I get to talk to a lot of finishing systems vendors as part of my job. It's no secret that the U.S. print and finishing sector has been quite a challenge for these folks over the past five years, or so. Economic conditions and the continuing consolidation of the print industry have completely re-shaped the landscape they were so familiar with.
Many of these firms, both domestic and foreign, are frantically looking for growth opportunities. With their commercial print base fairly stagnant, they have no choice but to see what they can offer to the digital side. And many of them have a LOT to offer. Remember that the commercial bindery was the subject of a revolution in both high-quality, productive equipment, and high automation for the same.
So these vendors have lots of experience in converting the printed sheet (or web) into high-quality finished goods, and they have lots of technology to offer. But they face three main challenges. The first is that their equipment must offer some capability that digital finishing needs, or that is missing in the current offerings. The second is that the operator in digital is not the same operator you will find in the commercial bindery. Commercial binderies need highly-skilled tradespeople that can efficiently work with a raft of folders, binders, diecutters, and more. Despite all of the automation, there's still a lot of acquired technique needed, simply because of the variety of products they deal with.
Digital is more of a "push-button" workspace, with less expertise required of the operator. This dictates systems that are very easy to set-up and run, and that provide a lot of feedback to assist the operator in clearing a problem. The last (and most challenging) is the digital sales model. Established commercial finishing vendors have a direct sales force that covers commercial print well. Their problem is that much of systems sales in digital occur in partnership with large, established print vendors. Ricoh, Océ, Xerox, Screen, HP, and others. I know, because this is where I sell. You work in concert with the print vendor to get the sale, not independently. But you can't simply show up with your system brochure in hand. Your machinery must be certified by the print vendor in order to become their partner. This means supplying them with your machinery and working with them to make any required changes. This assumes that they ask to do this in the first place. Certifying your equipment costs them a lot of money, and most are fairly happy with the digital finishing partners they already have.
Don has worked in technical support, sales, engineering, and management during a career in both the commercial offset and digital finishing sectors. He is the North American representative for IBIS Bindery Systems, Ltd. of The United Kingdom.