed suit with state-of-the-art, commercial-quality solutions. Today, because of the availability of true side glue application, 4-line scoring, and superior milling and notching capabilities among others, the perfect binding and saddle stitching quality of digitally produced products is virtually equal to that of their traditionally-produced counterparts. Higher Production OutputIn the past, the productivity of digital book manufacturing systems did not provide ample production capacity to satisfy many printers' volume requirements. Typically, less than 100 books could be bound in an hour, limiting digital systems to only be feasible for niche market applications. However, the advent of high-speed continuous-feed print engines, together with markedly more productive finishing solutions featuring very fast output, has been a remedy to this challenge. Companies such as Delphax and Nipson have brought impressive digital speed to the marketplace, offering duplex print lines that can run at up to 500 feet per minute. This enables digital print production operations to swiftly create a more extensive array of different products and enter a wider variety of markets. On-demand perfect binders and saddle stitchers are right there with these systems. For example, Muller Martini's SigmaBinder produces product at up to 1,000 fully variable-sized copies an hour. Improved Technical Environment Among the technical issues involved with digital printing and finishing is the hot fusing process of many digital print engines that dries out the paper potentially causing a wavy, static-filled book block. Besides slowing down production and creating the potential for quality problems, this also limits the range of paper stocks that can be used in a digital print production operation. In turn, creative possibilities are limited. New systems can incorporate remoistening devices that run in-line with digital print engines to alleviate paper-drying challenges and deliver much higher quality book blocks to the finishing stage. Moreover, the aforementioned continuous-feed print technology from companies such as Nipson utilizes a type of cold fusion technology and runs with a tension web. These solutions use less heat while fusing, all but eliminating paper drying issues and the resultant static and also further broaden the paper range that can be used in creating printed and bound products. The automated operations and simplicity of digital finishing equipment has reduced demand for high-end labor skills in book production. Another technical challenge facing the finishing stage of digital book manufacturing systems has to do with signatures. The offset marketplace has traditionally used signatures to build a book block, which typically mill and jog more easily. When digital production began entering the industry, many print professionals were skeptical of the fact that digital utilizes a cut sheet approach, which could negatively compromise milling and jogging processes. New enhancements, including the remoistening equipment described above, have helped to reduce the issues affiliated with cut sheets, resulting in improved jogging and better milling. Plus, the latest advancements with folders have extended the versatility of signature handling by being able to accumulate 8- 12- or 16-page signatures. Partnerships have also been forged with other companies throughout the printing industry to increase signature productivity in digital configurations, including a complete in-line digital book manufacturing system installation at a well-known publisher’s distribution center. This line consists of MBO folders installed in-line with Lasermax Roll Systems cutters, producing 16-page signatures accumulated in a Palamides automatic stacker. The resultant book blocks were then transferred to Muller Martini's SigmaBinder and Esprit three-knife trimmer to produce the finished product. Reduced Labor and Skill Requirements We all know that a traditional offset workflow has demanded high skill levels in the pressroom and the finishing departments. Digital print production has, as you might imagine, reduced the demand on high-end labor skills due to the automated operations of digital equipment as well as the simplicity of the systems themselves. The newest generations of digital perfect binding and finishing technologies actually do much of the production “thinking” for you. Muller Martini's SigmaLine, for instance, sets up, tracks, and completes a binding job from beginning to end with almost no human intervention. This enables printing companies and bindery facilities to meet customer demands with just an operator and a material handler. These new digital print facilities can be set-up in almost any building. Requiring minimal space and not having emissions will allow these kinds of operations the flexibility of setting up shop almost anywhere. Meeting the Challenges, Seizing the Opportunities Indeed, the growing use of digital book manufacturing systems is creating new challenges at the print finishing stage. However, these challenges are being met with new and innovative advancements in digitally-based folding, collating, perfect binding, saddle stitching and trimming. For savvy printers, it can all add up to meeting the needs of their customers more rapidly, more completely and more diversely by taking full advantage of the speed, efficiency, productivity and agility of digital book manufacturing systems. Simultaneously, it means many varied opportunities for business growth into new markets, accompanied by expanded potential for increases in sales and profits.