The Digital Finishing Challenge
I'm lucky in that I get to work on a fair number of new digital print and finishing applications in my work. I also get to speak with a number of commercial printers, so, in a way, I have a front-row seat in the digital transition show.
This is not the first time I've visited this subject, but as digital print continues to take a bigger market share, the subject is attracting more attention. As the workloads being assigned to digital continue to grow, the existing "digital" finishing machinery is coming up short. Many (but not all) of the available folders, booklet makers, and binders are a bit light for these higher volumes and compressed production cycles. This has created real opportunity on the finishing end, and a diverse lot of finishing manufacturers are jumping into this space.
The challenge is to take existing commercial-grade bindery machinery (heavy-build, high-volume capable), and adapt it for digital (very short-run). Although commercial bindery systems have been steadily evolving to produce smaller and smaller job runs, they are still best equipped to work with offset-produced material, which are typically signatures. The new ink-jet presses can produce something akin to a signature, using inline plow-folders. But they commonly output cut sheets. In the offset world, press and bindery are (usually) two discrete environments. But in digital, the press produces a fully-collated product, so it's more efficient to directly connect the finishing gear.
But linking a finishing system to a high-speed inkjet printer has its issues. These printers can go through a lot of time and paper on every re-start, so the binder or stitcher cannot be the bad actor in the configuration. Buffers must be built-in to the entire line to permit the binder to stop for a short time (jams, etc.) without stopping the printer.
The binder or stitcher must also be able to react to the different sizes being produced by the press without stopping, or manual intervention. So the opportunity exists to create a whole new generation of finishing systems built for heavy-duty, high-volume operation, but adapted for lightning-fast format changes dictated by the press.
A few of the "major" commercial finishing vendors recognized this transition years ago, and have been steadily producing and evolving binders adapted for digital operation. Others decided not to jump in early, but are now introducing machines that have had a lot of thought about current techniques built into them. In any case, there will be more new finishing systems players seizing these opportunities. You can bet on it!