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Finishing--Caught in a Bind?

March 1999
BY ERIK CAGLE


If you think it's not easy making a living in the postpress environment, consider the state of the equipment manufacturers.

Finishing trends are causing manufacturers to respond almost as quickly as current turnaround demands. Issues abound: A lack of trained workers beget the call for increased automation. Value-added product enhancements are desired to help break away from a sea of finishing conformity. Commercial printers are being called upon to handle customers' projects in-house—from start to finish.

When printers and trade finishers feel the pinch, they pass it on to the manufacturer, whose job it is to make life easier for them.

Automation is first and foremost on the minds of many finishing pundits. Increasing production speeds and cutting costs are two of the main objectives, according to John Porter, division manager for LDR International.

"Part of the problem, from the bindery end, is that there's not as many ways to do some of the [finishing] tasks," Porter says. "It's not as productive to automate [folding and cutting] equipment as it is in a pressroom."

Porter sees a more concerted effort to improve material handling, such as employing electric lifts, automatic joggers, and automatic loading and unloading equipment, to boost productivity. He also sees a push to automate cutting, including efforts to adopt CIP3 protocols, where job engineering is programmed. He doesn't necessarily see this as a viable option, however, because paper is not a stable substrate and does not retain its original size after going through the printing process.

"We're trying to make programming simpler for cutting machines," he says. "We believe some of the programming tries to do too much, and can create operating difficulties and electronic or software problems. Manufacturers of perfect binders and saddlestitchers are computerizing the setups for the pockets, so users can set up a saddlestitcher, perfect binder or a three-knife trimmer in a short time. It used to take up to 90 minutes to set up a three-knife trimmer on a perfect binder; it can now be done in 15 to 30 minutes. That really makes a big difference."

Porter has also seen automation inroads with folding machines, but he questions the cost-effectiveness. Production speed may be increased slightly, but not to a level that would offset the cost of automation, since setup times for a folder aren't lengthy in the first place, he argues.

More beneficial, Porter contends, is an improvement for tacking—something that will handle product from the end of the folder. Most folders, he adds, run faster than the operator can remove product from the end of them.
 

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