Data and Personalization Drive Digital & Inkjet Finishing Improvements

New technologies in digital and inkjet high speed finishing offer printing service providers (PSP) a host of new product and service offerings, driven by trends in variable data and personalization, industry experts say. David Murphy, worldwide marketing director, HP PageWide Industrial, noted PSPs investing in inkjet should select a solution with flexibility to scale with applications and volume growth in contrast to single-application presses. “New opportunities will arise for new job types over the life of the press,” he said. “If you buy an inkjet web press to produce transactional statements, will it be versatile to produce high-quality marketing collateral, heavy-coverage posters, and full-color books? Will it have the drying capacity, quality at speed, and ability to print on any offset coated media? Will it have scalable workflow to meet your order management, color management, and finishing requirements as your business grows?”


PSPs investing in finishing equipment need to ensure the options they are considering are capable of handling inkjet press requirements, including web width, speed, paper, ink coverage, wet sheets/smudging, and waste sheets, noted Will Frank, Standard Finishing Systems market specialist. “For example, Hunkeler separator and stacking units use vacuum belt technology to carry sheets through the system instead of conventional spaghetti belts that drag the sheets and can cause smearing,” he said. The Hunkeler product line handles speeds of at least 500 fpm. Its chip-out solution is designed to allow the delivery of full bleed images ready for inserting. Hunkeler rotary cutters also can cut substrates up to 12 point, allowing postcards to become an eligible inkjet application.

The ability to change form length on the fly is another capability permitting variable-format book production within the print stream, noted Frank. Higher web speeds and jobs with variable information also create an important need for inline verification, inspection, and integrity analysis, particularly in the transactional, financial, and healthcare sectors, Frank pointed out. “Cameras are being used to verify data in-line, track work jobs through all stages of production and create audit trails that may be needed for regulatory compliance,” he said. “Any mistakes can be costly. Job tracking is critical to prevent expensive reprints and to trigger a reprint should the need arise. Hunkeler’s new WI8 Web Inspection System with CIS (compact image sensor) provides highly-precise image monitoring of both sides of the paper web during production and absolute quality assurance.”

The system checks each individual page during production down to the smallest detail to detect errors in real time, including color variation in pictures and logos, incorrect page content, distortions in printed images, errors in text, and jet-outs, said Frank. PSPs should do a complete inventory of current applications as well as anticipated work to fully comprehend which tools are needed, noted Frank. “Critical to the selection process will be consideration of equipment that can handle the special requirements of roll-fed inkjet printing systems,” he said. “Can the finishing solution keep up with the higher speeds of the chosen inkjet printer? Is changeover between jobs quick and easy? Can white paper, produced in the print process, be automatically purged so that these powerful print engines run continuously without costly stops and re-starts? Can they handle the range of substrates that will be processed by the inkjet printer? Is the system modular so it can be expanded as application requirements change? Are there special features to assure that image quality is not compromised? The printer will also want to evaluate the advantages of using an inline finishing solution versus an offline solution,” he added. “Inline solutions require less space and often remove labor cost, but can add to system complexity,” Frank said. “Offline finishing typically offers more layout and production flexibility, but also requires more manual touch points.” Bill Hingle, director of marketing for Spiral Binding, noted the rapid advancement of digital technology “allows a printer to now offer high-quality color printing for highly profitable shorter production runs as well as higher volume runs.”

ROIs are achieved faster with reduced costs of entry and costs to operate. To that end, the iJet Envelope Printer is offered as a complete bundled package: printer, software, hardware, installation, and training. “The lower cost of inkjet consumables, fast output, and ease of scale inkjet provides over offset printing makes it the fastest segment in the market. Digital label printing is another rapidly growing market,” said Hingle, adding that the development of smaller offline digital label printers and fully inline printers with cutting and laminating capabilities gives small and mid-size printing operations more service offerings and enables PSPs to cost-effectively provide customers with high-quality color labels and with great margins.

Mike Barisonek, Epic Products International’s vice president of sales and marketing, said the company is building in-line coating systems for inkjet web presses that place water-based or UV coatings over the inkjet ink. Barisonek said print quality on inkjet webs is now getting to be like offset quality, especially when adding a post-print coating. Variable data is one driving factor, as well as being able to take an inkjet web press at high speeds. The biggest challenge is using an inkjet web press capable of printing on coated stock that also is capable of taking post-print coating. “It’s a little confusing because people say if I have shiny stock, I can just put ink on shiny stock, right? No, it doesn’t protect the ink. It can still scratch in the mail stream and it still doesn’t have that offset look and feel,” Barisonek said. “What you really need is coated stock printing and what we call post-print coating, putting a water-based acrylic coating or a UV-cured coating over the top of the inkjet printed web.”

Ryan Manieri, marketing manager for MBO Digital added, “This has the potential to create a lot of problems on the finishing side for printers who do not upgrade their finishing equipment.” Manieri points out older equipment was set up with the idea that if a large job was coming in, it didn’t matter that make-ready would take an hour and a half because of the large run that followed. With digital print runs in the short-to-medium range, a finishing system that takes the same amount of time to set up can lead to revenue losses “because the amount of time it takes to set up the equipment is not worth the amount of profit you get from such a small sale,” Manieri stated. PSPs want to print shorter runs so customers can hit specific event-based marketing efforts. “If a customer wants to advertise a three-day event and want to advertise specific things to one customer in one region and another thing to another region, that’s two smaller runs to make up the greater campaign. You may have to do a different set-up on the finishing side,” he added. MBO addresses finishing post-press by focusing on the concept that with digital, “you never know what’s coming in the door,” said Manieri.

MBO has manufactured mobile core modules performing functions that don’t necessarily need to be fixed in place, such as folding, gluing, and trimming. “The printer can then wheel these modules in and out as needed to build a system from one day to the next,” Manieri added. That creates labor and time savings, as PSPs don’t need to stage an operator at each of the different processes. Job integrity increases because the product is being touched fewer times. Scott Gerschwer, head of marketing for Compart North America, said PSPs call onboarding new customer documents a “pain point”, creating a workflow bottleneck. Compart’s software tool, Inspector, can augment a PSPs experience and expertise in identifying issues, clear workflow time and incorporate more customers to their roster, he said. Variable data—particularly as it relates to personalization—is a driver for finishing trends, noted Manieri. Personalizing has an added level of customization that has never been done before and leads to shorter job runs, which in turn means there will be more make-readies because a PSP has to do more jobs to fill the queue, said Manieri, adding instant gratification is another driving factor. “Thanks to the digital age and Amazon, people order things and they want it now,” he noted. “Turnover times have to be much faster.”