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Sep 1, 2004 12:00 AM
Barriers to innovation in the bindery have been slow to erode. Over the past few years, much of the resistance has been economic, a function of prevailing market climate, shrinking profit margins, anemic pricing, cash flow strangulation and lack of capital investment. Scarce investment dollars either were not being spent, or were being diverted to upgrade prepress and press operations.
Recent data suggests that the printing industry is on the rebound. According to NAPL (Paramus, NJ) economic data, a host of indicators — including work-on-hand and confidence — show that the economic upturn is real. Attendance at Drupa 2004 was respectable, with vendors reporting healthy sales in most categories. While reorientation and consolidation among printers and their suppliers have taken their toll, the result has been a leaner, more efficient and future-focused industry.
With positive signals on the horizon, it is time for our industry to break out of its holding pattern. Printers must ask themselves: What will it take to stay competitive? What kind of equipment do we need? When do we need it?
The question for printers is not whether they should invest but whether they can afford not to upgrade. Printers should be researching strategic capital investments that will prepare their businesses for the pending economic recovery. This is especially urgent in the postpress arena, where technological innovation and capital investment priorities traditionally have lagged behind the pressroom and prepress departments.
The newest generation of bindery equipment is highly automated and flexible, featuring central operating control, faster makereadies and more consistent production, including remote production control and compatibility with both digital and offset printing equipment. Ergonomic features promote safety and reduce repetitive stress and strain. The right equipment can sharpen a firm's competitive edge by increasing throughput, reducing the waste and enabling the redeployment of bindery manpower. Shrewd choices can lower an operation's unit costs and improve a company's ROI.
Where a gap once existed between the end of the press and the finishing processes, a new chasm has developed between old-style bindery functions characterized by extended makereadies, operator error/fatigue and inflexible “dedicated” equipment, and more streamlined operations defined by modularity, high-speed automation and computer control.
Wear-and-tear is something of a red herring for postpress capital investments. But the longevity of heavy-duty bindery equipment may no longer be an asset if it deters a printer from pursuing a much-needed upgrade. Consider the following:
Depending on their age, older machines may be only partly automated, or not at all.
The good news is that most postpress equipment lends itself to CIP4-PPF/JDF presets. The bad news is that many older machines cannot be retrofitted.
A leaner industry has shifted its attention from price to cost and is coming to terms with the demand for shorter runs at higher volumes. Older machinery takes longer to set up, runs more slowly and requires more operator adjustment — all of which represent a drain on time, manpower and other resources.
Installing sophisticated, capable solutions now will preserve a printer's ability to negotiate the technological curve.
By making bindery equipment that is intelligent and easier to operate, postpress vendors are answering the industry's need to achieve gains in these areas. But the widespread implementation of integrated products and solutions will depend largely on printers' readiness to retool and upgrade as necessary.
Larry Tanowitz is senior vice president — postpress for Heidelberg USA. Contact him at Larry.Tanowitz@heidelberg.com.