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Postpress Efficiency — Bringing Up the Rear

November 2007 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
ANY TALK concerning the efforts to improve postpress efficiency invariably degrades into a philosophical discussion over what, exactly, entails binding, finishing and friends. Ah yes, there is more than meets the eye, especially when mailing, fulfillment, kitting and other sometimes labor-intensive duties are added to the mix.

After all, magazines are more apt to get caught up in discussions about definitions. But a workflow is a workflow, and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Whatever stands between receiving the order and the truck pulling away from the dock impacts the workflow.

While hardware and software manufacturers have yet to devise a tonic that can cure the hung-over stitcher operator, many areas have been adequately addressed...depending upon who you ask. Some feel we have made leaps and bounds en route to shortening the after-press process; others believe we’re still being short changed. We’ll take the cowardly route and say the answer lies somewhere in between.

Better yet, we’ve asked a group of industry experts their opinion on the progress made in automating postpress processes. Most agree that some areas have been bolstered, but all don’t agree on which areas.

“I’d say binding, folding and stitching equipment have drastically improved to the point where we have eliminated a lot of the previous so-called bindery stops,” notes Bill Lamparter, president of PrintCom Consulting Group. “The equipment has been improved so that it’s more fault-tolerant. And more fault-tolerant means I can input poorer signatures or poorer sheets into the binding equipment and still get improved throughput. That’s fairly significant.”

Yesteryear’s Equipment

Lamparter recalls that the bindery of olden days used to sound quite rhythmic, with frequent stopping. One problem is that too much of that equipment from yesteryear is still in use. According to plant audits, he estimates that 85 percent of all bindery equipment is more than 10 years old.

Theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with using older bindery equipment when its performance does not come into question. But press capacity is an issue. Newer presses can have the capabilities and throughput of two (or more) presses from 10 years ago, Lamparter notes. More throughput with press technology, coupled with incumbent binding and finishing gear, equates an imbalance on the back end. That sends theory out the window.

Dennis Mason, president of Mason Consulting and Lamparter’s partner on a PRIMIR study, “The Market for Print Finishing Technologies,” also notes that technology such as binding and cutting has enjoyed immense efficiency upgrades in recent years, with bindery gear becoming less labor-intensive. In terms of production, Mason points out that electronic and mechanical improvements have reduced the degree of jams, misfeeds and incorrectly assembled product.

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