Digital Finishing : Crossing the Finish LineFebruary 2010 By Erik Cagle
WHEN IT comes to digital printing, sometimes it's not so much about how much margin you earn, but how much you can avoid losing. And one's ability to skillfully maneuver digitally printed product through the binding and finishing process just may enable you to avoid a nasty kick in the pants as the completed job heads out the door.
It's like blowing a tire on the last lap of the Daytona 500—infuriating and oh-so costly, mainly because there are plenty of competitors nipping at your heels, ready to pass you by. But you need not be Jeff Gordon to appreciate the value of a short, compact and linear digital finishing workflow.
Larry Vaughn, president of Houston-based Ideal Printers, is one of the industry's deans of business card printing. They're a necessary evil and boast a fraction of the margin reaped from your typical church bake sale. "You don't sell business cards to maximize profit. You try to minimize your loss," Vaughn notes.
For Vaughn, it's all about bindery automation. Ideal's automated online ordering system and front-end prepress flow, which whisks PDFs through the proofer and onto press, are quick and painless, as is the actual printing. But finishing, in general, lends itself to human intervention, multiple touches, various operations...and costly errors.
"On the digital end, we've installed automated off-line perfect binders, three-knife trimmers and stitchers," he says. "More and more, companies are realizing that they need to automate their bindery functions to eliminate the touches, the steps throughout the shop. Nowadays, people don't want to spend money, but that type of investment allows you to streamline the process and save money."
Redundancy is also crucial for the times that machines go down, notes Vaughn. Jobs arrive when they arrive but, unfortunately, the delivery date is always static. With several presses, four folders, multiple diecutters and perfect binders, Ideal Printers boasts scheduling flexibility and can turn jobs around in short order.
For years there has been debate over the merits of in-line versus near-line and off-line finishing. But, as job run lengths and turn times continue to dwindle, more and more printers have opted to segregate finishing in a digital printing context. The variability of digital printing jobs makes off-line finishing the better call, contends Tom O'Brien, partner at AccuLink. A provider of sheetfed and web printing, in addition to digital output, Greenville, NC-based AccuLink has opted for the near-line finishing route.