The Era of File-Based Finishing
What a change from offset. We are now in the era of file-based finishing (or as some call it, Finishing 4.0). While there were many prior efforts to transform offset production into a file-based workflow (remember JDF?), digital print has completed the changeover.
Due to digital’s ability to print fully variable and collated documents, much of the finishing instructions can be embedded in the PDF, Postscript, AFP, or other file format. They are then transmitted to the finisher via a printer interface, or (more likely) via printed barcodes or other symbology. On continuous printers, “cut marks” on the sheet determine sheet cut length and the completion of a set. Sheet barcodes will tell the in-line or near-line saddle-stitcher or perfect binder that this number of sheets is a complete booklet or book. A cover barcode for a perfect-bound book will instruct the three-knife trimmer of the three trim dimensions for this particular book.
We have never seen this level of automation before in the finishing department. It enables different finishing modules to “link” together and communicate. Although you still need a good bindery operator. By eliminating signature collation, file-based finishing enables a level of short-run production that was not achievable before. At least not economically. This has also placed more of a workload on the prepress side. Digital prepress software must have the capacity to encode the various schema required by the finisher within the file. I spend a fair amount of time working with some of the major prepress vendors communicating coding requirements for our systems.
The other upside of file-based finishing is the reduction of finishing errors. By reducing the number of manual “touch points” in the finishing process, the potential error rate is also reduced. In any event, the finishing process has been redesigned for the digital era, enabling new levels of productivity and accelerating innovation among the system suppliers.