The Changing Game of Digital Print

The following is an article taken from FinishLine, Standard Finishing System’s bi-annual newsletter (emphasis added):

Ask the expert: Johan Laurent, hunkeler Business manager, Pre/Post Processing.
Johan Laurent is the Hunkeler Business Manager for Standard Finishing Systems. In this role, he has worked with numerous companies to develop pre- and post-press finishing solutions that bring increased productivity and profitability to the rapidly changing digital print industry.

How has the production digital print market changed over the past few years?
Johan: It’s no secret that digital printing is gaining steady ground and that print is transitioning from offset to digital. Recent advancements in digital print adoption have been sparked by improvements in speed, productivity, substrate range, print quality and cost. Digital color printing, especially, is growing across all vertical markets and has opened the door to a broader spectrum of applications. The speed and quality of digital color is now at levels comparable to offset printing which makes it an attractive option for many applications.

What are suppliers of feeding and finishing equipment doing to keep up with this pace?
Johan: As digital print continues to make strides, print finishing technology is doing an equally good job keeping up by offering more fully integrated and automated solutions, from feeding to printing to finished product. Today’s customers demand fewer touchpoints and look to perform more complex finishing steps in-line — and manufacturers are delivering. For example, Standard suppliers, Hunkeler and Horizon, have partnered to create tightly integrated Roll-to-Inline Finishing solutions which can support going from white paper roll to a finished booklet or even finished book, with full variability. Standard supplier Hunkeler also works in continuous cooperation with leading digital print manufacturers to make sure its pre- and post-solutions effectively support rapidly changing digital print technology. Hunkeler’s Huncolor brand is a perfect example of this cooperation. Huncolor-ready modules are designed to meet the special handling requirements of digital color and feature extra sensitive paper processing on a wide range of substrates.

How are these changes affecting the major segments using production digital printing?
Johan: The book market is undergoing radical change, as book manufacturers face rapidly declining print runs (down to a single copy). This trend plays to the strength of digital, which can also let publishers monetize their back-list. Wider digital webs also change the game, producing more pages across the web for higher throughput, but requiring flexible finishing to produce quality book blocks. By coupling digital print with the right fast-changeover finishing and binding options, printers can profitably manufacture short and ultra-short book runs. Direct mail production is another segment where digital color printing is tilting the field. Mailers are taking advantage of digital’s highly personalized and variable capabilities coupled with better print quality and full-color to make an impact in themail. And, with finishing capabilities keeping pace, even highly complex direct mail pieces can now be executed in-line — from roll to print to value-added finishing processes in a single pass. For transactional printing, the combination of new, ultraflexible perforating and punching systems with high-speed digital color allows print shops to eliminate pre-processed paper and move to a “white paper factory.” In addition, their marketing departments can include highly customized transpromotional messaging on customer statements and invoices thanks to the flexibility provided by the new era of digital color printing.

How are companies working through the decision to finish in-line versus off-line?
Johan: This decision is different for every customer depending upon their specific pain points and production requirements. Some look to minimize touch points and save on labor costs, which leads in the direction of in-line. Some value flexibility to handle a wide variety of jobs, which makes a near-line solution more attractive.

Some of these are big-ticket systems. How do customers justify these capital investments?
Johan: These systems do pay off in the long run. The return on investment can be realized in the form of lower production costs and greater revenue. On the production side, companies will enjoy labor savings due to fewer manual touchpoints and less waste from set-up and changeover. On the revenue side, a streamlined production process will allow for quicker turnaround and more job throughput. Companies who invest in these solutions also open the door to new and unique business opportunities that otherwise may not have been profitable to them.

To read more articles from FinishLine, go to Standard’s homepage and subscribe to their newsletter on the left-hand side.

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