Bridging the Offset and Digital Divide in Finishing

I had the pleasure of attending a rather festive “open house” event last week at a major offset printer. This firm had implemented a digital print and finishing platform in a big way. Re-fitting a space within their plant, they outfitted the new digital “module” with an HP continuous inkjet press, HP Indigo presses, and several high-speed cut-sheet toner printers.

To complement the print side, they also installed several new finishing systems to handle the output from both the continuous and cut sheet printers. It was interesting to step outside the digital “module” into the traditional bindery, which was a large, high-volume operation. This brought into contrast the differences between these finishing operations.

The “traditional” bindery with several large guillotine cutters working away, has more than a dozen high-speed buckle folders, and multiple saddle-stitchers and perfect binders. Most noticeable is the amount of labor involved. People moving pallets of sheets and signatures to and from the various machines.

Then you step back into the digital module, where things are quite different. Fewer people are needed because most of the required finishing operations are done “in-line” with many of the digital presses. No signatures are necessary because all of the print is processed as single sheets. The work flow requires different impositions, with the addition of barcodes which are needed to control the finishing systems.

The “traditional” bindery staff can be somewhat amazed at the capabilities of the digital gear, which include making completely personalized booklets with variable page counts. But in an environment where they can be somewhat “down” on the future of the bindery, this can be pretty exciting, since digital holds out the possibility that print and finishing have a lot of life left in them. Even more interesting is the fact that many old (and experienced) bindery hands have retired. This is creating a “vacuum” of experience and potential demand for people who understand both traditional and digital finishing. Not a bad outcome!

Don has worked in technical support, sales, engineering, and management during a career in both the commercial offset and digital finishing sectors. He is the North American representative for IBIS Bindery Systems, Ltd. of The United Kingdom.
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  • Werner Rebsamen

    Don – thanks for an interesting article. Remember our good friend James Averill, VP of Harris Graphics? They once did a study and found that 40 percent of all bindery tasks were reserved for handling materials, lifting up, stacking down etc. (1970/80’s)
    In a June 2013 German bindery publication, they reported that the sale of gathering machines declined 39.8 % from one year to the other. And the year before was already bad! Trends ………