In the business of big print, the most sophisticated and highly automated tools—especially for finishing—were usually reserved for the largest print service suppliers (PSPs) with the volume to support considerable investments. It left a solution void for PSPs with more modest monthly volumes, but the need for exceptional quality product, nonetheless.
That’s about to change. Bill Hartman, VP, digital development, digital finishing, Esko, says the print market needs to be segmented to determine digital finishing’s reach.
“If you look at the mid-sized and large print businesses, you’d be hard pressed to find a print service supplier with a digital flatbed but doesn’t have a cutting system,” notes Hartman.
This is mainly because the market is more mature, which Steve Aranoff, business development, MCT, Inc, believes is exemplified by PSPs adding to their stable of finishing equipment, or replacing legacy equipment they perhaps installed a decade before.
To illustrate just how the landscape of digital finishing has evolved, Aranoff recalls, “the original installations of digital finishing equipment we saw back in 2003 to 2005 usually had one cutter that might service three or four printers, because not every job had to be finished. Today, we see three or four cutters that service one printer.”
For print businesses that haven’t yet made investments in automated digital finishing, there are two choices, according to Hartman—finish by hand or outsource.
“What a lot of smaller companies do is try to finish as much as they can by hand, but for complicated or fast-turn jobs, they’ll find somebody with a table and subcontract out the work. And you do that until your subcontracting bills and logistics become a burden—or you’ve increased your volume enough to get acquainted with your own cutting table,” he suggests.
In order for automated finishing systems to be transformative, print suppliers must be willing to be transformed. Often, that means taking new approaches to sales and customer service.
“For whatever reason, customers aren’t able to hire sales people to sell the new capabilities, or they lack the flexibility to go after new creative markets. And that’s totally critical; the ability to sell new finishing capabilities to customers and prospective customers,” explains Beatrice Drury, marketing and communications, Zünd America.
Creating a Complete Workflow
While it’s natural to be dazzled by the bells and whistles and sparkling steel of new equipment, Hartman stresses that print suppliers should focus on two bigger picture questions. First, how do you expect—or hope—the business to grow and change in the coming years?
Finishing manufacturers expect print providers to look down the road to the future. As Drury notes, the modular nature of Zünd’s finishing devices allow PSPs to leverage smaller, less complex systems with fewer tools, to gain access to exceptional equipment even when budgets are tight.
Secondly, what do you want the workflow to look like? After all, it’s not just about inserting a finishing technology as a standalone tool. It becomes part of the complete workflow—what Esko refers to as design-to-print-to-cut, according to Hartman.
The truth of the matter, he adds, is that what happens as far upstream as creative and prepress will impact what unfolds at the finishing level.
“When you look at that workflow, we like to start talking about basic prepress applications, like preflighting or layout and imposition,” according to Hartman. Esko’s i-cut Suite manages preflight and layout, which is important for a PSP that’s getting a lot of digital files from customers, as many as 50 percent, probably, that aren’t ready for a RIP.
“Our layout program allows you to lay out multiple images across the substrate, like shoe nesting, to get a good optimization of material, which is expensive. It may save 30 percent on substrates,” shares Hartman.
Without an automated design-to-print-to-cut workflow, the profound way in which a digital cutting system can transform a business is diminished. Like kinks in hoses, a single obstacle along the way can slow the work to a trickle.
“When you buy a cutting table, you’ll eliminate the bottleneck in the finishing department, both from a capacity standpoint and from a capability perspective. Now, you can finish virtually any substrate and produce any shape,” notes Hartman. “So then the bottleneck becomes prepress. You need to automate these functions, and you’ve got to keep feeding the beast—the printers, the finishing equipment.”
But the potential to automate the workflow doesn’t stop at prepress, the pressroom, or digital finishing. Print providers can take the theme even further. Esko’s i-cut Automate incorporates tools that enable the creation of dynamic workflows that eliminate all the manual touch points along the way and provide a system to track the workload and keep it moving.