Can Digital Finishing Step Up?
I spent a fair amount of my career in high-volume commercial print finishing. Mostly in publication finishing. This was the world of RR Donnelley (RRD), Quad/Graphics, Quebecor, Brown Printing and many other "high-volume" printers that had multiple plants spread out across the United States.
Sadly, the only two real multi-plant operations left standing are Quad/Graphics and RRD. In their world, the bindery truly runs 24/7, with both saddle stitchers, perfect binders and hard cover lines being manned around the clock. In the "old days," runs were in the millions of copies and machines could run continuously for days.
This production model meant that any "downtime" on a system became extremely costly from a time and labor standpoint. Missing a ship deadline could put a customer contract (and relationship) at risk. So these bindery systems were built to take it for extended production periods with minimal stops and or parts breakage. Now let's transition to the digital side. Digital finishing systems come from a slightly different lineage.
Early postpress systems worked in tandem with continuous toner printers, mainly in transactional and direct mail. The continuous printers of yesterday topped out at about 300 ft./min. Production cycles revolved around monthly billing periods and the direct mail seasonal peak throughput calendar. As continuous inkjet displaces these earlier printers, web speeds now top 600 ft./min. And as digital volumes increase, these presses are beginning to run more hours of the day.
This puts pressure on the postpress systems to keep up. The cutters and stackers at the end of the press will have to run at higher speeds, and to maintain an uptime record comparable to the gear found in commercial offset. All this (most likely) means that they will have to be "beefed up" to meet the new duty cycle. Several more traditional finishing systems builders have taken note of this potential opportunity and are pushing their offerings based upon speed, capability and durability. One thing is not in doubt, the evolving world of inkjet will force all of us to build better!