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Jul 1, 2000 12:00 AM

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New digital presses are driving finish-on-demand developments.

Do you POD (print on-demand) or FOD? Look for these acronyms to become part of your daily language as the market for digital printing and "on-demand" finishing accelerates. Industry experts say that digital printing now accounts for 25 percent of the total print marketplace. That number is growing almost exponentially as new technologies eat into traditional offset printing's turf.

As printers seek the ideal zero-inventory environment, finishing on-demand (FOD) will follow almost in lock-step with new digital press technology. Five years from now, the ability to quickly produce a high-quality, customized or personalized piece of media in a professionally finished package will be taken for granted.

Due to the current high per-page cost of digital print versus offset, there is a significant market for both quality in- and offline finishing options. A preview of what could be in store for on-demand finishing systems was unveiled at Xplor International's 20th Global Conference & Exhibit for high-volume document processors in Los Angeles this past year. Almost every large digital printing system was mated with a corresponding finishing component. Suppliers, such as Xerox, Oce, IBM, Xeikon and Scitex, demonstrated a variety of in- and offline trimmers, stitchers, single-clamp binders and shrink wrappers.

And as you're reading this, Drupa 2000 has concluded. Digital printing technologies took center stage at the fair, with new offerings from Xerox, Oce, Heidelberg, Xeikon, Scitex Digital Printing, Elcorsy, IBM, Scitex/ KBA and many others. (See related story on p. 46.) The line between conventional offset technologies and toner-based "reprographics" is becoming increasingly blurry.

One thing is certain; documents produced by each of these systems will have to be finished for distribution. Initially, inline finishing options will be limited to: stitching | This has always been an inline function, dating back to the introduction of the first high-volume copying/reprographic systems from Xerox and Kodak. The most common function is the ability to produce booklets by folding an 81/2 x 11-inch sheet and stapling them together.

perfect binding | Though it's newer to the range of inline finishing options, perfect binding is big. Since most digital printing still begins with a cut sheet, the binding process has to be adjusted accordingly. The sheet is subjected to tremendous heat as part of the digital print process; all moisture has been removed from the paper. These factors have an impact on the book blockpreparation process and on the adhesives used in binding. Currently, hot-melts are the most widely used adhesives for on-demand binding jobs.

shrink-wrapping | While not a true binding process, shrink- or poly-wrapping systems are increasingly being included as part of inline finishing systems. They offer an attractive and foolproof method of both protecting and enclosing document sets, and are fast enough to easily work with the highest output digital print systems. CMC America (Lewis Center, Ohio), a manufacturer of cartoning, film- and paper-wrapping, and envelope inserting systems for high-speed bindery applications, is one company that's actively working on very compact and lower-priced shrink- and poly-wrapping systems that will work with on-demand printing.

coil, wire or comb-binding | These have not yet been widely applied as part of an inline binding process, as they're more specialized and difficult to engineer for inline systems. Their limited use also has to do with demand -stitching and perfect binding still satisfy a large portion of the market.

The solutions Perhaps the ultimate in a "soup-to-nuts" approach to on-demand book production and finishing is On-Demand Machine Co.'s Book Builder. Created by Harvey Ross, a St. Louis designer of military radar systems, the Book Builder comprises three sub-systems: printing, binding and trimming.

Two QMS 4060 laser printers print the book block, generally from a PDF file, while a QMS 330 color laser printer produces the cover on 80-lb. triple-glossy cover stock. The QMS 4060s reportedly can duplex print a 250-page book in less than three minutes.

The book block is then placed in the binding section, which jogs and roughs the pages. The block automatically moves to the binding station, where the cover is applied with hot-melt adhesive. A bar code printed on both the book block and cover allow the two sections to be positively matched. Then, the finished book is transported to the trimmer for a three-sided trim.

The entire operation can take less than four minutes, and three different sized books (paperback, magazine-size or legal) can be worked on simultaneously-one in the print station, one in binding and one in trimming. This system is targeted at large book stores, where it could substantially reduce in-stock inventory. It may also make sense for specialized and quick printers.

The Book Builder takes up less than 50 sq. ft. of floor space and sells for about $100,000. Ross says On-Demand Machine Co. is experimenting with "sonic horn" technology for instant curing of a cold liquid adhesive, thus eliminating the need for a hot-melt process.

Duplo Corp. has been producing collators, and stitching systems for collators, for many years. The manufacturer's current lineup for FOD applications reflects the introduction of much higher speed and higher volume digital print systems than in the past. At the high end, its DBM-250 series offers quality inline booklet making for Oce PageStream or DemandStream and for Xerox DocuPrint high-volume printers. The DBM 250 series features inline trimming and stitching, and can produce up to 3,600 finished sets per hour. Duplo's DBM-80H brings the same features to the lower-end Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printers.

On the offline side of the equation, Duplo offers a fairly wide selection of suction collators, folders, three-side trimmers and all-in-one booklet makers. These units are clearly targeted at the on-demand print market.

web-fed systems A vendor that started in a different sector but has evolved in response to on-demand is Roll Systems (Burlington, MA). Roll began as the first vendor to supply paper-roll handling, and unwind and rewind equipment for laser printers in the financial and insurance industries. Its range of products now includes booklet-making machinery for roll-fed laser and inkjet printers.

These web-fed printing systems are vastly different from their sheetfed cousins. Unlike digital cut sheet, digital web is usually printed two-up. The signatures are split and collated at the end of the process.

Roll's new BookMaster system reflects this mode of operation-the printed web, usually 17 inches wide, is converted into two 81/2 x 11-inch sheets in its sheeter/stacker unit. (The sheeter/ stacker, which begins the finishing process, sits at the end of the digital printer.)

The sheeter/stacker can keep up with the output of almost every digital web printer. Typically, these range in the area of 200 to 500 feet per minute. The BookMaster produces two offset streams of book blocks from the narrow web. It does not offer further inline options at this point.

Finishing systems manufacturers are partnering with the major digital print systems vendors to launch new in- and offline machines.

Rosback's 318 LYNX SaddleBinder falls into this category. It collates, trims and saddlestitches folded four-, eight-, 12-, 16-, 24- and 32-page signatures into finished booklets. This is an off-line machine with a relatively small footprint that's friendly to space-challenged shops.

Floor space is saved by using a vertical signature-gathering section. The modular vertical gatherer is supplied in four-pocket sections. Each feeder can be loaded with up to nine inches' worth of stock. The stitching section uses Bostitch, ISP or Hohner heads. An optional StitchTech system alerts the operator to missing stitches or signatures, and diverts them pre-trimmer. A single-book, double-clamp trimmer produces a quality three-side trim of the finished book. This unit will cycle at 1,800 to 5,000 books per hour, depending on the product.

COMBINED EFFORTS From C.P. Bourg comes the Digital Bourg Book Factory. This system is a combined effort by Xerox, Roll Systems and Bourg. It's intended as an inline digital print and perfect bind system.

The Digital Book Factory can produce finished books in formats from 51/2x 81/2 inches to 9 x 13 inches. Roll Systems provides an unwinder/sheeter at the front end of the system, which feeds a Xerox DocuTech with a steady supply of 9 x 12-inch cut sheets. The DocuTech images four-up, then delivers the sheets into the Bourg "back-end," where they are perforated, rotated and folded into signatures. From there, they are delivered into a Bourg BB2005 Perfect Binder, where the book block is roughed for cover application and hot-melt adhesive, applied. A separately printed process four-color cover then completes the book, along with an inline trip to Bourg's three-knife trimmer.

The firm also offers a saddle-stitching module: A "pass-through" feature of the Book Factory allows pages to bypass the perfect binder and go directly to the stitcher module. As in the On-Demand Machine Co.'s Book Builder, discreet bar codes printed on the book block and cover ensure a match.

Horizon/Steilow showed a similar concept in the Xeikon booth at Drupa. The Xeikon VaryPress T web-fed black-and-white production printing system produced finished A4 book sets, which were stacked on the front end of an offline binding line, dubbed the integrated binding system. A book set was manually placed in each of the four clamps of the system's perfect binder. Semi-finished books were conveyed by a Steilow book "elevator" (a vertical cooling tower) to a Horizon three-knife trimmer. This was a robust system, capable of producing about 1,500 books per hour.

Horizon also debuted the Standard Horizon SPF-20X inline bookletmaker, an offline bookletmaking system (SPF-20DF) and the HT-30 inline three-knife trimmer. The SPF-20X is designed for inline operation with the Xerox 6180 Production Publisher and the Standard Horizon BQ-340 Perfect Binder. Imaged sheets are presented to the fully automatic booklet maker, where a high-capacity vacuum cover feeder applies a color cover. The set is then jogged, stitched, folded and face-trimmed. In this hybrid solution, a job can be routed to the perfect binder instead if that need arises.

The offline version first takes the offset stacked sets at the Horizon DocuFeed-150 hopper and delivered downstream, set by set. The Horizon VAC-100DF vacuum collator then feeds a color cover to complete the document in the SPF-20DF bookletmaker. An Inspectron camera reads stealth dots on each sheet to verify that each set and sheet are placed in the proper order prior to document finishing.

Also at Drupa, Hunkeler-together with Oce, IBM, Nipson and Xerox-jointly presented 14 print-on-demand lines for the black-and-white and full-color areas. The systems enable the printing of a diverse range of books, instruction manuals, training notes, mailings and other printed products. Though not new at Drupa, the Hunkeler UW4 unwinder and CS4W pinless cutter were demonstrated inline with a Nipson N7000 pinless machine. The unwinder unwound paper into the Nipson, and the CS4W cut and stacked the resulting three-up sheets.

On the hardcover end, new systems debuted from the Book Technology Group (Switzerland) and Short Run Finishing Systems (Germany) at Drupa.

Wake-up call While most on-demand binding systems will handle a wide variety of soft-cover work, it should be noted that most inline stitching systems are not going to produce a 250-page product. Inline stitching heads are not as robust as the flying stitch heads used by heavy iron manufacturers such as Heidelberg and Muller Martini. In fact, most of these modules are limited to about 22 pages in thickness.

Another point to remember is that collectively, these are smaller systems geared primarily for medium- to high-quality production with quick and automated makeready. Most of these systems will produce booklets or perfect-bound product at the rate of 2,000 to 3,000 per hour.

Regardless, Vahaaj Kahn, product manager for digital print at Heidelberg-which officially unveiled the NexPress at Drupa- sees exponential growth in print on-demand for schoolbooks, legal updates or other print products that either change frequently (airline pilot reference manuals, for example) or that can benefit from customization. Heidelberg has been partnering with C.P. Bourg in developing collating and finishing options for its new line of high-end digital reprographic systems.

How are traditional trade binderies adapting to the digital world? They've heard the wake-up call. Realizing that the implementation of digital print is in many ways easier than becoming a "traditional" print shop, forward-thinking binderies are installing digital technology to provide a "one-stop shop" experience for their customer.

DeHart's Printing Services (Santa Clara, CA) is an example. This seven-person shop has an IBM InfoPrint 4000, three Xerox 6180s, a DocuTech 135 and a DocuColor 40, along with a Heidelberg Quickmaster DI. DeHart has a mix of cutting, scoring, folding, stitching and binding equipment from Challenge, C. P. Bourg, Rosback, Baum, Muller Martini and Roll Systems. All of these systems are designed to provide quick turnaround for a wide range of bindery services addressing the on-demand client.

At the heart of the on-demand unit is an IBM InfoPrint 4000, coupled with a Roll Systems BookMaster finishing system. The Book- Master unwinds a 17-inch paper web into the 4000, which prints an 81/2 x 11-inch signature two-up. On the back end, the roll is slit down the middle, each sheet is trimmed to finished size and book sets are offset for further finishing.

High-quality binderies are adapting to the digital print world as well. Bridgeport National Bindery is a library binder in Agawam, MA. Bridgeport has installed an on-demand binding unit targeted at digital printers seeking the best quality in binding. These are fully cased-in library-quality books, from 4 x 6 inches to 81/2 x 11 inches, bound using a cold PVA adhesive. The customer can also specify foil-stamping, laminating or Smyth sewing on these orders.

The binder's strategic location in western Massachusetts puts it at the hub of the scientific, medical and legal publishing market in the New York/New England area. Bridgeport's Kent Larson says that the on-demand binding unit has experienced double-digit growth in the past few years.

The unit handles orders from one book to a few thousand. (Currently, it produces about 1,700 books per day.) The workflow in Bridgeport's on-demand unit is structured to facilitate this fast turnaround on small orders. Documents are printed by the printer or publisher with the usual POD technology-Oce's PageStream printers, the Xerox DocuTech series and IBM's 4000 digital reprographics systems. The cold glue process necessitates a curing time of about four hours, but the results are outstanding.

ONE caveat The last iteration in the on-demand market is on-demand print-to-mail. Print-to-mail basically uses stored or real-time data to create personalized communications with recipients. The Internet has started to drive these applications.

The most sophisticated use is for data streaming in from websites to drive personalized communications. Servers residing in the mailing facility capture input information from the site. This drives digital printers, which create customized letters and marketing pieces. They are loaded into an inserting machine, which uses a CCD camera-based machine vision system to verify all of the personalized print pieces match each other. The camera system can also use the verified bar code information to instruct an inline inkjet printer to address the outer envelope with the matching address and additional personalization.

The one certainty about digital print and finishing is rapid growth, but with a caveat. It was hard to get a concrete sense of the size of these new on-demand markets at Drupa, or even to accurately define them. Like the Internet, FOD has potential for a great future, but the market specificity still isn't there.

There seems to be no derailing the on-demand express, however. All predictions point to continued and dramatic acceleration of digital print systems that will force finishing systems vendors to re-think what they will offer as solutions for the "back end" of these printers.

Likewise, binderies will have to be both nimble and highly creative in developing total solutions for the on-demand market. This market is, in effect, their immediate and high-growth sector. A lot of the "old bindery" thinking of price, quality or turnaround (pick any two) will have to be abandoned along the way.