Where Is Finishing Headed in 2018?
Recent surveys indicate that a majority of printing plant spending in 2018 will be on finishing. That makes perfect sense. The number of new products introduced for digital print has been dizzying. Advances in inkjet are enabling this technology to address an ever-wider segment of print. Inkjet is being used for higher-volume runs, as well as longer duty cycles of upwards of one hundred million pages per month.
New cut-sheet inkjet printers can out-produce their toner predecessors. All of these push the finishing end to be faster, more robust and more intelligent. There are inherently more steps in the finishing process, and there are great incentives speeding up the finishing workflow as digital print volume grows.
One of the unique aspects of digital finishing is the greater integration of postpress systems for continuous digital presses. The binder or saddle-stitcher are no longer standalone machines waiting for signatures from the offset side. They are now integrated into the digital web finishing modules - web unwinders and cutters now deliver complete “bind-ready” book blocks or sheets, on demand to linked perfect binders or saddle stitchers.
So, what are some of the finishing trends we’ll see in 2018?
Longer Digital Runs: Faster digital press speeds and higher print quality (along with more competitive consumable prices) mean digital press runs will “creep up.” And short runs will continue, but with non-stop duty cycles. Digital finishing will have to step up to avoid becoming the weak link in the on-demand production chain. This means heavier-duty, more robust finishing machinery. And ... with less maintenance. Reducing finishing downtime will be critical.
More Flexibility: Format changes need to be quick and accurate. Old-time bindery skills are leaving the market as the “pros” age-out and retire. The digital environment is a touchscreen GUI-based workplace. Not so much hands on. So, automation will go hand-in-hand with better build quality. But there is a catch. Price. Back in the day, you expected that binder or stitcher to be productive for 10 years or more. And you paid for it. Today’s digital equipment technology cycle is five years at best. That’s when something newer and better will come along. So, the equipment price has to match the new ROI.
Higher Throughput: The digital finishing systems have never matched their offset brethren in throughput speeds. Large offset saddle stitchers and perfect binders have long been capable of maximum cycle speeds of between 18,000 - 22,000 products per hour.
Their digital counterparts have never come close. Theoretical digital outputs range from 500 to 7,000 products per hour. As more work shifts to digital, customers may balk at having to purchase multiple binders in order to match press output, and demand faster systems.
2018 will be an interesting year as the evolution of continuous inkjet and toner continue. Digital presses will continue to be in the spotlight as vendors introduce new technology at a record pace. But remember the old adage, “you can’t sell a sheet of paper!” It’s finishing that puts the product in the customer’s hands!