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The Digital Bindery

February 2000 By Erik Cagle
The finishing end of the entire on-demand printed product workflow is the poor stepchild of the digital family, watching in envy as the prepress and printing sides get the technological pony for Christmas. But it shouldn't and doesn't have to be that way.

There are ample reasons to keep all finishing aspects of the on-demand assembly line up to date. All of them involve the print customer and keeping him/her happy. Easier said than done, to be sure, as on-demand finishing challenges abound for the quick-turnaround printer.

"We need a system that won't create a bottleneck," notes Carl Bice, vice president and general manager of the Output Technology Solutions (OTS) Marketing Services Group, in Melville, NY. "In a production run, a slowdown or 'stoppage' on the printer will also cause a slowdown or stoppage in finishing. We need a system with some 'cushion' or buffer.

"For example, if the stitching machine jams, the printer will continue to print," he adds. "Once the jam is cleared, the stitcher must be able to catch up with the accumulated printed matter. The same applies in reverse."

Another requirement of an on-demand finishing system, according to Bice, is the ability to print runs of as little as one, without forcing manual setups after each document or document set. Print clients demand immediate time to market, as well as complete customization of their communications, meaning each package is customized and personalized. Thus, no two packages are alike.

"Immediate time to market means little or no 'shelf' quantities of stocks," Bice relates. "Everything must be printed in real time. It also means that we cannot print short run just in time. Each document, including prospectuses, needs to be printed for a specific customer in a specific sequence."

According to Jim Countryman, vice president and plant manager of Orange, CA-based Experian, the firm's Commercial Print Division serves a market that is presently experiencing a decline in the number of volumes printed. A majority of Experian's customers in that market are reference publications—a seemingly easy target for replacement by electronic media—but Countryman points out there is still sound demand for printed versions.

Alternative Solutions
One of Experian's manufacturing alternatives has been to come to the marketplace with a print-on-demand solution, Countryman says. "This solution includes a 600 dpi Océ LED pinless duplex printer, with an in-line cutter from Stralfors, an MBO folder and in-line binder/trimmer. It allows us to produce books in fairly small quantities at a much more attractive per-unit cost compared to traditional methods. It is now practical to have runs as small as 10 or 15 volumes."

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