I must admit that, after having covered the advances in prepress and digital presses for a long time, turning my attention to postpress seemed like a yawn. Like going from the sizzle to the steak--nourishing, but no pizzazz. I was wrong! "It's true," according to Werner Naegeli, President and CEO of Müller Martini, "that postpress has been the stepchild in the printing process" throughout the decades of print automation. While all the other components got dressed up and went to the ball to enjoy all the attention, like Cinderella the bindery sort of stayed home.

For those of you who may react as I did, let me tell you that things have really changed. At the drupa "ball", the glass slipper just found the right foot, so watch out for postpress to be dressed to the teeth and getting deserved recognition. You will not want to miss the exciting advances in finishing.

One outstanding characteristic of the bindery segment has been their aggressive partnerships with distributors, press manufacturers, and each other. Xerox, for instance, has more than 30 partners according to Jerry Sturnick, Manager of PSG Third Party Finishing. All the postpress vendors to whom I have spoken maintain relationships with the major digital press vendors--such as Xerox, IBM, Océ and HP/Indigo, and many of the offset press vendors. They even have partnerships with each other, mixing competition and cooperation.

As Mark Hunt, Director of Marketing for Standard Finishing points out, "sometimes this results in highly unusual bedfellows." With a focus on making deals happen, finishing manufacturers have entered a broad range of relationships and selling practices. They may have a sales force, a dealer channel and oem relationships, or a combination of these. Their product may be sold with the brand name of the press manufacturer, or they may keep their brand. They may be called into the sales cycle, or it may be handled exclusively by the press vendor's team. They may provide a first or second line of service, or none. They may provide the documentation and training, or some, or not at all. They may deal with major players on opposite sides of the globe. This type of marketing flexibility may have initially been for survival purposes, but in today's world, it is prerequisite to success. And they are ready. You will find little hesitation in this group to be compatible, embrace standards and push the envelope. They remind me of the youngest child in a large family who "got smart" by watching the older siblings (prepress and press) go first and make the mistakes. Many of the major finishing manufacturers will have their own booths, and they will be a strong presence in their partner's booths.

We all know that a printed product is not a product until it is finished. And most outputs receive two or more finishing processes. (I think the average is 3, but don't quote me.) Over the past 5 years, incredible efficiencies have been squeezed out of the prepress and press areas of the production cycle. The major efficiencies that remain to be achieved are in postpress.

As Naegeli of Müller Martini comments, "Now with the industry grasping for efficiencies to remain competitive, they have to address finishing." Up until recently, you could have a fabulous "job ticket" of digital information that was able to direct consecutive processes without manual invention--reducing errors, increasing speed and lowering costs. That was until you got to postpress. Here the digital information was useless. As Hunt of Standard Finishing puts it, "Then you would hear that Tony was the only guy who could do the job while the job waited for Tony to be available."

Many who spent money on an impressive digital printer only found they came to a screeching halt at the finishing process. Consider the cost of misfeeds, double-feeds, off-center stitching etc. As run lengths became shorter, the amount of continual adjustment increased dramatically. And, when printers introduced digital printing into their shops, they faced the dilemma of finishing digital output on equipment designed for offset jobs. While digital online finishing has been available for a while, many printers were not keen on having to duplicate their finishing capability.

When variable data came along, say a versioned piece where clients on the A list get 10 pages and fancy covers, while the B list gets 8 pages and regular covers, the bindery was not doing the heavy lifting. One of the biggest advantages of digital information, which is to gain efficiencies by remembering key aspects of a job, did not apply to finishing. Minimizing setup when the job was run again, improved load balancing and better future bidding has not been available. "So, the bindery was lost as being an integral part of the business statistics for measuring productivity and profitability, and being able to make adjustments to improve both," according to Hunt.

At drupa, you will see many unique advancements. Themes, such as Interconnectivity at Müller Martini and Think Automation at Standard Finishing, point to the emphasis on postpress becoming an integral part of the digital workflow. According to Naegeli, "Müller Martini demonstrations will address shortening make-ready, reducing labor and improving the relationship between production speeds and real net speeds." He adds, they will address "the human factor and add intelligence so advanced skill sets in operators is reduced."

For example, not long ago people were making adjustments on the line for the next job in perfect binding. If one dimension was changing, wrenches and tools were used to set up for the next job. "New machines put a book in a measuring station and take information into the controller," says Naegeli. Instead of wrenches and other manual size adjustments, there are simple control panels.

Using JDF electronic job ticket information and creating barcodes, you will see finishers that can read postpress instructions being set up in the beginning of the job. Getting the paper, not just the data, to the finishing devices will be demonstrated. Perfect binding and saddle stitching will run independently. At one booth, prepress files will set up a bundler automatically. You will see a new generation of finishing equipment that can handle both offset and digital output. The trend toward online and nearline devices will continue. And UP 3 i, the finishing interface standard, will be promoted through live demonstrations and educational sessions in the 'JDF Parc.'

UP 3 i, the Universal Printer, Pre- and Postprocessing Initiative, was developed by leading industry vendors including Duplo, Hunkeler, IBM, Océ, Stralfors and Xerox, to promote an industry standard to ensure end-to-end communication of systems data between the printer and pre and post-processing. The intent was to establish an internationally binding communications interface for all hardware components in a process line. It is based on an open, vendor-independent, non-proprietary standard enabling integration with present workflow management standards (such as JDF developed by CIP4) and future ones. Presentations at drupa will convey the message from CIP4 that JDF has broad support among vendors and has interoperability between different systems. The three key messages of the UP 3 i standard will be Process Control, Protection of Investment and Productivity. Members will demonstrate their latest UP 3 i compliant systems demonstrating automatic job setup and synchronization, document finishing control, error recovery and waste management through a central point of control. Visit Duplo Hall 13 C38, Hunkeler Hall 14 A40, IBM Hall 5 C 37, Océ Hall 6D 80, Stralfors Hall 6D76 and Xerox Hall 13.

As Sturnick from Xerox comments, "The richest opportunities are in postpress. As other bottlenecks have broken down, the only way to continue automating is to get the job information to the postpress part of the process." Hunt from Standard Finishing agrees, "People who are tending to business will be looking at finishing." While Naegeli of Müller Martini sums it up with, "The key element will be showing that connectivity is happening now--real-time with full integration." Sounds good, and I'll be viewing all the finishing demonstrations and report back how real real-time really is.