Postpress Considerations for High-Speed Production Inkjet Printing
Production inkjet equipment has been evolving at a rapid pace over the past decade, and shows little sign of slowing down. However, it’s not just the inkjet presses that have had to transform to meet the demands of the modern era. Postpress equipment has had to take just as many leaps forward to ensure it can meet - or even exceed - the speeds and capabilities of the printing process.
Over the past few years, there has been a trend toward shorter runs as well as greater customization and intricacy in finished
pieces. This greater demand for variety and complexity in applications has a direct impact on finishing equipment. Printers must be able to handle greater personalization, a wide array of substrates, unique shapes and other challenges, while also maintaining an efficient level of production in order to meet deadlines.”
According to Jacki Hudmon, SVP marketing & business development, Komori America, production sheetfed inkjet printing is trying to replicate and, in some cases, exceed the capabilities currently being offered by offset printing processes. “The industry now has solutions for any type of coating, with multiple finishes for inkjet printed sheets. We are now seeing digital embellishment as well, with dimensional coating, foil stamping and spot coating, each of which produce high-value printed products,” she says.
Personalization, in particular, is one of the challenges of modern production inkjet. The industry started with simply creating variable text and images, but now that is starting to trickle into the finishing aspect, with marketers experimenting with ways to make their pieces even more relevant on an individual basis.
Anthony Quaranta, president, Q Group notes that they are starting to see a growing need for “variable thickness or length. When putting a personalized document together, one might have an eight-page insert, and number two behind it might be a 16-page insert.”
Personalization isn’t just about the number of inserts, either. Even the size and shape of the pieces are starting to have variable elements, meaning finishing equipment needs to be able to move at full production speeds, while making every piece unique - just like the presses themselves.
“Interactive catalogs, personalized portfolios, things of that nature will continue to drive the space,” Quaranta says. “The need to address further personalization in a one-off manner in a production environment is going to continue to grow. The impact of technology has already been made, that’s why we’re facing these challenges.”
Speeds and Feeds
For finishing to truly keep up with production inkjet it had to move from offline or nearline to in-line. In the past, it was quite common to run finishing lines in an offline or near-line configuration. At the beginning, having off-line or near-line finishing was a standard practice mainly because many of the finishing systems were not able to keep up with the speeds of the presses. However, that too is changing. Advancements in technology have allowed more finishing equipment to run in-line, which offers benefits to the printer. According to Jason Elliott, VP of sales, manroland web systems Inc., “one of the key benefits of running in-line is the ability to run a complete production system with fewer people, significantly reducing operational costs.”
But moving to that kind of system is not without challenges. “Printers must be able to handle greater personalization, a wide array of substrates, unique shapes and other challenges, while maintaining an efficient level of production in order to meet their deadlines,” says Will Frank, marketing specialist, Standard Finishing Systems.
With more in-line systems, comes the ability to integrate automation even deeper into a shop’s DNA. When an operator can upload a file, and not touch anything until it’s ready to be shipped out the door, the productivity and efficiency gains make for a compelling story. True “white paper in and finished product out” automation might not be realized just yet - but it is coming.
“We expect automation, system integration and overall finishing system performance will be the critical focus areas for our customers and prospects over the next couple of years,” Elliott says. “Generally speaking, most print engine suppliers have hit a ceiling for the short-term, relative to web width and production speed. As production speed is a tougher problem to resolve and arguably less important for short-run digital production, the industry can probably expect to see wider systems coming before we see faster ones.”
Finishing for production inkjet is getting faster, smarter and more nimble. With each new machine that hits the market, pushing the boundaries of what print can do, the finishing side is looking to support it. The days of using finishing devices designed for an offset world, and finding complicated and frustrating work-arounds are coming to an end.