The Digital Bindery
Although finishing services are an important component of the service bundle, we find that the finishing operation, if not managed properly, can be a significant drain on profitability. Careful management of the digital bindery is every bit as important as efficient operation of the digital pressroom.
Finishing: Speed vs. Flexibility
In a traditional printing business, where order quantities range into the thousands, the temptation is to buy speed in the bindery equipment. However, in digital printing operations, one of the most common mistakes that we see is investment in high-cost finishing equipment designed for speed rather than flexibility. As a result, the printer's fixed manufacturing costs are weighted down by underutilized bindery capacity. Moreover, with this "oversized" equipment, the printer is more inclined to avoid the sort of short-run, on-demand business that his customers actually want to give to him.
In on-demand finishing, the make-ready is more important than the run. Low-cost finishing systems from Standard, Bourg and other manufacturers are designed to minimize makeready time and waste, with speeds more appropriate to the short runs in an on-demand environment.
Before turning to the commercial printing industry, most of the digital printing equipment manufacturers sold their products in data-center printing and mailing operations, where the long runs, homogeneous work mix and simple finishing requirements (for products such as statements and insurance policies) were easily handled by in-line finishing systems. Although many vendors continue to advocate automated, in-line finishing for publication and commercial printing applications, the fit can be a difficult one. The range of stocks, trim sizes and binding styles in these applications is a challenge for an integrated printing and finishing system.
Recently, we were engaged to help improve the profitability of a commercial printer whose state-of-the-art capabilities have been well-publicized in the industry. One of the things we discovered was that he had invested heavily in the latest in-line finishing capabilities to automate the production of books and manuals. However, this automation was actually limiting the productivity of his digital printing equipment, as well as his flexibility to deal with the range of trim sizes and binding styles that his customers and the market required. As a result, he was carrying the cost of the in-line equipment, as well as the cost of an underutilized off-line bindery. And, at the same time, he was outsourcing the finishing on some jobs.