Finish on top

Printers nowadays are looking for every opportunity to create margin – primarily by adding value and cutting costs. What do today’s print finishing solutions offer to printers to help them to achieve these twin aims?

At Sydney specialist house Frontline Printing, an armoury of technological and process advances has seen the company establish itself in a lucrative niche – the digital printing of plastic cards for financial services, club memberships and entertainment events such as the Splendour In The Grass festival.

Frontline is a 32-year-old business, and is now an all-digital operation, in Artarmon, with a staff of 15, where short runs of plastic cards in various sizes and formats are printed, finished and dispatched across lightning-fast turnarounds, two-to-three days, establishing a market that was previously served by imports from China and the United States.

In those countries, these types of products are flexographically printed and the wait can be up to five weeks for a very high volume shipments, which is not the way these specialty lines are optimally sold in the compact Australian market, according to Frontline’s managing director Wayne Godsell.

And analogue/offset production of plastic documents usually means mega-volumes of uniformly sized product, with little innovation. At Frontline, plastic card printing allows for more versatility.

For example, the company prints and finishes waterproof cards for the V8 Supercars events and National Rugby League membership card-and-lanyard sets.

Frontline prints cards on specially modified Konica Minolta bizhubs – a 6000, 6500 and 6500HC – as well as Roland DGs, but new finishing technology adds further value to customers – and adds margin, says Godsell. Frontline offers specialised die cutting and it now has technology to apply magnetic stripes to cards. In addition to three conventional hotfoilers, a newly arrived machine – he declined to divulge the brand – hotfoils directly onto any type of plastic cards, without the need of an intermediate laser copy to which the foil is first applied. More generally, Godsell says variable printing is optimised in finishing by variable perfect binding, perhaps adding barcoding and cover-to-text-block checking, or variable-extent barcode checking for VDP-produced booklets.

Frontline uses a Morgana DigiFold and a high-speed Morgana Major from Ferrostaal Australia. This pair of folders handles flyers, cards, two-pass folded work, pre-folded booklets, celloglazed score-and-fold work, and eight-page folded flyers.

With some of its toner/laser printed jobs, Godsell is mindful of cracking on the edges during scoring and folding. “Sometimes we pre-score the stock before we run it through the digital machines, especially if we’re saddle-stitching inline. In those scenarios, we’ll pre-score the stock and there’ll be no cracking, even if the colour goes right over the score.”

The DigiFold scores, perfs and folds, and although it outpaces the Major, Godsell finds it effective with some of the jobs done at Frontline. “But on offset it would be too slow.”

In earlier times, Frontline established itself as one of the first barcode printing operations in Australia and still has a client list that includes David Jones and Big W. “We still do barcoding, but there is not really so much money in it nowadays. Niche forms of printing, of course, are much more profitable. We still do the more general type of work, but the competition is increasing sharply.”

As a next stage of the business, Godsell is looking at wide-format on Roland and Canon presses, and Frontline already now offers vehicle wraps, partnering with a wrapping specialist for which it prints the skins.

When it comes to productive printing and finishing, new lights-out 24/7 production has begun at Frontline, with controls in the hands of pressroom managers via their iPads. “We now run a 6pm-to-7am shift, no lights, which means lower costs and very little manual input, which saves on labour costs. We began by allocating the more straightforward jobs to the overnight shift, but we’re now finding that even the more demanding work lends itself to overnight if it is properly prepared and planned,” he says.

Meanwhile, its front-office efficiencies play their part in enhancing the bottom line – a US-sourced W2P product, QPrint Pro, is integrated into Frontline’s Quote & Print MIS. More traditionally inclined clients tend to still use the company’s 1800 helpline but customers are increasingly tracking their jobs through Qprint, which has sliced a major cost layer out of prepress, print and finishing. For example, hotfoiling for cards and labels works from the same job ticket as prepress and printing on those items.

 

Kit spans technologies

One of the questions constantly circulating about hybrid enterprises – where offset and digital printing and finishing exist side-by-side – is whether it is more productive to run parallel lines, using dedicated finishing kit for offset and digital respectively, or to use multi-purpose finishing that dovetails offset and digital print output into a single postpress process.

Thomastown, Melbourne-based PMS Litho runs a ‘divided bindery’ most of the time, with owner Theo Prosenica preferring separate processes but occasionally sending offset and digital print to the same finishing. He sees a growing component of digital commercial work – flyers, brochures, booklets – that can be finished in an offset bindery nowadays.

At PMS Litho a KBA Rapida 162a, a Ryobi 925 A1 press with four colours plus inline aqueous UV coater, and a Roland 800 five-colour press inhabit the pressroom, alongside Epson rollfed printers and an Océ Arizona 350GT digital flatbed for rigid media up to 1.25 x 2.5m long x 48mm thick. Prosenica tells ProPrint that using the digital finishing as a fill-in for shorter runs enables the company to maintain a dual-gear bindery line, for offset and digital, as it saves buying specialised finishing that might not be fully utilised.

Add this to a change in services offered – the company now does a lot more magazine printing in addition to its basic service of package printing, thanks to the 925 – and you have a lean, efficient production line. Prosenica has reported a significant reduction in wage costs and overtime. Nearly all of PMS Litho’s bindery hardware is used on both types of printing – and that includes a Sass screen press, a blister pack moulder and foil stamper, a Shoei folder, a Stahl large-format folder, two Polar guillotines, and a Horizon Stitchliner.

Prepress to postpress, PMS Litho runs a Dolphin MIS, tablet accessible. Most processes in PMS Litho’s bindery nowadays are semi-automatic (such as shrinkwrapping of pallets) or fully automatic. Yet while streamlining is all well and good, Prosenica believes some tasks, such as extremely short gluing jobs, or flipping a 500-sheet stack, are still best handled manually, even if these types of activity are few and far between these days.

 

Finishing for digital: What the vendors say

Ian Martin, general manager, trade, of WRH Global Australia, which supplies Ferag finishing for the digital, sheetfed, commercial web and newspaper sectors, speaks of increasing industry demands made on digital finishing. “As the marketplace demands higher and more sophisticated levels of packaging and design, this in turn increases the demand on the capabilities of digital finishing solutions.”

With printing now largely viewed as a manufacturing process, the requirement for maximum productivity lends itself to offline finishing solutions, that is, the more complex jobs can be finished offline allowing the print engine to continue to do what it does best – print, he argues.

“The need for more specialised equipment in digital finishing compared to offset finishing is largely down to the stock. In comparison to offset stocks, digital tends to be more susceptible to cracking when creasing and folding, especially heavier digital stocks,” says Martin.

“The key question all customers need to ask themselves is whether an inline, nearline or offline finishing solution is best suited for them and the answer will be largely determined by the current type of work they are doing and what they expect to be doing in the future.”

How specialised has digital finishing become? According to Brian Evans, Heidelberg ANZ’s post-press product manager, the problem that most small digital print shops — and even commercial printers — have is the need of fast turnaround and providing a product that meets the industry standards.

“Creasing is one of the biggest problems, with stock coming off digital print engines,” he says. “Heidelberg and most other suppliers offer a range of products that can help eliminate this problem. Inline scoring is almost a must with all digital folding. The Heidelberg Ti52 folder can do inline scoring and is a machine designed for high speed with extremely accurate folding. Most suppliers can offer inline scoring but being able to offer high speed and accuracy can often be the big difference.”

In addition to the Ti52, Heidelberg offers the new CH56KT folder. Says Evans: “This machine has not even hit the shores of Australia yet but has ticked all the boxes in Europe.” And for cutting, there are the Polar 56ECO & NET models, Polar 66ECO & NET models, Polar 80ECO & NET models, Polar 78ECO & Plus & Pro models and Polar Guillo-crease.

Chris Pettitt, marketing manager of finishing specialist Neopost, believes digital finishing is not specialised but has become part of the more general postpress skillset inherent in other forms of printing. He cites Neopost’s UCOS UD-300 rotary cylinder die cutter for its digital applications, but notes it is also suited to wider short-run finishing in both digital and offset, with features such as creasing and perforation.

At PrintEx last month, Neopost demonstrated its DS-200 folder and inserter, which is capable of standard mailer insertion and booklet inserts. Pettitt says Duplo has released a new upgraded range of DocuCutters, including the DC-646, an upgrade of popular DC-645. Duplo has also upgraded the DBM-500 bookletmaker with the new DBM-600, which can handle landscape booklets. Neopost also showed the UCOS UD-300, emphasising its quick plate change abilities for digital and offset.

Matthew Benn, managing director of Fab Equipment, which offers brands such as MB, Delphax, Watkiss Automation, James Burn International, Rigo, KAS, Daeho and Dumor, says Fab can provide dedicated digital finishing machinery, but most print providers these days want more flexibility and automation. “Therefore most of our manufacturers have been working on machinery to cross the boundaries between digital and offset. This does make our digital /offset equipment faster and more robust than their digital only counterparts, but cheaper, slightly slower and more automated than their offset-only competition.

“A brilliant example of innovation for versatility in digital machinery is Fastbind, which makes PUR and perfect-binding machinery and associated products. They have created a desktop machine that can easily and quickly make books from passport size up to A3. This machine does not stop amazing its users — as it can also bind hard-cover books. which sets it apart in the industry.

“Another great example of a machine that crosses from digital to offset is our A2 creaser/folder from Petratto, which makes innovative packaging machinery. This creasing and folding machine was built specifically for digital print finishing, but with the format size to be able to take SRA2 + sheets also.

This enables work to be carried out directly from an A2 press or a digital machine, without needing the capital outlay of two separate lines to do a very similar type of work. As this machine is a hybrid of offset folding lines and digital creasing and folding systems, it is robust, fast, and very accurate.”

Tom Ralph, managing director of Graph- Pak, says there has been a lot of interest in its Thermotype range from the US, in particular the NSF foil presses, which offer die cutting, hot foil stamping, foil fusing, creasing, dimensional embossing, single-level embossing, numbering, hologram placements, perforating and crash printing in the one machine.

Digital printing has meant a re-evaluation of how ‘finishing’ is defined, says Ralph. “It requires manufacturers to realise that the margins these days are low, so investment in capital equipment must be justified through fast makeready, low waste, and versatile, multi-process gear that is robust and requires minimal skill levels to operate. “It must be a short-footprint, smart, eyecatching ‘bells-and-whistles’ piece of kit, or it simply won’t stack up as a good ROI.”

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