The Future of Offset Finishing
I was at the 2017 Inkjet Summit a few weeks ago. As usual, the buzz on inkjet was intense, with many good presentations covering the latest advances in inkjet technology. But the one item that jumped out at me during one of them was that well over 90% of print was still being created by offset technology. Digital print technology accounts for less than 3% of the total print market.
And when you think about it, it makes sense. General commercial print will be that last bastion that inkjet will totally conquer, if it ever does. Many of the substrates used in commercial print are very challenging to aqueous inkjet inks. So, my conclusion is that offset has a longer lifespan than I would have thought. Offset finishing underwent terrific development in the 90’s which continued until 2008. But the overall shrinkage of the print market and economics took a toll on bindery systems manufacturers. Some didn’t survive, others got absorbed by stronger players. In the meantime, the spotlight had shifted to digital finishing, with new machines designed for digital short-run being advertised as the future of print.
But if offset is going to be around, will systems development in the bindery continue? Yes. All sectors of commercial print are facing something of a labor crisis now. The older (and most experienced) workers are either retiring or getting close to doing so. The offset bindery is being affected most, with the new recruits that can be found lacking the skills found in the previous generation. That means the machinery itself must have the “smarts” needed to deal with an increasingly varied finishing workload. And this has been the case, with many parts of bindery systems under computer control. Operators can now perform even complex makereadies via a quick interaction with a user interface.
The emphasis on machine design has been on throughput and the ability to handle multiple short runs efficiently. In order to convince printers to invest in new bindery machinery as their existing systems age, manufacturers will have to offer new features that offer a compelling case to justify the investment.
So while digital finishing may continue to occupy center stage, we’ll continue to see new technology on the offset side as well.