The Focus Moves to Finishing
Working GRAPH EXPO last week, I was reminded (once again) of how much of a digital show it has become, with inkjet technology maintaining it's position as a dominant force. And inkjet was certainly there. Continuous web, cut-sheet, wide-format, 3D, and more, were on display.
At the same time, those in the know kept referring to finishing as the place where the heavy action was taking place. And why not? I'll give you an example. New high-speed continuous web inkjet presses are so automated, one operator can suffice for two, or even three systems. But converting that roll of paper into a variety of finished products may be a bit more challenging.
Finishing in the offset world is well-defined. A large and well-equipped bindery is a staple of any modern commercial printer. And along with the equipment, there are employees who have experience in postpress. Commercial printers have to put out quality products every time, and this includes properly folded, stitched, or bound materials.
Some areas of digital production don't have long-time seasoned bindery pros at the wheel, so finishing systems that are capable, easy-to-operate, and require low manning are much in demand these days. The new finishing systems use some new technology for folding, slitting, creasing, or binding, but the big improvements are in the automation for setting up for a job. All machine settings and movements can be stored in memory for "instant" recall by the operator. The major finishing vendors know which way the wind is blowing, and they are all offering systems which fit the requirements of the digital workspace (which in many cases is "where's the button?"). The primary goal is to build finishing systems that can produce high-quality products and…that an operator can learn in a short training period.
And this brings back the old "off-line vs. in-line" argument. Most digital printer salespeople will recoil in horror when someone suggests combining the press with an inline finishing system. Anything that could stop the press is considered to be taboo. But modern digital finishing systems have developed to become quite reliable press partners, and the overall savings in both time and labor from combining print and finishing are compelling.
But it's becoming clear, the best combination of digital print and finishing usually wins the deal!