Digital, Meet Offset. Offset, Meet Digital.

As digital print’s market share continues to grow, it makes sense (in my opinion) for the two worlds of offset and digital finishing to learn from each other. The offset world of finishing has decades of experience and “best practices” which have been developed over time. Both large and small printing firms have experimented with various iterations of statistical process control and lean manufacturing. Over the years, much has been learned about achieving efficiency and quality control of the finished product.

I know, because I’ve learned a lot from having the chance to sit with the experts in the field, as well as from hundreds of visits to binderies across the country. In some instances, the digital folks don’t have a large amount of contact with their offset bindery brethren. That’s because many digital operations are just that. All digital. By the same token, many commercial binderies have little or no idea of the different processes used in digital finishing.

Here’s one example. On most digital continuous web presses, the press availability and throughput calculation takes into account a roll change (approx. every hour) of fifteen minutes or so. There isn’t a commercial web press that I know of that doesn’t have an on-the-fly splicing roll unit that eliminates this stoppage. The digital folks have finally made this connection and I expect to see roll splicing for digital at PRINT 13.

On the flip side, much of digital production involves dealing with pre-collated sets. Many of these involve variable data. The “foundation” of the offset bindery is the collation process, in which offset sheets and signatures are collated by machinery to produce the completed set. Digital eliminates this, and introduces a new workflow process which is unfamiliar to many conventional bindery folk.

Offset people have a wide and deep knowledge of paper types and their behaviors across different finishing processes. They have built up a complete library of various tricks that can persuade paper to do an amazing number of things. The “digerati” sometimes lack this kind of deep substrate knowledge.

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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