New finishing technologies help achieve cover-to-cover commercial quality

by Andrew J. Fetherman

Digital book manufacturing continues to make significant in-roads in the commercial publishing industry, with more and more book manufacturers relying on digital workflows to supplement and complement their overall production needs. Among the reasons for this rising growth in popularity is the fact that new advances in digital finishing are enabling book manufacturers to economically and productively produce short-run titles with little or no sacrifice to the quality of the finished product.

Changing the focus from print quality to total quality

Until just recently, the emphasis in digital manufacturing had for the most part been on achieving printing results comparable to commercial offset presses. And to be sure, the quality of digital printing is indeed getting better and improving everyday. Still, perfect binding and other finishing tasks in the digital arena had historically not received the attention they deserved. That is until companies such as Muller Martini saw the need for a change that would bring commercial-quality finishing to the digital market, giving the total book a handsomely crafted look that for all intents and purposes would make the book indistinguishable in the eyes of the consumer versus books that were finished in a commercial offset workflow.

Driving the need to elevate digital finishing are fundamental shifts in the book publishing industry.

Driving the need to elevate digital finishing are fundamental shifts in the book publishing industry. As publishing companies have become increasingly wary of committing large expenditures to massive runs and limiting the forecasting risks and inventory carrying costs associated with these long runs, a greater amount of book production has migrated to digital, in some cases overlapping the market for traditionally printed and bound books. Yet, whether the strategy is to create a limited amount of advance reader copies ahead of a large run, or, if it means generating a relatively small quantity later on in a book's life in order to keep the book in print longer and thus extend sales opportunities, publishers nonetheless want seamless quality and they want it throughout the entire lifecycle of the book.

Making high-end digital finishing a reality

Achieving this level of commercial quality finishing in a challenging digital workflow is only possible if equipment manufacturers pay attention to the slightest details in their machine design. For example, the milling station in a short-run perfect binder must generate sufficient paper fiber exposure and notch it in a manner that results in page pull-test durability equal to that of the industry's best machines. Furthermore, separate spine and side glue pots that let operator apply glues with different tack and open time characteristics to the spine and side of the book block produce a more durable book. Once the book is bound, trimming systems complete the commercial quality finishing of the book.

For example, Muller Martini's SigmaLine digital book manufacturing technology has provided digital book manufacturers and publishers with a digital solution that delivers commercial-quality finishing in combination with the flexibility required in a one-off workflow. The SigmaBinder perfect binder incorporates all quality characteristics noted above, while largely automating make-ready. Varying book block size data for each individual copy is compiled by laser in the measuring station and used for automatic, cycle-precise adjustment of all dimension-related settings in the binder. The result is the production of up to 1,000 fully variable, length, width and thickness books or even titles per hour.

Versatility protects the investment

Scalability is another important attribute of state-of-the-art digital binding systems because it lets book publishers add other finishing components as the need arises. For instance, a digital book manufacturer might first purchase a SigmaBinder in a near-line workflow, then subsequently install it in-line with the addition of a simple conveyor as continuous feed digital print technology becomes even more productive. This allows book manufacturers to reap the benefits of in-line efficiencies when a complete digital production line is running, while always having the added flexibility of near-line capabilities at all times. Such modularity provides book manufacturers with investment protection for their finishing components, as they continually upgrade their print engines to keep up with the quickly advancing technology.

You can have it all

Today, there is no reason for the book publishing industry to make sacrifices with respect to quality when utilizing digital solutions because in addition to top-notch printing, publishers can have everything else they want: Commercial-quality finishing for the digital market combined with exceptional productivity and versatility. Indeed, on demand has come of age and has gone commercial.

Andrew J. Fetherman is Manager, OnDemand Solutions Division, Muller Martini