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Thinking Inside the Box: Maximizing Finishing Productivity

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  • Thinking Inside the Box: Maximizing Finishing Productivity

    By Richard Romano, Industry Analyst

    It’s no secret that each year sees more and more offset work migrating to digital, a technology transfer driven largely by a decline in run lengths. While today’s digital presses can productively handle these short runs (however you want to define “short run”), the bottleneck has historically been in the finishing stage. For much of the past 15 years, the lack of finishing equipment that was compatible with digital presses was a common lament. This isn’t so much the case any longer, but today the key issue isn’t the dearth of digital finishing capabilities, but rather the ability to efficiently finish these short-run jobs, particularly if they involve multiple finishing processes. In order to be productive–and therefore profitable–print service providers need to maximize finishing productivity. One way of doing this is by means of what we might call “inside the box thinking”: how many finishing processes can be combined into a single machine, or, that is, a single box?

    Take as an example 8½ x 11-inch coupon sheets, printed two-up on 12 x 18-inch sheets. They consist of multiple tear-off coupons, and they’re printed full-bleed. In a traditional finishing process, you’d need to set up a perforator to make the perforations in one direction, then flip the sheets 90 degrees, and reset the perforator to make the perfs in the other direction. Then you’d send the stack to a guillotine cutter where you’d need to make more than half a dozen cuts to get your final trimmed sheets. You can see how inefficient this can be.

    To address the types of jobs that require multiple finishing processes, Standard Finishing recently introduced the Horizon SmartSlitter, an all-in-one machine that was previewed last fall at Graph Expo and is now available.

    “We recognized a pent-up demand in the marketplace for a system capable of processing offset or digitally cut print output into smaller-sized finished products in an automated manner,” said Bob Flinn, Director of Business Development for Standard Finishing Systems. “The SmartSlitter fits that bill.”

    Here are the machine’s capabilities. In the direction of feed (it’s a short-edge feed machine), the SmartSlitter can do edge trimming, slitting, gutter cutting, perforating, skip perforating, and rotary scoring. Across the direction of feed, it can do cutting, gutter cutting, creasing (up or down), perforating, and partial perforating. It can do both the direction-of-feed and the cross-processing simultaneously. It can handle sheet sizes up to 14.25 x 26.5 inches and is thus compatible with the maximum cut sheet output of digital presses such as the Xerox iGen and the HP Indigo 5000 and 7000. It can accept up to 20-pt. stock, which makes it well-suited for business cards and invitations, as well as inserts, coupon sheets, greeting cards, and many other applications.

    As for speed–and thus overall productivity–it will be a function of how many processes the machine is doing, but, said Flinn, “for two cuts in the direction of feed, creasing, and edge-trimming, it’s going to be in the range of 55 sheets per minute. If you’re doing business cards 21-up on a sheet, it can produce 14,000 business cards an hour.”

    The ability to do skip perforating in the direction of feed and partial perforating across the direction of feed means it can add L perfs–which, on a direct mail piece, will let you incorporate a tear-out business reply card or postcard–and T perfs, which allow you to print multiple coupons on a sheet.

    In terms of set up, a new job can be configured in three to five minutes, and the system can store up to 200 jobs in memory. The SmartSlitter can also accept JDF data for automated set-up, through an optional PC and software package. The SmartSlitter can also read a bar code that can recall a job from memory or pull JDF data from the front end for automatic set up. The machine also has a registration section that will automatically scan registration marks from sheet to sheet to adjust the tooling if the image has shifted on either the x or y axis.

    One advantage of what could be considered the “Swiss Army Knife” of finishing equipment is that it combines, in one box, technologies from Standard’s standalone units. “We’re taking the proven, reliable technology from previous systems and using that base to design a new machine that incorporates multiple processes into one machine with high degrees of automation and reliability,” said Flinn.

    As press speeds get faster, and as more short-run jobs migrate to digital, the final frontier for maximizing production efficiency is the finishing department–and new systems are emerging to conquer this challenge. And for some, it involves thinking inside the box.
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