Digital Finishing: To Fold or Not?
Approximately 500 continuous-feed inkjet print engines are sold (annually) worldwide. This is a growth market segment in a print industry that hasn't seen much growth lately. Needless to say, traditional print finishing systems manufacturers have noticed, and are trying to re-purpose their offerings for the digital revolution.
On the other side of the aisle, digital postpress firms such as Lasermax Roll Systems (now Tecnau), Hunkeler, and Kern have been selling into the digital market for many years prior to the introduction of inkjet. For the most part, the postpress systems sold by these vendors convert the printed web into individual cut sheets, which are stacked for further processing (perfect binding, envelope inserting).
The "traditional" bindery systems folks are used to folding the web, creating signatures. This is the workflow in commercial printing, where wide web and sheetfed presses produce multiple-up impositions that have to be folded into 16-, 32-, or 64-page signatures for binding or stitching. When these manufacturers look at producing a product for finishing, they think of folding first.
This creates an interesting divergence of approach, since digital press finishing within the transactional and financial segments are almost entirely based on the roll-to-cut-and-stack method, and that's how the workflows and impositions are designed. Now there are solid reasons for producing a folded signature versus a cut sheet. Signatures will make a better-quality bound book, and are superior for many other reasons. But folding in finishing systems typically means multiple folding machines with sheet transfers between them, which means a higher degree of complexity, and sometimes, a higher acquisition cost. Not to mention possible changes in how the work is imposed.
The old-line bindery vendors have been working hard to get their new digital finishing offerings into these newer (for them) markets, and to establish themselves as preferred partners with the digital press manufacturers. But this is a space that has been adequately filled for many years. These "traditional" vendors will have to prove that they've got some new finishing technology tricks to offer that are superior (and cost-effective) in order to claim their share of digital print finishing.