Is Offset Finishing R&D Finished?

I get to see a lot press rooms and binderies. And I can see the mix of digital and offset gear, sometimes sitting side-by-side. I often wonder if we’ve seen the last days of offset press development and innovation. After all, how much more efficient can we make the technology? And the same applies to the finishing end. The “golden days ” of high-speed finishing systems were really in the mid-to-late 90’s and early 2000’s.

That’s when vendors were consistently attempting to break throughput speed barriers by one-upping each other with faster and faster binding and saddle-stitching systems. The whole thrust was to reduce the job cycle times for high-volume runs. Later on, the goal was to reduce makeready time so that more short runs could be handled. Digital print changed all that. As digital print grew, and high-volume runs declined, it didn’t seem to make much sense to continue developing a 40,000-cycle-per-hour perfect binder.

So the R&D switched over to finishing machinery for digital, where it largely continues today. Which brings us back to the original question, are we finished with offset finishing? What remains to be done with the future of the offset bindery? I am of the opinion that (mostly) most of the major breakthroughs have been accomplished, Been there, done that.

Vendors will continue to make their systems more efficient and versatile. There’s been a recent push to make many bindery machines into “Swiss Army knives” that can handle many tasks, and can be re-purposed or upgraded when the occasions arise. That makes sense because it may reduce the overall investment needed to justify purchasing a new machine. But all new system development is driven by market size, and as markets shrink, so does development.

I don’t know what’s coming down the pike for digital print and print finishing, but I’m sincerely hoping that we’re not done yet!

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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  • Paul Gardner

    "…the mix of digital and offset gear, sometimes sitting side-by-side."

    It’s WAY past time to stop thinking about finishing equipment as Offset or Digital. That was never a valid model, although the early gap in run speeds between toner and ink made it seem to make sense. But it’s a model that has never served our customers well.

    And therein lies the most exciting challenge ahead for finishing!

    What we really need is the ability to intelligently and selectively combine digitally-printed and analog-printed materials into a single product.

    The creation of this Selective Binding ability will move the key distinction from Digital or Offset to Variable or Static.

    Increasingly the right answer will be Yes, Both and More!