What ahead for 2019

The pace of change and the challenges facing the printing industry have never been greater. And there’s not much doubt that 2019 will throw more challenges (and opportunities) at print. So, what are the critical trends impacting the finishing end? Here are some.

1.) Tougher Times for Vendors: On the one hand, the shift to digital print is creating new opportunities for finishing systems vendors. On the other hand, consolidation and the demise of many printers and binderies has created a glut of fairly new bindery machinery now “on the market.”

This has impacted the sale of new bindery systems, as potential buyers know that they can purchase “almost new” machinery at substantial discounts over new. Finishing systems manufacturers have had to incorporate new capabilities into their offerings to make them relevant and compelling in the digital print environment.

2.) The Need for Speed: Digital continuous inkjet presses (with few exceptions) have been limited to speeds between 400-500 feet-per-minute for a few years now. That’s going to change. The printer vendors that I talk to are saying that a jump to print speeds of 600-700 feet-per-minute (and more) is coming.

This will create a potential gap between the digital print and finishing systems. Much of what’s been offered in the digital finishing environment has been saddle-stitchers and perfect binders with short-run capability. But along with new features, the next generation of digital finishing machinery will simply have to run faster in order to be a better capacity match for higher-speed inkjet presses. And in running faster, finishing systems will have to employ higher quality (and more durable) components.

Sheet feeders, trimmers, motors, etc. will have to be more sophisticated and able to perform reliably at high speeds.

3.) The Labor Crisis Continues: Do you know anyone who’s planning on undergoing a bindery skills apprenticeship? I don’t. The lack of truly skilled bindery workers has reached almost crisis proportions. The “old hands” are just that, getting old and many are getting out. The new generation are used to high levels of automation in interacting with almost everything in their daily lives, so why not finishing?

Given the lack of traditional bindery skills, and the combination of short runs and high speed, automated workflows and makereadies are mandatory for digital finishing. And file-based makeready is even better. One of the major selling points of a digital press is the software, which completely automates the printing process. Operators can control every aspect of print quality, imposition, ink coverage and more through the printer GUI. More likely is that all of the necessary print instructions are contained in the print file.

This should apply equally to the finishing gear, as a file-based machine instruction set would go a long way toward eliminating errors in the digital bindery. There will always be a need for “tweaking” settings, and that’s where the skill set will still be needed.