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FASTER, BETTER, targeted, personalized, long run capable and continuously improving quality utilized by a new breed of information providers--transactional/promotional and marketing service providers--are prime drivers of digital printing growth.

The idea that digital printing is limited to very short runs of static content material or limited runs of rather basic personalization is obsolete. The high profit dollars for print providers are in long run, increasingly complex, personalization. Long runs--sometimes in the millions on short turnaround schedules--are being produced on several different digital equipment configurations.

The most common current approach is to utilize one of two methods of hybrid printing: off-line or in-line production. Off-line production utilizes a separately printed base form or shell, which is then imprinted digitally. Digital imprinting is often done only in black, sometimes with a spot color and, in a few applications, with process color. In-line production entails a hybrid press, which usually combines offset litho-graphy and digital printing done sequentially on a single machine.

Single-pass Production
With either approach, hybrid output may feed directly into in-line finishing equipment, or it may be fed into a near-line or off-line finishing operation. However, the now emerging, long-term trend is to produce a complete piece digitally in a single pass, on full process color equipment incorporating in-line binding and/or finishing. Blank paper in; finished; addressed; colorful, personalized product out; and in the most advantageous postal discount sequence.

Printers of transactional documents--typically utility bills, credit card and bank statements, as well as invoices--are enhancing documents by adding variable color and reducing their costs with full in-line production. These documents are being converted to revenue producers by adding advertising. This combination of transaction information and promotional material has been dubbed "TransPromo" by Kodak Versamark.

Although billing statements have long included offset printed, inserted advertising, color digital printing of promotional material directly onto the statement is a relatively new twist that is becoming a key driver of digital printing growth.

Marketing service providers that first assess a marketing objective, and then assist their clients in deciding what media mix will best achieve that objective, are also relatively new types of organizations driving digital printing growth. Many of these companies have both offset and multiple digital printing devices, but they don't consider themselves printers. Their core competence is marketing strategy, and printing is just one of several media production capabilities.

Marketing service providers often develop campaigns that inter-mix electronic media and print. Digital print production is usually long run, utilizing full-color variable imaging. Recent visits to four marketing services-oriented companies with multiple digital color presses illustrate the long-run, high-volume growth trend.

Three of the companies visited were in the United States; two were running multiple HP Indigo digital color presses, and one was running four Xerox iGen3 color production presses and a mix of Kodak Digimasters and Xerox single-color laser printers. One plant has just announced the expansion of its high-volume work with the purchase of two Xeikon digital webs. All are growing and churning out large quantities of long run, full color, variable imaged direct mail and trans-promo type materials.

In addition to these plants, Kodak Versamark has several high-speed, color ink-jet customer sites running multiple machines in the U.S., as well as globally at data processor DSL and other companies producing long run, colorful, trans- promotional documents--one of digital printing's profitable sweet spots. Data center continuous single and spot color leader Océ is moving to process color at high speeds. Screen is also about to commercialize a 500 fpm ink-jet machine.

The most awesome quick-turn, high-volume digital color installation is the Osaka, Japan, facility of JAIS Ltd., a provider of data management services. With 24 Xerox iGen3-110s spread out over a half acre on two floors of an office building, the primary focus of the world's largest full-color digital printing center is to produce personalized, trans-promo Visa card statements for the Sumitomo Mitsui Bank.

When this analyst had the opportunity to visit the JAIS center late in June, the iGens had been running for a year, successfully producing 9 million pages (4.5 million two-sided sheets) of trans-promo statements in a little more than three days of 24/7 operation each month. The end product being produced is a colorful, two-sided credit card statement, which incorporates full-color halftones in targeted promotional or direct mail types of advertising.

In addition to varying the credit card text that's required in a transactional statement, the advertising is targeted and varies in accordance with the recipient's profile from statement to statement.

An Army of iGens
The 24 iGens are run with three machine operators and five paper handlers per shift. The central control center, which is responsible for handling the files, submitting them to printers and load balancing, is staffed by a single operator for two shifts a day. Machine service is provided under contract by Fuji Xerox, which maintains seven technicians on the premises for each shift. After a year of successful operation, the facility is achieving 70 percent running productivity.

The creation of this mammoth digital printing center--the brain child of Toshihiro Wakimoto, general manager of the JAIS printing services division--was a cooperative effort between Fuji Xerox, Xerox U.S. and Kanematsu Electronics, the local distributor for Exstream Dialogue software.

The JAIS trans-promo statements are printed on 50-lb. paper from New Zealand. Multiple advertising halftones are in the order of 2 square inch rectangles or squares.

Expansion is also very much on the minds of JAIS management. First, there are plans to increase the depth of personalization used on the Visa card statements.

Additionally, JAIS is expanding its services outside the banking area. Work expansion will, over time, require additional digital presses and more floor space. JAIS has just leased the entire building where it now occupies three floors.

The JAIS installation of iGen3s, and other installations of digital color printing equipment from a range of manufacturers, are proving that digital production printing is capable of high volume, long run, continuous operation, using software that enables complex targeted personalization.

In addition to trans-promo and marketing services produced direct mail, there are an increasing number of high-volume print applications where digital printing can be used to create new 'not-printed-before' products or can innovatively displace offset. PI

About the Author
Bill Lamparter, president of the PrintCom Consulting Group, is a well-known industry analyst with a track record of correctly forecasting industry trends and assisting printers in capitalizing on new technology.

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