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The Future of Digital Print Production is One Pass

April 2, 2010
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The Future of Digital Print Production is One Pass

Pete Basiliere, Gartner

Digital printing is a multi-step process but it doesn’t have to be. Some technology providers and innovative high volume transaction output users have developed “integrated digital printing” processes that reduce the number of production steps but few have what I refer to as a “one pass manufacturing” operation. High-volume book manufacturer CPI has done just that.

CPI’s Firmin-Didot facility recently unveiled its new and unique “Quantum” production system. Quantum literally takes paper rolls in at one end and delivers bound and shrink-wrapped books at the other end, all in one pass.

CPI is a French group of companies that was created in 1996, although its innovative lineage stretches back nearly three hundred years. The company employs 4,000 people and manufactures 500 million books a year. I recently visited the Firmin-Didot facility, which specializes in monochrome pocket books and literature, to see its implementation of the HP T300 digital inkjet web press.

Think about this for a moment – most digital presses are only one in a series of multiple steps required to produce the finished product. Typically a roll or sheetfed press prints the materials and may do some inline finishing. The output is then transferred to bindery equipment (folders, stitchers, mail inserters or book binding equipment). Once assembled the printed materials are then trayed or skidded and finally readied for shipment.

CPI, working with HP, Magnum and Muller-Martini, developed one large, self-contained system that literally takes a roll of blank paper in, duplex prints it, sheets the paper, creates the book block, perfect binds the book with a previously printed cover, bundles and shrink wraps the finished books. No hands touch the books until they have been transformed from a blank roll of paper into saleable products ready for shipping.

Each manufacturer’s piece of equipment is impressive in its own right. The HP T300 Inkjet Web Press prints 100 percent variable content at 400 feet/minute with offset quality. (Although the T300 is capable of full color duplex printing, CPI’s market is for books printed in black only so this press prints 1/1.) The Magnum unit provides flexible book block production and the Muller Martini equipment enables binding of varying book sizes and cover materials.

CPI offers its clients the ability to print “De 1 à 1 million de livres,” or “From 1 to 1 Million Books.” To demonstrate this capability, I received a personalized book produced by the Quantum. Naturally, the very long run books will continue to be printed offset on CPI’s 1,600 foot per minute Cameron belt presses. But consider this: in 2008 CPI produced 500 million books and in 2009 it also produced 500 million books – but with twice as many titles! To continue its industry leadership role, CPI plans to shift between 20 percent and 30 percent of its book production to digital inkjet printing and intends to purchase ten HP T300 presses over the next five years.

CPI’s market is changing dramatically, so low cost, flexible digital production is key to their future success. The Quantum system enables CPI to inkjet print with offset quality, eliminate separate production operations (and the attendant waste and delays), drive out labor costs, and meet market demands for shorter and shorter runs.

“One pass manufacturing” was the mantra when I was an engineering manager for NEBS, a multinational company now owned by Deluxe, that printed 100 to 1,000 piece offset, letterpress and flexo jobs for very small businesses. Today’s digital presses and bindery equipment enable equally short – and shorter – fully personalized printing. Take advantage of these technologies and work with multiple providers as necessary to create your own productive, low-cost “one pass manufacturing” systems.

About Pete Basiliere
Pete Basiliere is Imaging and Print Services research director at Gartner, providing research and advice on production printing systems and applications, including best practices, market strategies and technology trends. His latest research (Emerging Technology Analysis: Cloud Printing Services, Print or Electronic: Strategic Document Outsourcing Providers Offer Essential Services, and Toolkit: Production Printer Purchase Checklist) may be found at www.Gartner.com. He also writes this ongoing column “Pete’s Perspective,” covering high volume transaction output topics, at OutputLinks.