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Short-Run Finishing Technology More Important Than Ever

by Staff

August-September, 2011
Shorter runs for all types of printing continue to be the trend. Even applications for 40" large format work have dropped in number. With this, the importance of having equipment and tools to decrease changeover time from one job to the next is more crucial than ever. Old equipment that takes literally hours to makeready and set-up eats all of the profit in a short-run job before it even begins, whether on a platen diecutting/foil stamping press or a folder-gluer. Higher run lengths and a better economic market allowed companies to “get by” with old technology for large sheet finishing work. Today, a competitive marketplace, along with decreasing run lengths, dictates that the equipment, technology and tooling are up-to-date to allow operators to set-up jobs in minutes rather than hours.

Flexibility is one way to stay competitive. The Bobst Commercial 106 provides that accomodation with the ability to cut a wide range of materials and sheet sizes. It offers a flexible way to diecut, crease, kiss-cut, score, perforate, emboss and deboss with accuracy. The Bobst Commercial 106 also has the capability to register sheets from both sides, and the equipment includes a Centerline® system and integrated Quick Lock tool positioning system, for faster changeovers and precision adjustment. The Bobst VISIONFoil also provides flexibility with the versatility to convert to a flat-bed diecutter with stripping station, an important feature for finishing operations today. The VisionFoil also includes the SPEEDCHASE option that pre-positions and permanently locks up the stamping dies. This is an excellent alternative for repeat stamping and embossing jobs and can be an important time-saving option when run lengths are shorter.

When it comes to folding/gluing, flexibility is a must to maintain profitability on a short-run job. The Bobst VisionFold has the ability to changeover to create straight line, crash lock and 4/6 corner boxes, and also can easily convert to traditional products, such as pocket folders, CD envelopes and table tents. Makeready time is short since 98 percent of the tooling stays on the machine, while the ergonomic machine design and wireless remote control offer easy access and operation. In addition, the C.U.B.E. 3 (machine computer with color touch screen) interfaces with all quality assurance systems to eject non-conforming boxes without stopping production – an essential option when running short-run applications.

With run lengths continuing to fall, cutting set-up and makeready time can be an even more important priority than absolute run speed of the press. Heidelberg offers a great solution for short-run applications with its Varimatrix 105-CS – a high performance diecutter in a compact package. With a maximum sheet size capacity of 29.5x41" and the flexibility to handle a variety of stocks, the 105-CS is equipped with plates for quick makeready of repeat jobs, as well as quick lock-up tooling in the stripping station. Foil stamping also is a potential addition to the Varimatrix with the 105-CSF. This flexible press includes 12 heating zones in the upper platen to easily adjust the heat for multiple webs of foil. It also can be quickly and easily converted from foil stamping to diecutting with full stripping. The Varimatrix is equipped with a chase changing unit so there is no lifting of heavy honeycomb chases, making changeovers easy to accomplish with one operator.

For even smaller sheet sizes, Heidelberg offers the Kama ProCut 74, providing all of the precision of a larger diecutter with exceptionally fast changeover time due to the smaller platen surface. It also is ideal for diecutting digitally printed sheets, handling a minimum size of 8.25x11". This is a perfect choice for short-run applications when no stripping capabilities are required. Heidelberg also offers a flexible solution for folding/gluing with the Kama Profold and Easygluer. The Kama Profold is a perfect solution for pocket folders, brochures, CD wallets, etc., and can be equipped with a tipping device to add leaflets or similar items in-line to the finished product. The Easygluer is a more conventional folder-gluer that is focused on short-run packaging solutions, although it also can run pocket folders, CD wallets and other items efficiently.

One of the biggest challenges on a platen foil stamping press is achieving efficient coverage on a medium- to large-sized solid area of foil. The makeready time can take hours. For shorter runs, this can be devastating. The Iijima “M” series high-speed foil stamping press offers a unique Dynamic Sheet Travel System with an inherent dwell built in that is helpful for stamping large foil coverage areas. It also includes a Jet-to-Jet Air Blast System that assists in detaching the foil roll from the sheet as the foil is applied. Another key feature is the bi-directional foil drive system that allows the foil to travel with or against the sheet, providing flexibility for the operator and helping to achieve faster run speeds and shorter makeready times.

The line of Signature folder-gluers offered through American International Machinery is built with short-run applications in mind. The high-performance feeder system on the Signature requires no tools for actual set-up, utilizing integrated components to quickly and efficiently improve makeready times and reduce set-ups. In addition, the Signature includes convenient operator stations strategically located to allow quicker makereadies and enabling the operator easy access to settings, speeds, etc. Complete back-fold data is supplied at one station via a color LCD touch-screen that is used for programming, storing up to 99 different jobs into memory for easy recall and saving hours of set-up and makeready on repeat jobs.

It is apparent to everyone in the graphic arts industry that digitally printed materials will continue to be the fastest growing segment of the industry, and a large portion of this digitally printed work will be shorter runs. Having specific finishing/decorating equipment to accommodate this growth will be important as this segment expands. The NSF Elite, manufactured by Therm-O-Type, is formatted to handle digital output and has a unique combination of features that make it ideal for this type of work. The Elite can step and repeat up to eight different positions on each sheet and has the ability to pre-register foil stamping, embossing and diecutting dies. The computer control system stores and recalls paper advance, jam detect and foil draw program information, allowing the operator to use less expensive tooling with very fast job set-up to efficiently run digital small quantity orders, typically with little or no waste. While the NSF Elite can handle small quantity orders efficiently, it also can run up to 5,500iph using traditional tooling for larger quantity orders.

In addition to technology that is built into finishing equipment, there also are off-line tools in the marketplace to decrease set-up time between jobs. The Die Co-Ordinator, manufactured by Insight Graphics and distributed by Diversified Graphic Machinery in North America, utilizes a digital pdf or digital scan of the printed sheet to position dies off-press on the chase. The Die Co-Ordinator compensates automatically for heat expansion of both the honeycomb and dies. Reducing all of the potential sources of error, combined with accurate, repeatable positioning, makes practical off-press registration achievable and dies rarely need to be adjusted on press. This can save the operator hours of set-up time on a multi-die job and can make a huge difference in the profit of a job, especially on short-runs.

The key to the future for both printing and finishing will be up-to-date technology to accommodate quick changeover and makeready while maintaining high-quality output. Old technology and old equipment will not suffice in this ever-changing environment. Printers, finishers, folding carton manufacturers and others must invest in technology, such as those overviewed in this article, to stay competitive in the future. Those who choose not to will continue to struggle to maintain appropriate margins as jobs become shorter and run less time on press.