drupa 04 Report Binding & Finishing — Building Better Binderi
by Dennis E. Mason
The just-finished Drupa 2004 in Germany was unquestionably the most comprehensive graphic arts trade show in the world. Nowhere else but every four years in Düsseldorf can one see the breadth and depth of equipment, supplies, software and processes on display for two weeks.
Although Drupas are dominated by the likes of Heidelberg, MAN Roland and KBA, with their particularly press-centric focus, it also provides a forum for companies that are far less well known, and for firms that only wish to be known. And while many journey to Drupa to see the latest in presses, or a complete selection of silk screen equipment or converting gear, Drupa provides the opportunity to gain some unique insights if essentially viewed from a distance.
Drupa 2000 was touted as the digital Drupa; Drupa 2004 was called the JDF Drupa. Both of these references correctly indicated important trends in the printing industry. One should not conclude, however, that digital and JDF indicate a focus only on the prepress and press control areas.
In fact, Drupa 2000 foresaw digital control throughout the printing plant, and Drupa 2004 demonstrated that JDF interfaces have application well beyond prepress and setting ink keys. At Drupa 2004, we saw the first steps toward the realization that the printing operation of the future can be a unified production facility, with centralized control and automation throughout.
Nowhere was the effect of digital technology more evident than in the postpress or print finishing areas—generally viewed as the last bastion of labor intensity and hard-to-define production processes. Here are some significant trends in the finishing area that were evident at Drupa 2004:
Trend I: JDF-enabled Bindery Equipment Foretells an Automated Future in the Bindery. Automating the production of both short and long runs, and the ability to account for the wide variation in formats and titles, could be seen throughout the exhibition.
For example, Muller Martini—the 900-pound gorilla of postpress publication assembly and finishing—showed a high-speed perfect binder operating in conjunction with a Delphax press producing short-run books. In fact, the entire Muller Martini booth was packed with JDF-enabled equipment, ready to take advantage of the interconnectability emerging from CIP4 protocols and broad collaboration among suppliers.
Another large-scale postpress supplier now ready to move downmarket with automation is Kolbus, where Drupa-goers saw book assembly makeready time cut dramatically. The larger manufacturers—those that typically support large publication printers such as Banta and Quad/Graphics—are clearly responding to the demands of these early-adopting companies for JDF-enabled machinery to be used in next-generation plants.
At the recent R&E Council Binding, Finishing and Distribution conference in Chicago, held just before Drupa opened, the move toward dramatic integration of postpress functions into the manufacturing process was apparent, and the equipment seen at Drupa clearly supports that trend.
Trend II: Gearless and Shaftless Technologies Are Increasing Finishing Flexibility. The application of digital technologies is dramatically changing the way other finishing operations are done, as well.
Take the diecutter introduced at Drupa by Omat, an Italian producer of flexographic presses. The new Omat diecutter, which operates in-line with a press, utilizes stepper motor technology to eliminate diecutting cylinder changes. The diecutter has one 24˝ cylinder set, which accepts magnetic dies. To effectively change the diameter of the cylinder, the operator dials in the correct repeat dimensions, and the cylinder rotation speed is changed with every impression to correctly align the dies as the material passes by at a constant speed.
For example, if the repeat is 18˝ rather than the 24˝ cylinder, the 6˝ difference is compensated for by quickly advancing the die cylinders with the servomotor, resetting them to produce an 18˝ repeat. This is just one example of the use of servo-motors and stepper motors in postpress equipment. As in the pressroom, bindery equipment is quickly becoming gearless, shaftless and digitally controlled. This permits greater positioning control, and eliminates gear backlash and drive train wear.
Trend III: Specialty Finishing Operations Are Poised to Migrate Toward the Pressroom. At Drupa 2004, numerous functions traditionally performed off-line—often by trade finishers—seemed poised to move into the pressroom. Foil stamping and embossing are two notable examples of this trend.
MAN Roland showed its new six-color Roland 700 LTTLV press, which does foil stamping directly on the press. The process requires two press units—one that 'prints' an adhesive pattern for the foiling, and a second that uses the impression cylinder to transfer foil from a roll to the printed sheet. According to MAN Roland, the new machine should be of interest to printers producing labels and packaging, and will permit them to retain work previously sent out to trade finishers.
Foil stamping and embossing have long been performed on preprinted materials, from either rolls or sheets, but examples were seen at Drupa of this specialty finishing being done either in-line with presses or at essentially press speeds, thus foretelling the future. Bobst, for example, showcased equipment from its Steuer acquisition doing intricate foil stamping at printing press speeds. Brausse, one of the IMG companies, showed similar capabilities, as did Iijima.
Trend IV: The Popularity of Digital Printing Is Spawning New In-line Finishing Concepts. Although Drupa 2000 was termed the Digital Drupa, digital printing truly hit its stride at Drupa 2004. Companies like Xerox, Xeikon, NexPress, Nipson and Hewlett-Packard demonstrated the latest in digital printing—in many instances with in-line finishing. Labels were being produced and finished live at the show, and complete books were printed and bound in one continuous stream.
And while in-line finishing has been around for some time, speeds are increasing and the latest equipment is more flexible. Moreover, as more and more printing is being done digitally (as much as 10 percent of all printing, by some estimates), the need for appropriate finishing grows in tandem.
Trend V: Shorter Press Runs Means Shorter Bindery Runs. As press runs become shorter and shorter, the demand for quick-turnaround binding increases, as well. At one time, short print runs typically meant toner-based pages stapled in the upper left corner. But today, print customers expect perfect binding and other quality finishing on their short-run work.
Drupa 2004 abounded with vendors seeking to satisfy these low-volume quality binding needs. Companies as large as GBC and as small as UPC Print, of Vaasa, Finland, showed a wide variety of approaches to short-run binding, including easy-to-do hard cover finishing for digital printing output.
Trend VI: Opportunities in Finishing Exist Beyond Traditional Printing. Numerous exhibitors demonstrated finishing techniques that went well beyond traditional binding. Hunkeler and Billhöfer, for example, showed high-speed application of RFID antennas and chips to printed material.
Companies like Streamfeeder, Multifeeder and Pfankuch showed the ability to feed and attach a wide variety of items such as cards, CD-ROMs and sachet packets to printed materials at very high speeds. Today, print finishing often means far more than merely assembling printed materials. And as advertisers seek to distinguish their products from others, these opportunities are expected to expand dramatically.
Trend VII: The Integration of Binding and Finishing. The binding and finishing trends cited earlier focus on the operational issues beyond the press. But perhaps the most important trend to come out of Drupa 2004 indicates that, in the future, print finishing will be viewed simply as part of a larger whole. Today, postpress operations are still essentially separate from prepress and pressroom functions.
Once off the press, sheets or rolls are moved to a separate area for binding or finishing. In the case of trade binderies or trade finishing shops, those functions may not even be part of actual print production.
But printing is quickly becoming an integrated manufacturing operation, with inputs consisting of electronic files and raw materials, and the output consisting of finished materials ready for the final user or buyer. This Drupa demonstrated the viability of computer-integrated print manufacturing, with JDF-enabled machines talking to one another, and with finishing operations occurring at press speeds or in-line with the actual printing.
At Drupa 2004, we moved a significant step closer to the Digital Smart Factory of the future, and to Computer-Integrated Manufacturing of printed products. Granted, the industry remains far from the 'lights out' factory forecast by some industry pundits, but we are definitely moving in that direction.
About the Author
Dennis Mason is the president of Mason Consulting, a firm specializing in marketing and technology issues in the graphic arts and electronic industries. He may be reached via his Website, www.masonconsulting.com.