Overcoming bottlenecks between digital printing and finishing

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As Benjamin Franklin once said, “time is money”. For commercial printers expanding their operations with digital printing presses, this can be a huge growth opportunity with new jobs, new applications and new markets opening up. But for those who forget that the final part of the equation must be considered alongside new press, bottlenecks can cripple efficiency, resulting in wasted time and money.

The post-press equipment that the shop already uses probably won’t be ideal for finishing the work coming off the digital presses. Shorter runs, with multiple configurations, means that equipment designed to be configured once and then left running for thousands of parts simply won’t be effective. Instead, shops that want to take their digital printing workflows seriously need finishing equipment designed to keep up with the ever-changing work coming off these presses.

That said, there are a few things to keep in mind when deciding what finishing equipment to pair with digital presses — and it’s not just about manufacturer or format size. The first piece of advice that Truman Pope, letter shop operations manager for Carol Stream, Illinois-based American Litho, has for those adding digital presses to their lineup is that “it’s not a ratio of one for one”. The speed of the presses and the variety of jobs they can produce means that the job is printed faster than a single finishing device can.

Truman Pope, letter shop operations manager for Illinois-based Carol Stream, American Litho, notes that finishing equipment is not
a one-to-one ratio when it comes to high-speed digital presses.

American Litho, which operates several high-speed HP inkjet web presses, including a PageWide T240 and a PageWide T250, quickly realized it needed two digital presses [finishing] lines to process work coming out of an HP press line. In this way, the bending lines follow the press, which does not have to stop waiting for the machines to be ready for the next job. “With the first HP press installation, we achieved a [digital finishing] line and a press, but we had so many rolls on the floor it was crazy. We ended up buying the second finish line to get rid of this bottleneck.

In fact, according to Pope, that decision to add a second machine — his facility houses a variety of MBO finishing equipment, including a DPS-60 dynamic perf and scoring unit — was made about a week after the initial setup. In order to achieve the productivity and efficiency gains promised by digital printing, they knew they also needed to have the right finishing equipment to handle it.

Mike Evers, chief operating officer of Jacksonville, Fla.-based TC Delivers, notes that for his store it was a less obvious bottleneck that led to the investment in digital finishing equipment – the need to outsource the finishing work. “Often a job requires a performance or a rating,” he notes, “and to be competitive in the marketplace, we have to do it internally or miss the opportunity. I didn’t want to have a great opportunity to fall on my desk, getting upset, and then realizing I can’t do the job because it needs a perf.

TC Delivers recently installed a Konica Minolta KM-1e sheet-fed color inkjet press and paired it with a Rollem TR system to bring that finish in-house. He notes that when they first got involved with inkjet presses, “I knew before we even decided [which one to purchase] that we would also need a post-press finish and we would like to have in-house perf and scoring capabilities,” he says. “We had tried some inline perfing with our bending equipment, but it didn’t have much success. It gives us a lot more control over the quality.

According to company president Bill Lang, increased automation was key for Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Starline. His shop uses a variety of digital presses, including an HP Indigo 12000, and has paired them with a range of finishing options from Standard Finishing Systems, including stitching, folding and binding. The Standard Horizon CRF-362 folder/folder, in particular, has “probably been the most used piece of equipment we have for digital short runs,” Lang points out. “It’s easy to use, fully computer controlled, and one of the most user-friendly and efficient machines [of its type].”

And this ease of automation was a big plus, given that the shop was originally what he called a “traditional commercial printer” when he installed his first digital press, despite being “all digital” today. “We had a traditional clocking machine,” he says, “and everything had to be set up manually, which was very time-consuming. If it was 50 sheets or 500, it was the same configuration. With the CRF-362 folder/folder, you press a button, select what you want and turn it on. Since Starline employees produce a lot of work on heavier stock that requires marking before they can bend, this ability to automate the process and let it run has been a huge time saver for the shop, says Lang.

Never stand still

All three print companies have seen growth with finishing lines coupled with their digital presses, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still experiencing bottlenecks or considering the next investments they can. do to keep their stores ahead of the proverbial curve. .

For Starline, Lang says, “I would say the next thing we’re going to do is install a cutter that can be pre-programmed from the prepress department. We spend a lot of time setting it up, so if we could automate it, that would be a huge time saver. This is especially true in today’s tough work environment, with Lang noting that even before the pandemic — as older employees reached retirement age — younger generations weren’t rushing to learn the skills. manual rigging and use of old equipment. Going digital makes it “much easier to train today than before. For most of this equipment, within a few hours of training, they can operate it quite well as an operator. On older equipment, installation could take an hour; now it’s ready in 10 minutes, just by pressing a few buttons and making a few micro adjustments.

Mike Evers of TC Delivers explains that shops need to go beyond the main digital printing equipment and think about the types of finishes they will need from the start.

At TC Delivers, Evers points out that his next investment will likely be to add additional units to increase capacity and provide greater flexibility. “We bought a single station with a feeder, but it’s modular equipment, and they offer additional stations,” he says. He notes that currently, if the shop wants to perforate the sheet in addition to slitting it, it has to pass it through the finishing equipment twice. “As volumes increase, this will be our next evolution. Right now we’re doing one and then the other, but if we could do it all in one line, that would be a big bottleneck saver.

For American Litho, the upgrade is actually coming this spring, when it takes delivery of an HP PageWide T490 HD Inkjet Web Press, which Pope says will “go straight into the finishing line as we are doing for our existing presses”. With this, he adds, they will have the versatility of a press that works in-line with certain finishes, while still having near-line finishing options, expanding the flexibility the shop has when it comes to It’s all about placing jobs on the right equipment. which makes the most sense from a quality, speed and cost perspective.

The wisdom of experience

What advice would these stores give to others looking to enter or further develop their digital printing capability? Beyond simply not neglecting the finishing side, which is just as essential to the success of new opportunities as the press itself, they each have lessons they have learned that they hope others can benefit from. .

Team members at Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Starline stand tall with their HP Indigo 12000 digital press, which is paired with a variety of post-press equipment acquired from Standard Finishing Systems.

Lang notes that printers, especially those accustomed to using traditional equipment, need to understand that digital printing and finishing equipment requires a much cleaner environment to operate than some printers may be accustomed to. “The advert [print] the environment is basically a bit dirty,” he says, “so you have to change your environment. The move to digital equipment, which is mostly computer controlled, requires delicate sensors to be kept clean to ensure they continue to operate at peak efficiency. “Part of daily maintenance should be making sure the sensors are clean at all times,” advises Lang.

For Evers, it’s about looking beyond the main gear itself. He mentions the installation of a UV coater, which also allowed him to internalize this process. However, he acquired one equipped with an exit tray, rather than a stacker, which he says kills the effectiveness of the UV coater. “It requires someone to be at that machine for the entire cycle, as opposed to an automated stacker where they could load the paper, turn it on, and then walk away to do other things. Going with the output tray saved thousands of dollars, but the stacker is something I plan to add in the future. If you buy a UV coater and not the stacker, you will regret not having it!”

American Litho’s Pope reiterates his previous advice that higher volume operations should begin “immediately budgeting for a second line of binding.” It’s not cheap – two lines of binding will be close to [the cost of] a press”, but it will make all the difference in terms of productivity. “I wish I had known from the start that it was two against one.”

As printing continues to become more personalized, with shorter print runs and more experimentation with shapes and sizes – especially in the direct mail space – digital printing will only continue to be a more valuable in a printer’s arsenal. But investing in digital presses is only half the battle, and not taking the time to assess your finishing needs and investing in that side accordingly will only lead to frustration and missed opportunities.

Bottlenecks cost time, and time, as Franklin once said, is money. With margins already so thin, printers can no longer afford to leave those profits on the table by ignoring production bottlenecks that slow down their entire operations.

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