Breaking the (Web) Sound Barrier
I've written more than once on the rapid evolution of finishing, which is being driven by the equally rapid adoption of inkjet web printing. Inline web finishing was always something of a "black art" in the offset web world. Since high-speed offset web presses don't print at the push of a button, performing complex finishing operations inline with the web press took a lot of engineering expertise.
Yet it was a pretty good business. Companies like Scheffer and Global Web Finishing turned out inline systems with complex plow folding, slitting, cutting, and gluing that could produce finished pieces (book signatures, direct mail, ballots, census forms, etc.) at web speed. Inline web finishing was not for short runs, but was typically efficient for runs over five hundred thousand pieces. With the rise of digital, that traditional offset business slowed. At the same time, continuous inkjet presses needed new and innovative inline and offline finishing systems.
While four-color inkjet presses are not yet at offset speeds of 2,000 feet-per-minute, they are getting faster. And inkjet has found a good market in "hybrid" presses. Inkjet heads can be added to traditional offset, and can produce high-quality mono print at speeds of 1,000 feet-per-minute.
Which brings us to finishing. VITS International was one of the "traditional" suppliers for offset, building sheeters, plow folding stations, and more. Looking down the road, they recognized the opportunity that inkjet presented. What VITS had was advanced servo motor and web registration technology that would allow them to configure off-line finishing which used multiple webs for input.
The multiple web approach offered the advantage of both speed and higher output. This was put to the test in a system configured for O'Neil Data Systems in Plano, Texas. Using multiple inkjet-printed webs, the system produces 24-page book signatures for a Kolbus perfect binder. But it's the throughput rate which is the eye-opener.
Running at 800 to 1,000 feet-per-minute, it's capable of producing a 240-page complete book in less than one second. This allows the Kolbus binder to run close to full speed. The VITS system and the binder are directly connected, and require only one operator each for the binder, and the VITS end. Another advantage on the labor front.
The uniqueness of this system is that it is somewhat of a "first" in using offset web finishing components for a digital application. But there will be more opportunities and players entering this market. The advantages of speed, throughput , and robustness that these new web finishing devices offer are too great to ignore.