Friday, 13 Sep 2013 12:15 GMT

Commercial Finishing

Last but not least, finishing is a crucial element in the print process. Harriet Gordon investigates the sector and sources advice for firms considering bringing the service in-house

While in opera it is not over until the fat lady sings, in the print industry a job is not complete until that final varnish or laminate has been applied. Indeed, these (and many other) finishing touches can be the difference between a perfectly completed job and a lost client.

Yet speaking to those within the commercial finishing sector, it becomes clear that quality is not always the biggest issue on customers’ minds—it is speed. In these days of short run lengths and super-fast press speeds, the finishing sector has had to work to keep up, resulting in innovative technological developments that are increasingly focused on automation.

Get in-line

Indeed, automation is the key word on peoples’ lips when discussing the future of finishing. One advocate of the technology is David Smith, marketing and communications manager at Vivid Laminating Technologies.

He explains: “I certainly think that more automation to help complete the job is the way forward. Our Matrix MX-530 laminator now has an optional auto-feeder unit available to buy. This frees up the printer to work on other print jobs, rather than hand feeding each sheet, so it saves them time and ultimately money.”

I certainly think that more automation to help complete the job is the way forward. Our Matrix MX-530 laminator now has an optional auto-feeder unit available to buy. This frees up the printer to work on other print jobs, rather than hand feeding each sheet

Another such innovation is the Mini 76 thermal film laminator from Autobond, equipped with an in-line inkjet spot UV machine and a high-speed flying knife cross cutter.

Managing director, John Gilmore, gives an example of how this machine is helping streamline the finishing process: “You will find that eight out of ten books have a matte film applied, with a spot varnish often added to the title or author’s name.”

He adds: “Up to this point, this has been done separately, in two different processes. All this has changed in the last year and a half; we’ve introduced an inkjet digital spot UV varnisher. You actually have to see the product it generates to believe what it looks like; its a 3D varnish and it looks like its about to jump off the page at me. Stunning is the only word that describes it.”

Autobond’s John Gilmore says the Mimi 76 thermal film laminator can offer an effective solution



Since it was launched in 2011, Autobond’s inkjet spot UV technology has attracted interest from both trade finishers and commercial printers wanting to diversify their service offering and grow new revenue streams. The machine uses inkjet printheads to spot print UV varnish in-line with lamination in a single pass, dramatically reducing the finishing process time.

While not entirely new to the European market, the machine will receive its debut at Print 13 in Chicago next month, something Gilmore for one is certainly looking forward to.

“When we launched it for the European market I was on an absolute high during the whole exhibition,” he enthuses, adding: “We had 20 to 30 times more visitors than the last one, with everyone looking at this one machine.”

Another company pinpointing automation as the future of finishing technology is Friedheim International, which supplies finishing, converting and packaging machinery across the whole graphic arts industry. Stuart Bamford, UK and Ireland sales man-ager for the post-press and packaging divisions, highlights automation in folding technology as one of the most important finishing developments in recent times.

He explains: “Automation of B1 folding machines is dramatically reducing make-ready times; this is largely thanks to the MBO system, which is far advanced of the competition. The unique slitter shaft cassette that is incorporated within the system makes all the difference.

The increased automation, which in turn leads to reduced make-ready times, results in faster turnaround and delivery time of orders, and allows print-service-providers greater flexibility when quoting jobs

“The increased automation, which in turn leads to reduced make-ready times, results in faster turnaround and delivery time of orders, and allows print-service-providers greater flexibility when quoting jobs.”

This focus on automation is echoed by joint managing director of Intelligent Finishing Solutions (IFS), Bryan Godwyn. He sees it as a growing factor in post-press systems, as they react to faster litho and digital press speeds, as well as shorter runs and personalised print.

He comments: “Processes revolutionised by automation include folding, perfect binding, guillotining and saddlestitching. In the case of the Horizon StitchLiner, which is now the UK’s top-selling saddlestitching line, by working from flat sheet sections, the signature-folding stage is eliminated completely to improve productivity still further.”

Less haste, more speed

Friedheim International claims the unique slitter shaft cassette that is incorporated within MBO system dramatically reduces make-ready times



Yet the speed of the processes are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to finishing technology; as Godwyn points out, if the machine is too complicated to be operated quickly then the time-savings benefits are lost.

He asserts: “The set-up and control interface needs to be simple and straightforward. This is so that operators can readily adapt to a number of systems, to produce high quality results quickly and efficiently to maximise productivity and eliminate bottlenecks. This is where Horizon, the trailblazer in this field and market-leader in automated quick-response bindery systems, has really got it right—its intuitive touchscreens share universal icon-based commands and simple navigation fields.”

David Smith from Vivid Laminating confirms the need for simplicity, but encourages not to let fear of the unknown prevent you from investing.

Being able to bring more finishing in-house is changing the finishing landscape. The Matrix is now the number one selling single sided laminating system in Europe, as more and more printers are discovering its benefits of saving time, saving money and keeping control

“Don't rule out finishing because you believe that it’s a complicated process,” he advises, adding: “Our Matrix single sided laminating systems are simple to use, easy to maintain, quick and reliable. They feature a unique patented multilingual control panel and take virtually no training to set up, whatever your needs. This gives you complete control over every job.”

With the wide variety of such easy-to-use equipment on the market, it is no wonder that so many print-service-providers are choosing to bring finishing in house. Smith pinpoints this as the main trend to have affected the finishing sector in recent times.

“Being able to bring more finishing in-house is changing the finishing landscape,” he asserts, adding: “The Matrix is now the number one selling single sided laminating system in Europe, as more and more printers are discovering its benefits of saving time, saving money and keeping control.

Printers want to supply the best quality finished job they can and at a price which is competitive. They are now at a stage when they can realistically consider finishing all their work themselves

“The overall cost to purchase or lease a finishing system hasn't increased a great deal in the past couple of years and the quality of supplies, such as our Boss premium brand laminating film, are second to none. Printers want to supply the best quality finished job they can and at a price which is competitive. They are now at a stage when they can realistically consider finishing all their work themselves, be it laminating, creasing, binding or trimming.”

IFS’ Godwyn agrees that the trend to bring finishing in-house is a market-changer, and goes on to cite productivity and versatility as tangible benefits. He also highlights how in-house solutions cut transport costs, while automation reduces waste and energy consumption.

He continues: “Companies are able to run a leaner operation, while enjoying greater flexibility to further develop their services for existing customers and even win new work—not forgetting, of course, that they keep the revenues previously allocated to outsourcing in-house as well.”

Autobond’s John Gilmore, however, takes a different perspective. He does not see cost to be the main factor in the trend for bringing finishing in-house.

Bryan Godwyn of IFS claims the Horizon machines are easy to use, due to the touchscreens that share universal icon-based commands and simple navigation fields. Pictured: Horizon SmartStacker



He explains: “Everything is driven by this manic speed that everybody wants to work at. It used to be you would have a weekend to do a job, and now they want it overnight. As the press speeds have come up and the run lengths have come down, everyone has had to follow suit. People don’t want to wait in traffic jams any longer, so they buy their own piece of kit.

“You used to have a lot of trade finishers who would do the film laminating for all the printers in the area. I have been in the market 35 years—I remember being a 21-year-old going up to a shop in Manchester that had 35 folding machines and a team of people loading them. Printers at that time used to just put ink on paper, so any finishing work they would send out. Now printers have their own folders, own binders, own guillotines—it has been a gradual change over the years, but now any printer worth his salt can do most of this stuff himself.”

Privacy is paramount

The advantages of adding a finishing department to your print business are well understood, and are summed up nicely by Smith from Vivid: “You save on cost. Most outsourced print finishers will charge a £50 set-up charge. Laminate the work in-house and you have saved yourself this charge with each and every job you do.

“You save on time. Customers want their prints back as soon as possible. They will not understand that their job is taking twice as long to complete because the print finishing company closes at 4pm or it's a 20 mile round trip for their printed business cards to be laminated.

Bringing finishing in-house not only gives you the security of knowing you can finish a job when  your customer wants it, but allows you to offer a one-stop-shop. This is especially important to clients who do not want their work seen by anyone else

“And finally, you’re in control. You are in a better position to advise the customer on the finishing options available, whether this is a soft touch laminate on their Christmas cards or a perforation added to their flyers. Finish in-house and you see the whole job through, maybe even from the initial design, to the print and finally the finish.”

All this is undoubtedly the case; yet Bamford from Friedheim points to some further advantages that, on the face of it, are not quite so obvious.

He explains: “Bringing finishing in-house not only gives you the security of knowing you can finish a job when  your customer wants it, but allows you to offer a one-stop-shop. This is especially important to clients who do not want their work seen by anyone else, or even for you the printer, who may not what to risk a rival printer seeing your client base, if they visit the same trade finisher.”

Vivid Laminating's Boss premium brand laminating film




Bamford highlights some interesting points that companies may not have considered when thinking about moving to in-house finishing, but advises that they talk to Friedheim for impartial advice before making any decisions.

Helpful hints

Indeed, if you are considering investing in some finishing equipment, you will not struggle to find manufac-turers willing to offer advice. Godwyn suggests it is important to not only understand the current market, but also how it might develop in the future.

“Businesses need to choose a trusted supplier that is always looking to innovate in the market place,” he advises, adding: “To ensure you have systems that will help address future demands. It is also crucial to pick solutions that are easy to operate, ensuring delivery of a high quality product week-in week-out.

Printers want to supply the best quality finished job they can and at a price which is competitive. They are now at a stage when they can realistically consider finishing all their work themselves

“At IFS we expect smaller, more versatile automated systems to become increasingly popular over higher volume conventional machines. A combination of ease of use and affordability ensure they can be simply introduced to any operation and begin making a significant contribution to the bottomline immediately.

“Systems to look out for include the new Horizon SmartStacker designed to process digitally printed B2 sheets; it could have a major impact on the size and shape of the on-demand sector in the years to come.”

This prediction for the future is affirmed by Autobond’s John Gilmore, who anticipates the reduction in run-lengths leading to greater sales of small machines.

“As a trade finisher, if your local digital printer has 20 sheets to put through a laminator, you don’t want to use your big machines. So many have been investing in little tabletop machines, often from a Chinese manufacturer, to put short-runs through. They usually get fed up of these machines and come and buy a decent piece of engineering from us.”

He concludes: “Our selection of finishing equipment ranges from £300 for our smallest machines, all the way up to £300,000, so there is something to fit all requirements.”

Indeed, with automation remaining the key preoccupation with manu-facturers, investing in a finishing machine is becoming an increasingly viable option to print companies across the UK. As trade finishers move to wards offering ever more specialised work, it seems there has never been a better time to bite the bullet and consider building a finishing department of your very own.