When Your Technology Faces the End
A serious part of my career in finishing was spent in the somewhat esoteric field of polywrapping systems. The "modern" polywrapper was developed in Italy in the 1970's, and due to a number of circumstances, became big business by the late 1980's and really big business in the 90's.
In France, the French Post required that magazines and periodicals be wrapped in film, and in the United States, high-end magazines such as Architectural Digest, Vogue, and many others used polyethylene film to protect their covers. As PC's began their rise, computer magazine titles exploded, and what better incentive to buy the magazine than an enclosed CD full of "extras" sitting inside the magazine wrap.
I did work for all of the major players, SITMA and CMC of Italy, and Buhrs in The Netherlands. My largest project was for Reader's Digest in the 90's in which we designed a multi-machine platform to selectively wrap and mail over 12 million Digest's per month.
Later on, the same polywrapping technology would be used for co-mailing, saving considerable amounts of postage for publications. Newspapers also purchased very large systems for collating and enclosing multiple newspaper inserts, mainly for their Sunday editions. But polywrapping was always sort of a finishing "extra" service which was by no means free. As magazine and periodical circulations declined in both Europe and the United States, and newspapers faced their own difficulties, it became a finishing step many could no longer justify.
As a result, Buhrs, the Dutch manufacturer, went insolvent and was later purchased and re-organized. SITMA, the world's largest manufacturer, re-structured its credit lines and (in an agreement with its unions) fundamentally downsized. CMC, the other Italian vendor, went through multiple ownership changes.
But, was all the news bad for these folks? No. It turns out that these machines could also be used for paper-wrapping. Instead of enclosing inserts in film, one could collate them and create a custom paper envelope around them starting from a white paper web. This not only eliminated the need to order envelopes, but it meant that the "envelope" could be individually printed with all sorts of variable data using new inkjet printing technologies.