Maximizing Finishing Processes for Inkjet Web Digital Print Production
The high-speed production inkjet systems that have transformed today’s commercial printing sector have been strongly supported by developments in finishing. For companies operating at the forefront of inkjet production, the benefits of the technologies are about so much more than simply achieving production parity between print and in-line, off-line, or near-line finishing.
They must also work, successfully, to maximize the possibilities of production, allow greater production flexibility, and produce print in new and profitable ways. For these companies, printing and finishing technologies, used in concert, are key access points for opportunity and differentiation.
Bridgeport National Bindery:
Roll-to-Book Production Workflow
As a 75-year-old company with a foundation of doing library binding for colleges and universities, Kent Larson, CEO and owner of Bridgeport National Bindery, says the company has long had an approach to “books of one.” In 2003, seeing a growing focus on print-on-demand, academic, and self-publishing using digital printing technologies, the company expanded from bindery to full book manufacturing.
Larson explains that the Agawam, Massachusetts-based company’s printing capabilities are “completely digital,” and include two high-speed production inkjet web presses, an HP PageWide T240, and a SCREEN Truepress. The HP system has been in place since 2013. The shop also houses HP Indigo and Ricoh toner-based systems. “If we need quality,” Larson says, “we go with toner. If it’s speed and economics, we go with inkjet. But inkjet is coming up very fast quality-wise.”
Finishing equipment needs to be flexible, according to Larson, for the company to manufacture one book at a time — using output from both inkjet and toner systems — onto any of 14 different paper stocks it offers. With digital, he says, “printing can be done in any quantity; the challenge is how to finish it economically.” He says one of the biggest inkjet/finishing changes for his company was the ability for production to go “roll-to-book.” He says that, at first, while inkjet was fast, finishing governed the speed at which production could happen (and that the press could run).
By adding postpress equipment with the help of Standard Finishing Systems that created book blocks on-the-fly, and automating other steps within the company’s three finishing lines, its book manufacturing became more efficient, less manual, and more productive.
For Larson, one of the best things about moving into production inkjet is the ability to print from a roll. “This has enabled speed,” he says, “and it’s faster to make book blocks.” He continues that finishing equipment then enables the company to efficiently produce single books — in run lengths of just one. “Speed combined with flexibility is what drives production,” he says. “Barcoding and software enhancements have integrated the process.”
Runbeck Election Services:
Where Finishing Accuracy Is Mission Critical
Operating in a market that has been top-of-mind for many the past few years, Runbeck Election Services focuses on election-related materials. According to Bryan Dandurand, the company’s VP of operations, this includes “every paper product that can be used as part of an election: ballots, envelopes, and inserts.” He adds that while the Phoenix, Arizona-based company produces these materials, they are not involved in the tabulation of ballots.
The production floor at Runbeck Election Services features three HP PageWide T240 inkjet web presses, which Dandurand says produce 98% of the company’s total output. The remaining 2% is produced on an HP Indigo 12000 digital press. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, Dandurand says, the company used to contract with an offset printer, with run lengths based on estimated quantities needed per precinct. The early 2000s saw the company’s move into toner-based digital printing systems.
Its first production inkjet press was installed in 2014. The move to inkjet, he notes, “dramatically increased efficiencies in throughput. It was a huge step in the right direction over toner.” To illustrate, he says toner systems allowed for the production of 22,000 ballots in 24 hours. Inkjet upped that number to 1.5 million.
Regarding its finishing processes, Dandurand states, “We don’t have a lot going on.” Finishing includes mainly cutting, folding, shrink-wrapping, and stitching in booklets. This is fulfilled using finishing units from EMT and Tecnau, as well as two W&D envelope units. While finishing at Runbeck may not be as complex as it is at other types of printers, its successful execution is paramount.
“We need full accuracy on a ballot,” he points out, “and it must be trimmed to within less than 1/1,000 of an inch to fit into a tabulator. He says that by keeping the printing and finishing processes in-line, post-cutting is not needed. “We know that ballot is good when it’s printed,” he says, and working in-line ensures the ballot stays within that area of certainty.
Currently, according to Dandurand, Runbeck has its finishing procedures “pretty much locked in. We can set up and run millions without the need for a new setup.” Looking forward, Dandurand says one current goal is to incorporate in-line folding into its biggest inkjet unit. “I would like a finishing line that can run at those speeds — 500 feet per minute. The challenge is speed and accuracy.”
Finishing Facilitates New Opportunities
Quantum Group is heavily into direct mail, Bob Quirk, the company’s VP for manufacturing operations, explains. The Morton Grove, Illinois-based company, which will produce roughly 200 million direct mail pieces this year — much of it for pharma, healthcare, and enterprise marketing — currently has more than 250 employees. That number, he says, can expand up to 350 during peak times.
Production inkjet printing, Quirk says, currently comprises between 35% and 40% of the company’s total production. Quantum’s production inkjet presses include an HP PageWide T240 inkjet web press, which has been in operation for more than three years, and a Canon ProStream 1800 inkjet web, which was installed in November. The company’s digital portfolio also includes two HP Indigo systems, and a high-speed envelope printer. A Landa S10P Nanographic digital press is expected to be installed this fall.
The specific finishing needs of Quantum Group’s inkjet output, says Quirk, include processes such as sheeting, folding, and perforation. He says that with MBO America’s finishing solutions, the company can go “roll to finished product.” With letters, for instance, work goes from the roll to the inserter without manual touches. Not only does this increase and simplify production speed, he says, it has also allowed a reduction in overall labor costs.
Quirk says that, overall, production inkjet “brought ways to look differently at finishing.” He says the MBO systems “seem to offer a lot more flexibility and modular additions that we found attractive. It has allowed us to open our eyes to other possibilities.” This includes looking at new product areas, specifically for the company’s pharma and direct mail customers, he states.
Like many modern print production systems, the broader process — including prepress, printing, and finishing — is driven and maximized by software. He says that the motivation behind these automated processing systems is, “how to get from roll to shippable piece with more flexibility and greater efficiency. Quirk adds that, while Quantum’s current software was designed in-house and operates alongside some commercial systems, the pain of getting in-house systems built and updated is driving the company toward an off-the-shelf solution.
Moving forward, Quirk says, key considerations for future finishing purchases are whether it can increase capabilities to expand into new product or market areas, reduce labor, and/or become more creative. One specific opportunity the company is exploring, he says, is finishing systems that can allow the production of dimensional marketing pieces — items that ship flat, but then fold out or pop up to become three-dimensional shapes. The correct finishing equipment to do this, coupled with the Canon ProStream’s ability to print on thicker substrates, according to Quirk, may give access to this short quantity, high price-point space.
Bradford & Bigelow:
An Extremely Near-Line Configuration
With a production focus on four-color workbooks for the K-12 educational market, the books Bradford & Bigelow produces are 8½x11", and either perfect-bound, coil-bound, or saddle-stitched. Rick Dunn, executive VP, says the company entered the production inkjet space about 10 years ago, when it installed a SCREEN Truepress HD press with a Standard Hunkeler in-line finishing unit. This was supplemented last year, he says, with the purchase of an HP PageWide T490 HD inkjet web press, which feeds into a Muller Martini SigmaLine finishing system.
Dunn explains that the Newburyport, Massachusetts-based company’s SCREEN system could produce up to a certain quantity threshold, and its web offset presses from a higher threshold and above. The T490, he says, was brought in partially to fill the space in-between. Currently, he says, inkjet comprises about 20% of the company’s total output.
For Bradford and Bigelow, its needs in a finishing system are relatively easy to describe. Dunn says it involves “creating a book block that is easily transferred into the perfect binder.” He says the SigmaLine, in conjunction with a Muller Martini Allegro perfect binding system, has the company operating at what Dunn calls “extremely near-line.” A remaining challenge is to bridge a 9-ft. gap to the binding unit, and to then begin experimenting with full, in-line production. One key challenge in this effort, he says, “is to not shut down printing if the binder goes down. So, this means building a buffer into the system.”
Dunn believes finishing technologies have not so much increased capabilities for Bradford & Bigelow as much as they “have increased capacity and overall throughput.” He says that adding the HP T490 HD inkjet press with the Muller Martini SigmaLine finishing system has allowed for greater efficiency, which has fostered more short runs. “It has enabled us to become a company that can offer all quantities efficiently.”
Looking at finishing and production systems, current and future, Dunn states the company’s SigmaLine system, which was installed in December, has been running for about six months. From install to full production — including training and learning curve — took about three months, he says. Software is another strong factor helping the company maximize production. “Software is an amazing tool,” he says. “We can pull a lot of production data from the equipment.”