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Technology Focus

"In-Line" Becoming the "In" Thing

by Jeff Peterson

August-September, 2001
There is a trend that seems to be prevalent with machine manufacturers in the finishing industry, as well as the entire graphic arts industry. That trend is producing more product in-line, in one pass. What has caused this trend? The continued demand for shorter runs in faster turnaround times, all at lower prices, is the culprit. Information technology has not stifled the printing market, but it sure has changed it. Business want printed material produced quickly for very specific applications. A graphic arts business today, whether a printer or a finisher, must provide faster turnaround times at extremely competitive prices. How can this be done? Decreasing production time through technology is the first step. In many cases, this means decreasing the number of passes the product or sheet must go through a press or piece of equipment.

Printing

The trend towards accomplishing more and more in-line certainly began in the printing arena many years ago with the introduction of multiple station presses that can print many colors and coat the printed sheet all in-line. Printing presses today can now actually print a sheet 4-color process on both sides, add two or three PMS colors, and coat the sheet all in-line with a 10 or 12 head machine. Heidelberg has recently taken another step and is offering in-line die cutting on its Speedmaster SM 52. The new system is easy to set up and can be optionally fitted after the last printing unit utilizing an additional tower for the in-line finishing system. It utilizes a magnetic cylinder to hold the die cutting plate in place and can run at a maximum production speed of 15,000 sheets/hour. In-line cutting and punching, in-line scoring, and in-line perforation will all be able to be accomplished. "Heidelberg realizes the need for the flexibility in its machines to even further develop systems that customers can benefit from to keep overall costs to a minimum through reducing labor and production costs." commented Harry Wingruber, Product Manager, Speedmaster 52. Although perforation and scoring has been available in-line for a long time, this is the first time true intricate die cutting has been offered in-line on a sheet fed printing press.

Finishing

From a finishing standpoint, the increased use of rotary foil stamping and embossing, as well as other finishing techniques, on narrow-web flexographic applications is the ultimate in demonstrating how more products are being produced in-line with one pass. Through the innovations of foil saving technology and faster running foils, many label and small carton jobs can now be printed, coated, foil stamped, die cut, and scored all in-line at speeds never thought pssible. A magnificent example of this was recently highlighted in InsideFinishing's 2001 Rotary Hot Stamping Supplement. Utilizing an Aquaflex flexo press, Enhanceit Converting Inc. of Sturgeon Bay, WI, ran a carton for a Catfish Fusion called SpiderLine. The process to print and convert the carton included one pass of silver foil, 4-color process on four stations, three additional stations for PMS colors on specific cartons, a spot UV station, and an embossing station to emboss detail into the foil stamped spider. The process concluded with two stations that die cut the holes, scored, and die cut the perimeter of the final carton. The carton was produced from start to finish in-line with 12 different stations. Conventionally, it would have taken at least four different passes to produce the SpiderLine carton, if not more.

Another rotary web application that can potentially perform many processes in-line is the Gietz Rogo, a web foil stamping unit that has the capabilities of adding processing or converting steps, including sheeting, slitting, die cutting and stacking, to the existing stamping and embossing operation. Offered by Independent Machinery, Inc., the Rofo has the capabilities of decreasing as many as three or four passes for one product. "The focus on greater efficiencies has popularized the push for integrated systems," says Independent Machinery's Marketing Director and Regional Sales Manager, Joyce Porter. "Companies will not only become more competitive with pricing, but they also will be able to cut operating costs by reducing operator injuries and staffing requirements." Although printing is not able to be accomplished in-line with the Rofo as it is with narrow-web flexo, the advantage is the ability for web printers to run at optimum speeds before any of the converting processes are performed. This is especially beneficial for long-run applications that are gravure printed.

This type of innovative thinking has trickled down into more conventional finishing equipment as well. Iijima North America/Diversified Graphic Machinery has introduced the One Pass System that actually has two heads on one sheet-fed press. It provides the operator the ability to foil stamp and emboss, foil stamp and die cut, or run two passes of foil. What makes this possible is a unique tandem drive system that allows the two heads to run in timing together. It is also beneficial for registration purposes due to not having to re-register the job on a second pass through the press. "The One Pass System has been made possible through many years of Iijima engineering experience in this process," stated Diversified Graphic Machinery President, Michael DeBard. "This type of system can create new opportunities, decreasing the overall costs of foil stamping jobs by as much as 50 percent." The One Pass System is available in a 40" format and can run at 6,000 sph.

Thermo-O-Type has developed a machine for smaller applications that incorporates two imprint towers as well. The Twin Tower NSF allows two colors of overlapping foil to be applied in a single pass or various combinations of foil stamping, embossing, or die cutting. The Twin Tower can produce up to 12,000 impressions per hour and includes a high capacity feeder. Sheet size capacity is 12" x 12.25".

Folding/Gluing

Probably the area where the greatest number of innovations, as far as in-line, has taken place with finishing equipment is in the folding and gluing arena. Manufacturers have combined processes to save converters literally hours of set-up time and passes through the folding/gluing process. One such machine includes the Brausse Winfol, which can convert a large variety of boxes, including straight line, auto-bottom, CD jackets, 4-6 corner boxes, and more. In addition, the Winfol can apply a window patch in-line, eliminating the need for a separate window patching machine. It can run at speeds as fast as 10,000 sheets per hour for folding/gluing and window patching. The Moll Group has also developed a folder/gluer that can apply window patches in-line - the Moll Vantage 102. It is an economical way of producing a wide array of boxes, while placing a window on the carton at speeds of up to 30,000 per hour.

In addition to in-line window patching, Moll Group has worked closely with other manufacturers to provide customers the ability to add friction feeders or pick-n-place suction feeders to Moll folding/gluing equipment. Items such as CD Roms, credit cards, cosmetic sample packets and more can be placed in-line with the folding/gluing process. "Finishers can look at this as an entirely new potential market for business," stated Moll Regional Sales/Product Manager, Mark Fasano. "Companies can provide fulfillment and packaging services for CD's, credit cards, etc. without intensive hand-work at an economical cost."

Another folder/gluer developed by Bobst can save the number of passes on the machine as well. The Alpina Folder-gluer equipped with the revolutionary Gyrobox pivoting module can turn a blank up to 180 degrees without stopping. It can actually perform the job of a right-angle machine, but in-line, and in only one pass that usually requires two passes through the machine. The Alpina not only saves time on press and increases productivity, it also provides total flexibility in the creation of different types of cartons.

The world of printing and finishing is going through a transformation. The increasing demands for short-runs and quick turnaround times have created a market for printing and finishing processes to be done more efficiently and in a shorter time span. This basically translates to more steps to be accomplished in-line. If processes such as foil stamping, embossing and coating are going to thrive in today's graphic arts environment, companies must develop innovative ways to produce products more efficiently. Technology is moving in this direction. It is time for the graphic finishing industry to climb on board or be left off the train.