Finishing — Caught in a Bind?
Porter has also seen automation inroads with folding machines, but he questions the cost-effectiveness. Production speed may be increased slightly, but not to a level that would offset the cost of automation, since setup times for a folder aren't lengthy in the first place, he argues.
More beneficial, Porter contends, is an improvement for tacking—something that will handle product from the end of the folder. Most folders, he adds, run faster than the operator can remove product from the end of them.
Steve Astins, vice president of MBO America, has also noticed the automation of finishing equipment—as illustrated by the array of makeready controls, statistical production data and sheet monitoring systems being shown at major exhibitions throughout the world. He also believes enhanced add-ons that can stem operator fatigue and, in turn, increase productivity will become more popular.
Even so, Astins feels that finishers and binders are finding themselves in a precarious position, as faster press speeds have put greater productivity pressure on them, increasing output but putting turnaround times and flexibility in jeopardy.
The trade finisher and binder of the future, Astins feels, will probably become more specialized to produce value-added products that, in turn, will help to improve the bottom line and offer a greater range of excellent production facilities to a greater range of customers. "Perhaps the time has come for expert finishing centers to evolve in an area of the industry, whose skills worldwide have too often been neglected," he says.
Because of the need for faster machines, with increased automation and MIS information required by the production office, it's vital that machine manufacturers respond with well-built equipment that embraces the latest technology, notes Astins. Still, the units need to be reliable, user-friendly and provide what customers need, which isn't necessarily what the manufacturer would like to give them.