Thursday, 15 May 2014 10:06 GMT

Commercial Print Finishing Part 2

It may come last, but print finishing is by no means the least important part of the production process. Brendan Perring investigates the equipment that transforms raw print to beautiful product

A thing of great beauty

Having recently walked what seemed like a marathon around the halls of Ipex 2014, one thing was clear: by far one of its biggest demographics were the suppliers and manufacturers of print finishing equipment. This may seem strange until your realise that this technology area is actually where some of the biggest gains can be made in terms of production efficiency and overall increase in output capability and quality. It is perhaps also a consequence of today’s litho and digital presses evolving to produce very high levels of output and quality that need processing. Of course, the span of finishing equipment moves from manual hand sheet-fed devices all the way up to huge automated industrial level behemoths. What connects these different levels is one core trend. Due to the shortening of run-lengths, demand for tighter turn arounds, and an increasingly competitive market, modern printers need equipment that is able to process and finish print output to standards of quality and speed that until the last few years would have been at the very limit of expectations.

One manufacturer who has gone to great lengths to adapt to this trend and offer solutions to its customers that can allow them to maintain a competitive edge is Vivid Laminating Technologies. Vivid have been operating for over 25 years and exports on a global scale to more than 40 countries including the US, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, and South Africa, as well as having a large network of distributors in the UK.

Richard Marlow, sales manager at Vivid Laminating Technologies, believes that many printers are missing out on substantial margin improvements by using outdated technology

The company’s sales manager, Richard Marlow, weighed in on the importance that printers should place on the finishing side of their business and explained the solutions Vivid is bringing to market to address key challenges facing printers: “The finish of a print is just as important as the print itself. For example, you can print the most stunning graphic, but if the lamination isn’t right you have spent time and money creating something that your customer won’t be happy with. Lamination also protects and enhances the printed media.”

Looking at the finishing market from its software end, this view is shared by Emma Mortiboy, marketing and key account manager at Vpress: “Having previously worked for design agencies, I know first hand how important the finish is for clients. There is nothing more disappointing for a client, having signed off the design to feel let down when the finished product is in their hands. Even with the best designs and substrates, a bad finish can completely write off a job, which is frustrating for everyone.”

With in-house programming, project management, and full support services, for more than twelve years Vpress has been developing its Coreprint edge web-to-print technologies for the print and graphic arts sectors out of its headquarters in Cheltenham. Finishing is one area that Mortiboy says is a key focus for the company: “Vpress have developed the concept of ‘web2finish’, which allows users to maximise automation using 1D bar-coding technology from within the Coreprint web2print platform to streamline and reduce error within production and finishing workflows by triggering automatic set up and operation of the finishing.”

Vivid Laminating Technologies’ Easymount Sign Laminators are designed to allow printers to diversify into the large-format arena and are ideal for laminating a full range of graphics output such as signs, roll-up banners, and window graphics

This pursuit of speed and accuracy is something that Vivid shares, with Marlow explaining the thinking behind some of its latest kit: “We are really excited about our new line of Matrix laminators, which we launched at Ipex. We have expanded the options available by including pneumatic versions of our best-selling MX-370 and MX-530 models. The Pneumatic Matrix can run up to twice the speed of the standard systems, so printers can laminate their work even faster to get the job finished and back to the customer.”

Marlow continues, going into greater detail on the advantages of the new technology: “Pneumatic rollers means more pressure. Standard OPP film can also be used on certain digitally printed substrates, rather than Digital OPP film because of the extra pressure, so there is a cost saving to the end user. We are also launching a Duplex version of the Matrix MX-530 at Ipex.

“This will also be Pneumatic and enables double-sided lamination in one pass, as well as encapsulation. So again, this will result in double-sided jobs being laminated in half the time. The Pneumatic and Duplex options can also be retro-fitted to existing models. We’ve made these modular because of the large number of systems already
in use.”

Faster and flatter

Vivid also used Ipex to showcase a new version of its MX-700 B1 laminator, which will be ready for launch in the Summer. The Pneumatic 700 includes a built-in deep pile automated feeder and separator and runs at 20m a minute.

Supplied by Friedheim International, the MBO M80 folder features KB80 crossfold and DB60 threefold systems. The company’s marketing manager, Neil Elliot, explains that its modular design means that new systems can be bolted on as a printers needs grow

“It’s a top-of-the-range system,” says Marlow, adding: “We have aimed it at more industrial print finishers for bigger runs of both litho and digital jobs. It’s completely scalable too, because it will laminate SRA3, B1 and B2 prints.

“In terms of wide-format, our new and enhanced Easymount Sign Laminators made their debut at Ipex. They’re highly efficient but at an entry level price and will easily laminate signs, roll-up banners, window graphics and more. The new models now include a media take-up unit for reel-to-reel lamination, self-gripping mandrels, and an impressive laminating speed of 5m a minute.”

If the lamination isn’t right you have spent time and money creating something that your customer won’t be happy with

Vivid also reports that it will be launching an optional extra for the Matrix later this year. Dubbed ‘Flatbook’, Marlow claims it is a brand new innovation that the company has designed and patented. When printers are creating books that are glued in the spine, there can be curling issues when using a thin stock laminated cover. Printers have traditionally got around this problem by using nylon film instead, but this is an expensive option compared to OPP film. The Flatbook device is a unit that removes a small channel of OPP film as it is being laminated. This means that the glue used to bind the book actually filters into the newly created channel in the spine, and the cover of the book stays totally flat.

Profit potential

This level of innovation from Vivid is characteristic of a sector that is always having to adapt and evolve to cope with the developments of press manufacturers. One of its sector contemporaries is Duplo International, which has long driven its research and development by balancing the needs of customers today, with what they know is being dreamt up by press manufacturers.

Speaking to its UK marketing manager, Sarah Crumpler, explains that the company’s ethos is ‘automated precision’, with a focus that seeks to ensure that, ‘set-up time and job changeover is minimal, with high accuracy and variable security ensured’. 

Like Marlow, Crumpler argues that finishing cannot be underestimated in terms of its contribution to overall profitability: “Research has shown that finishing makes up about 10 percent of the total revenue of print jobs, but from that 10 percent, 50 percent of the total profit is generated. A well finished product can increase the value of the actual print exponentially.”

The MBO M80 folder from Friedheim International features the R80 continuous feeder, helping to substantially improve operational efficiency

She continues: “With increased demand for short-run high-value products such as perfect bound, lay flat, and other bespoke products involving specialist finishes, the importance of what happens to a flat sheet after it’s been printed continues to grow in importance.

“In addition, Duplo has also seen many of our customers increasing the efficiency of their businesses by selecting finishing equipment that reduces the set-up time required and often the number of times a job needs to be manually handled or moved between machines.”

Looking to its latest kit, Duplo has just launched the DC-646PRO multifinisher, which is reportedly a substantial upgrade from the DC-645.

“The DC-646PRO represents the next level in automation and has the ability to finish an even wider variety of jobs in shorter turnaround times,” claims Crumpler, before going on to highlight the same trend identified by Vivid’s Marlow for systems that can produce high-value output: “The products that are attracting the most buzz at the
moment are the recently launched Mita range of products for the production of layflat books, which is a new distribution agreement for Duplo. We gave people the opportunity to get their hands on with the books at Ipex, and we believe whilst the use of print may change in the future, the need for high-quality printed products will stand the test of time.”

Future proof

This view from Crumpler is one that will warm the hearts of many a dyed-in-the-wool print professional and is echoed by one of the oldest names in the business Friedheim International, which provides finishing equipment and solutions for commercial print, digital print, binding, packaging, and converting processes.  The list of major manufacturers it represents on our small island is quite staggering, which puts Friedheim in the enviable position of being able to offer some of the most technically advanced equipment on the market. The company’s mission is reportedly to provide customers with, ‘greater efficiencies and bottom line benefits in today’s highly competitive marketplace, no matter what type or size their finishing department or bindery’. 

“Finishing is where printers can make their margin and is even more vital in today’s market,” emphasises Neil Elliott, Friedheim’s marketing manager, who adds: “There is absolutely no point in producing a quality piece of printed matter on an expensive digital or conventional press if, at the end of the process, you are going to ‘ruin it’ by not having the quality equipment installed to finish the job to the same high standard.”

O Factoid: The concept of imposition involves printing multiple pages on a large press sheet—called signatures—then folding and cutting the printed sheet to form the individual pages. The folio was the first signature size, and has been made internationally famous due to its use for the Gutenberg Bible, printed in about 1455, and the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, printed in 1623. O

In terms of kit development, the company has revealed some significant developments that are in-line with afore mentioned macro-sector trends. Perhaps chief among these takes place in its folding range, with the launch at Ipex of the M80 and M60 automatic folders from MBO—described as a whole new ‘future proof’ concept which is set to have a significant impact on the way printers and print finishers think about folding from now on.

The inclusion of ‘Modular Design Technology” on the M60 and M80 means that whatever specification of folder you initially purchase, by purchasing and interchanging alternative units such as for feeding and delivery your original folder can then be adapted to meet your future requirements. This makes any combination of set-up possible and enables folding flexibility to reach new heights of simplicity. It also reportedly gives users the freedom to add or interchange components to meet whatever demands the market or individual jobs may dictate.

In terms of operation, Elliot says the new MBO M60 is ideal for B2 work, and has an infeed width of 62cm, while the M80 has B1 capability and an infeed width of 83 cm. Both folders are capable of working at a maximum production speed of up to 230m/min.

Research has shown that finishing makes up about 10 percent of the total revenue of print jobs, but from that 10 percent, 50 percent of the total profit is generated

Elliot continues: “As regards other processes, equipment involved in ‘digital’ printing continues to prove popular, along with the various options available for wrapping machines and the advantages in die-cutters and folder gluers.”

He concludes by assessing his company’s place within a fast moving market: “There is a continual forward movement in the development of technology to meet future requirements and to drive the industry onwards. Whether this is via product dimensions, speed, flexibility, new technology or other market demands, with the representation of 25 world renowned companies across five divisions Friedheim International in the UK and Ireland is ideally placed to bring improvements to speed up customers production, reduce their cost base, and to take them into new sales opportunities.”

 VPress’ Coreprint ‘web2finish’ software solution allows for feedback from finishing equipment to streamline and reduce error within production and finishing workflows by triggering automatic set up and operation of the finishing

Picking up on this reference to, ‘a continual drive forward’, it seems that a sector that at one time remained fairly unchanged with cycles of development that spanned several years, is now seeing new products brought to markets on far shorter time spans. And far from this development pursuit hurting durability and quality, it is actually having the opposite effect. So perhaps for the first time it is inevitable that as the industry stabilises and the picture of a leaner and fitter printer emerges, that finishing technology developers will actually begin to
lead the way rather than attaching themselves to the coat tails of press manufacturers. So, if you are considering where to spend that next pot of capital, then perhaps you would be better looking towards the end of your production process rather than the start.