MegaSpirea, Nipson and HubCast bring new options to market

By Noel Ward, Managing Editor

The Second Rule of Trade Shows is "There is always far more to see than there is time available." Much as Pat Henry notes in his Friday story covering some of the offset players, the inability to detail every vendor's wares is as much a part of shows as tired feet and bad coffee in the press room. All reporters can do is cover those events and companies likely to be of the most interest to our readers. Many things are evolutionary, some invoke yawns. Some groans. Then there are "You gotta see this" moments.

Dynamic Envelopes on the Fly

So I'm walking across the show floor, running the X-minutes behind I always seem to be at shows, when a guy steps out of a booth and says, "Noel, you have to see this." Behind him is this red and black machine with dark Plexiglas panels and lots of moving and whirring stainless steel parts that seem to be moving paper around. I plead tardiness and he stuffs some samples of the machine's output into my hands and says, "This will get you started. Come back when you can."

People were calling colleagues from the booth saying, "You gotta see this!"

Truth be told, I didn't make it back for a closer look, but after I opened the samples I'd been handed, the marvel of video on the web showed me this is definitely something you have to see. MegaSpirea's MailLiner 100 was one of the Must See 'ems, and Scott Gerschwer, VP of Marketing (the guy who stopped me on the floor) told me last Friday, people were calling colleagues from the booth saying, "You gotta see this!"

The MailLiner 100 addresses the need of service bureaus and data centers to combine envelopes and their contents with 100% accuracy. Instead of printing a document and putting it into an envelope, the system creates the envelope in-line and wraps it around the document. Using a continuous-feed printer (think InfoPrint, Kodak, Nipson, Océ, or Xerox) a document is printed and is immediately followed by an envelope, bearing address, postal indicia and relevant messaging. The MailLiner 100 does the slitting and  trimming needed to separate the envelope and its contents, does the requisite scoring, folding, gluing, and marries the pieces back together, ready to mail. Cameras and bar codes further ensure accurate matching of mail piece and envelope. The machine runs at about 300 pages per minute and can put up to 5 pages in each envelope.

The MailLiner 100 does not produce self-mailers - it creates envelopes in-line - and that is a big distinction

Equipment for producing self-mailers is nothing new, but this device is a giant leap forward. It does not produce self-mailers --it creates envelopes in-line-- and that is a big distinction. Most self-mailers are bland, kludgy and hard to open. The ones off the MailLiner are slightly shorter than a #10 envelope and can be printed with full-color graphics and text. They are real envelopes. The elimination of pre-printed forms is already well underway, and this system could also eliminate much of the need to order envelopes. It lets a service bureau or direct mailer print an entire job run on plain paper and have ready-to-mail pieces coming off the back end of the machine. That reduces the need for inserting equipment and labor while helping ensure the accuracy of envelope and contents. While documents containing a reply envelope aren't right for this system, there are plenty of direct mailers who would see the advantages of the MailLiner 100. Go online and check it out.

Nipson adds color

Nipson, whose magnetographic printers are noted for speeds up to 500 feet per minute, have raised the bar in two significant areas. Most obvious was the new color ink jet unit that can set up shop between the print engine and the rewinder or other post-processing device on VaryPress 200, 400 and 500 models. The drop-on-demand color device uses an array of 28 print heads across an 18.4" roll that can place 600 x 600 dpi spot colors anywhere on a page. The obvious benefit --and a target application-- is the elimination of pre-printed forms, The French treasury is already using the system and the samples I saw showed spot color logos and shaded areas with key information. Given the speed, low operating cost and reliability of Nipson printers, the spot color configuration is worth considering for many types of trans-promo printing.

Magnetography has never been known for good half-tones, but the latest images from Nipson printers were a huge improvement.

And now, some of that printing can include halftones. Magnetography has never been known for good half-tones, but the latest images from Nipson printers were a huge improvement. The blacks were solid and the grayscale should be commercially acceptable for a variety of publishing such as manuals, course packs and even some text books. I've watched Nipson's halftones improve steadily in recent years and this latest shift is, in my opinion, a positive one. And with the addition of spot color, Nipson bears watching and their machines consideration.

The HubCast Solution

One of the meetings I was late for was with a new company called HubCast, a firm run by Toby LaVigne, a veteran printer who sees the power of digital technology, not only for printing but enabling offset and digital printing of marketing communications materials around the planet. That's idea behind HubCast, which calls itself an Open Commercial Print Utility. A what?

The idea here is that there are certain types of print providers --both offset and digital-- who need to split jobs with other printers for load balancing, to meet tight deadlines or because a job needs to be printed and delivered more or less simultaneously in multiple countries. Doing so requires substantial management, control, and coordination on the part of all those involved, and often becomes exception processing --opening the door to errors, stress and heartburn. Then there are the costs that can make one question why they took on the job to begin with.

That's where HubCast comes in.

Printers who sign up for HubCast send their jobs to HubCast's servers in a PDF/X1a format where they are thoroughly preflighted based on specified job specs, then distributed to a print provider on the network located closest to the point of need and which has the right mix of equipment and capabilities. For example, if a company in Boston is releasing a new product across the U.S. and in Europe, the job, along with all the specs are uploaded to the HubCast server via a H-Box (a required system access device) where the file is preflighted and encrypted. The H-Box also decodes inbound files and furnishes all essential printing and finishing information in a universally understandable, icon-based format. The actual location where the job will be printed is based on where it is ultimately to be shipped, the idea being to print as close as possible to the point of need. So if the European job is needed in Brussels, Belgium but the closest available HubCast network shop is in Antwerp, that's where it is routed. The routing is also adaptable and intelligent. A printer can put a red light on his system, saying he can't take any jobs for a week due to volume or maintenance work and the system will route the job to the next nearest location. Local job status updates are furnished in real-time and immediately accessible for administrators at both sending and receiving ends.

The actual location where the job will be printed is based on where it is ultimately to be shipped, the idea being to print as close as possible to the point of need.

Proprietary software called PrintManager does the heavy lifting of routing the press-ready files with job ticket information to HubCast network nodes. Subscribers can enter print orders into the system by integrating their online portal, literature library or marketing resource to HubCast's application through web services for "lights out" automation, or by manually uploading files via the HubCast online interface. That interface, by the way, is one of the cleanest, simplest and most logical I've seen for job submission and distribution.

Quality can be a concern when printing a job in a different time zone, so printers joining HubCast go through a vetting and training process that includes a Six Sigma course for printing that ensures they have the mix of skills and equipment. That lets HubCast guarantee the quality of each job.

Different types of distribute and print models, such as IPN (International Printers Network), have been around for some time, as have equipment vendor programs from HP, Kodak and Xerox. All work well. HubCast is new and appears to be well thought out, comprehensive and offer real benefits to print providers and their customers. The network is under construction, and if you get a call from HubCast about being part of the system, it's definitely worth your time to see if it can benefit your business.

So let's see. I'm only part way through my list. You'd better come back again in a couple of days. I have more to tell you.