We are familiar with digital press vendors selecting finishing companies as partners and creating a complete system. What this means is that the press manufacturer is the integrator coordinating many finishing vendor partners. But at drupa, one finishing vendor turned this scenario around and integrated their own system selecting a press partner. For the new SigmaLine for Books on Demand (BoD) publishing system, Müller Martini supplied all the postpress components and only had to fill one spot, and that was the digital press. They selected Delphax Technologies.

When book on demand publishing was introduced about 5 years ago, it was touted to have lower set-up costs than offset and print short runs economically. And it did. So, printers produced the common short runs of out-of-print books, proofs, complementary copies and low-interest titles. Digital book publishing also had major cost advantages for producers of publications that required frequent updates, such as textbooks, law books, product brochures and operating manuals. But now they have grown to include much more. As the industry moves toward a print-on-demand model, professional printers will be looking for advances. And, in fact, most of the major digital press vendors--such as Océ, IBM, NexPress and Xerox--continue to enhance their book printing systems. Now we can add the first postpress vendor, Müller Martini.

The Challenge

The gauntlet was thrown down at the On Demand Show when Delphax Systems announced a new 450 ppm digital printer to be introduced at drupa. One of the big attractions at OnDemand was The Books for Schools line with the Delphax CR1300 Digital Web Press producing a 200-page book every five seconds, and postpress keeping up. The result was 1,000 fully variable size books per hour. The only manual step was the bound books going from the Müller Martini Amigo to their nearline Esprit three-knife trimmer, where they were trimmed at 2,000 books per hour.

Delphax had spearheaded this effort, which produced over 6,000 books that were donated to the NYC public school system. It was noted by Bob Vandenboom, the Worldwide Marketing Director of Delphax Technologies, that the speed increase of the new digital press would rule out many postpress vendors. But Müller Martini, declared they would show that postpress would not be a bottleneck at any speed. They announced a partnership between Delphax and Müller Martini for drupa.

A Perfect Position

Müller Martini was in a perfect position to meet this challenge because of their high competency with variable size web press technology, finishing and automation. As a charter member of the CIP4 and NGP initiatives, Müller Martini is widely considered to be a postpress leader in network integration. In addition, the company created a separate OnDemand Division which Werner Naegeli, President and CEO, considers "another level up in automation." He added, "The expectation is that digital printing will go further than traditional."

At drupa, the company emphasized networked workflow solutions and the use of JDF. As Werner told me, "The road is to automate equipment by shortening makeready, reducing labor and improving the relationship between production speeds and real net speeds. Customers in publishing say the gap between these two is too big. People realize they have to look closely at their finishing operations." While many other postpress equipment suppliers are testing the idea of JDF to connect saddle stitchers, binders etc., Müller Martini already has their Automated Make Ready System (Amrys). This is a fully automatic system that provides JDF and JMF networking, it enables the storage of production positions for finishing lines so they can be reset on request.

The company's AmigoDigital perfect binder is designed for digital printers. Configured inline or nearline, it plugs into the workflow so that the parameters of each individual book will be automatically transferred to the binder for hands-free setups. When it is configured inline, it adapts itself from data supplied by the system. When configured nearline, a built-in measuring station uses laser technology to determine the dimensions of the book block. This electronic information is used to adjust the length, width and thickness setting of the binder. The machine "literally makereadies itself," according to Müller Martini. This all fits in with company goals, as Werner explains, "We address the human factor-- making machines more intelligent so they will be easier to operate."

Announcement of SigmaLine

And it happened as forecast. Delphax announced the CR2000 Digital Web Press, believed to be the world's fastest continuous feed monochrome digital printer. With an output speed of 450 fpm, or nearly 2,000 8.5 x 11 inch ppm of duplex printing at 600 x 600 dpi. Delphax demonstrated the CR2000 in its own booth with a variety of nearline devices. The print format of 18.24 inches allows the production of three-up 6 x 9 inch books or two-up statements at the rate of 1 every 5 seconds. (Delphax will sell the CR2000 independently.)

But that's not all. Then Müller Martini announced that the Delphax CR2000 had been selected to power their own SigmaLine Book on Demand System (BoD.) According to Werner, "We have moved to the next plateau. Integrating the digital press fully into the system is further than anything shown so far." Books are produced in a single pass with integrated and continuous line control. The system accepts a continuous flow of prepress data that is fed to all its components, and is used for fully automated make-ready. Paper fed from rolls is printed on both sides of the paper simultaneously, trimmed and folded inline, and finished on an inline perfect binder or saddle stitcher (depending on the production data provided for each individual copy.) Dual finishing enables a wide range of output--such as one-color books, brochures, catalogs, financial reports, operating manuals and one-to-one marketing materials.

The SigmaPress powered by Delphax is being manufactured specifically for Müller Martini. The SigmaStation features a new line of Müller Martini finishing systems to cut, stack, fold and bind. Daniel W. Germann, Managing Director, OnDemand Solutions of Müller Martini, explained their choice by saying, "The Delphax press delivers an industrial strength solution designed for multi-shift operations in demanding operation environments consistent with Müller's design strategy." It can only help that Delphax uses EBI (electron beam imaging) which is a technology known for offering a very low cost per page when compared with other digital systems.

Meanwhile, other finishing companies brought significant innovations to the many book publishing systems at drupa. Stralfors provided its LX500 Series cutter/stacker, MBO brought the DigiFolder for book blocks and Wohlenberg did nearline binding with the Quickbinder to complement Océ's Variostream 7650CX in Print City. Thomas Open, chairman of PrintCity's Digital Activity Group, said that the system "showed how a printer can save on average almost 50,000 euros on makeready a year." The system was stated to be UP3I enabled, but was not active as such. More partners than I have seen together anywhere assisted Xerox in their Book Print Zone while Hunkeler, CPBourg, Mathias Bauerle and Wohlenberg helped IBM expand their #1 position in retail book publishing.

But Müller Martini going out on their own was special. Their booth, by the way, had a rotating stage that would position you in front of each piece of equipment as they discussed it at the press conference. It was huge, as it had to be to accommodate some of the large equipment like newspaper systems. Several days after the announcement of SigmaLine at drupa, I asked Werner Naegeli how the Book on Demand system was being greeted. His answer was hard to believe if you saw all the eye candy in the booth, but he told me, "It gets the most attention."