How Modular Finishing Technology Helps Streamline Postpress
For a long time, postpress was regarded as a collection of labor-intensive tasks without much high-tech potential. Even today, conventional postpress methods typically give printers two options: purchase elaborate finishing systems capable of only one type of output; or treat each process as an individual step needing a stand-alone machine to accomplish. Both scenarios can incorporate some degree of flexibility and automation, but neither was developed with the demands of today’s digital print market in mind.
The rise of highly customized, short-run digital production and its numerous job changeovers exposes the shortcomings of both conventional approaches. Customers buying print-on-demand want it now, and they won’t accept excuses about delays in the bindery. They also expect printers to handle their requests for unusual formats and special finishing touches on the same tight schedule.
To accommodate just-in-time, customized production, printers need systems that can be tailored to meet specific finishing requirements. Postpress departments able to finish products without gaps or interruptions can greatly reduce their time-to-market.
Achieving this degree of integration means embracing new technologies that enable printers to consolidate formerly discrete processes into fast, efficient solutions.
Fewer Touches for Greater Efficiency
Conventional postpress dominated in an era when high-volume offset applications were the norm. This meant there were fewer job changeovers and, consequently, that fast makeready times were less critical than they are today. Furthermore, the explosion of possibilities that came with the advent of the digital age has driven demand for ever-increasing creativity—diecutting, foil stamping, variable data, etc.—that older methods cannot accommodate without additional major investments.
Modular Finishing Technology, on the other hand, is mobile and endlessly configurable. A flexible postpress system can align and realign equipment as needed, customizing finishing routines and doing away with redundant touches that cause error and waste.
As a result, modular postpress systems are far more efficient than the systems they replace. A printer who buys a new press expects it to do the work of at least two legacy presses; the same kind of 2:1 and 3:1 replacement also can take place in postpress.
Automation or Flexibility: Which Is A Must-Have?
Some postpress systems are designed for automation, while others offer flexibility. The concepts aren’t mutually exclusive, but the distinction between them is important when choosing a solution.
Postpress automation works best in environments where one category of product is produced and there are few format changes to deal with—books, for example. Here, the emphasis will be on reducing touches in order to maximize volume and throughput. Turnkey operation is characteristic of postpress systems designed for this kind of continuous, high-output production.
On the other hand, in environments where the product mix never stops changing, end-to-end automation may not be possible—or even desirable. Commercial printing has always been a form of custom manufacturing in which the workflow adapts to whatever job comes up next in the queue. Productivity is important, but flexibility is what assures the job will be completed to the customer’s specifications.
This is why commercial environments need systems that can be integrated quickly for customized production on demand, enabling the shop to deliver the widest range of products finished in one sequence. Although flexible postpress systems are less extensively automated than single-application systems, some of their subcomponents (for example, fold plates and rollers) can be automated for greater efficiency.
This kind of adaptive flexibility is the hallmark of the Modular Finishing Technology concept pioneered by MBO.
The Many Merits of Modularity
Instead of one-size-fits-all solutions, MBO offers separate but compatible postpress modules that are mobile and interchangeable. Because they are not fixed solutions locked into one type of production, the modules can be assembled and reassembled into whatever configuration the job calls for.
At the heart of MBO’s Modular Finishing Technology are core finishing units—typically an unwinder and a sheeter—which remain in fixed locations on the shop floor. Additional task-specific modules are then moved into position to support the core units.
Upgrading to a modular system represents a sensible investment. With the core elements in place, a printer need purchase only the modules required for work that is customarily produced: for example, a folder and delivery for letterfold jobs. The model is also ideal for printers who anticipate growth, because adding modules is much more cost-effective than purchasing new, all-in-one solutions.
The best advice for printers ready to invest in new postpress solutions is to think holistically: to see finishing as part of the prepress à press à postpress continuum. Failing to think things through inevitably leads to decisions at one level that aren’t feasible when the bigger picture comes into focus.
Printers who don’t keep finishing in mind from the moment they begin shopping for a press run precisely this risk. A common scenario is the failure to consider production speeds at all levels. If the press can produce twice what the finishing stage can output, the printer needs to invest in two finishing systems to support it. If a second system isn’t part of the planning process, the printer will be faced with a massive bottleneck until a second system can be implemented.
Finishing is complex and plays an important role in production; printers can’t afford to get it wrong. MBO encourages printers to avoid such problems by talking with finishing experts, even when finishing isn’t part of the immediate investment plan. Printers who think about finishing holistically achieve far better results at all levels than printers who don’t.
The modular approach to finishing developed by the experts at MBO provides printers with solutions that can expand or adapt as business grows or job demands change. This is the key to staying ahead of the event-based, time-sensitive marketing strategies embraced by today’s print-buying organizations.
The first step should be a consultation with the experts at MBO. Printers are invited to schedule a free postpress audit by calling Rich Freeley at (609) 367-3288.
To read stories of several printing companies that have gained major new efficiencies by embracing postpress as it can be — and should be — practiced today download the MBO-sponsored white paper here.
Denise Gustavson is the Editorial Director and Special Projects Editor for the Printing & Packaging Group, which includes Printing Impressions, packagePRINTING, In-plant Graphics and Wide-Format Impressions magazines, among other brands. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Wide-Format Impressions.