A Checklist for Would-be Digital Finishing Manufacturers
Let's face it, the growth opportunities for traditional finishing manufacturers are few and somewhat far between at the moment. That's why a large number of "old-school" firms are racing to enter the still-growing digital print segment, because that's where the growth opportunities are right now.
But wait! Before you decide to re-tool your commercial bindery gear for digital, take some tips from my checklist. Believe me, it's been gleaned from experience.
1) It's A Different World.
Yes, it is. The press-to-finishing workflow is quite different from offset. Many digital shops prefer single sheets (two-pages) over creating folded signatures. Since the data is often variable, a 16-page signature could wind with 15 blank pages. And digital work is pre-collated; no need for a gathering section. The point is that many traditional bindery systems have to be "re-thought" for a digital workflow.
2) Make It Flexible.
Because high-speed continuous inkjet is still fairly new, many shops acquiring a press don't know what new work they may get (or COULD get) in a year or two. As a result, they'll be reluctant to commit to a one-trick finishing system. Your finishing solution should be flexible enough to process a variety of formats.
3) Oops! Your Selling Model Got Switched.
The world of the "traditional" bindery equipment rep was well-defined. He (or she) knew EVERY print shop and bindery in their territory and was a regular, welcome visitor. Reps typically dealt with the owner or upper management. They knew what was going on inside the plant and knew what projects might trigger a sale. The press room was something of an alien area, and the bindery was where the action was.
But in the digital world of continuous web, press and finishing are typically proposed at the same time. The entire system, from front-end to back are bid at the same time. When you walk in after the digital press install, the party may already be over. The key to winning the business is partnerships.
You have to establish yourself as a viable partner of the press manufacturer. They will bring you into the RFP process. This means getting your finishing gear "in compliance" with the printer manufacturer's requirements, and getting on their list of recommended (and trusted) finishing suppliers.
4) Watch Your Pricing.
Many traditional bindery systems manufacturers build BMWs for the bindery. High-quality machinery that's built for 24/7 operation and the long-haul of usage. These machines can be productive for 10 years or more. But the digital world has shortened the productive lifecycle. A digital press may be replaced by newer technology within four or five years. The total "capex," or capital expenditure, of the entire system is critical. Durability and productivity are still key, but if the price of your finishing solution approaches a significant percentage of the press cost, you'll be eliminated from consideration.
There are lots of opportunities for finishing in the digital space, and finishing technology is more important than ever. But manufacturers must shape their offerings to fit the unique criteria of digital.