Steps to Efficient Post-Press


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Steps to Efficient Post-Press
Know your customers’ needs today and the future

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

When it comes to finishing, the balance between sheet-fed offset or digital presses has to be weighed to ensure optimum throughput. Knowing this, I was not expecting die-cutters and gluer-folders to keep up with some of the fastest offset presses on the planet. To learn more, I sat down with Tom Fitzgerald, Director of Post-Press products at Koenig & Bauer, a company noted for presses that can run up to 20,000 sheets per hour. I asked if the finishing equipment could keep up: after all, productivity and throughput are at stake. Fitzgerald told me the rule of thumb is to have two die-cutters and folder-gluers for each press. But the rule does not always apply to K&B’s post-press systems.

Enough of the backstory.

Post-press machines on the move
Die-cutters and folder-gluers are vital because no one buys a stack of multiple-up folding carton sheets. And while digital print has its place in the folding carton world, most large print providers are still producing hundreds of thousands of completed cartons every day on conventional offset machines. Cartons need to be cut out of every sheet and still be folded and glued so a product can be inserted, and the finished item shipped to big-box stores and consumers across America and a few dozen other nations. This is what big offset presses and high-speed post-press equipment do really well.

Fitzgerald talked about K&B die-cutters and folder-gluers that keep pace with the company’s Rapida 106 mid-size presses that use advanced software and digital controls to run thousands of sheets per hour. K&B’s gluers and die-cutters are designed to be offline or nearline devices. This makes sense because, in most cases there is no reason for a direct connection to a press. Moreover, gluers and die-cutters require different operator skills than an offset press operator. This makes it more efficient for post-press machines to be run by specialized operators. No surprises here: printing and post-press are separate departments in most print shops.

The sheer speed of these machines is impressive, but I wondered about setup time. As it turns out, a K&B CutPRO Q 106 SB flatbed die-cutter can be ready to go in 10 minutes, compared with 30 minutes on some competing devices. This can be important to productivity. At 9,000 sheets per hour those 20 minutes translate into about 3,000 sheets passing through the die-cutter. Doing that three times a day is an extra hour of productivity or time you may be able to put to better use. Do the math for your shop. Fitzgerald also told me about K&B’s rotary cutters, like the CutPRO X 106, that can handle 15,000 sheets per hour while embossing, creasing, die-cutting, stripping and blanking.

Faster folding and gluing
Imagine folding and gluing 3,000 pieces by hand. That’s what one printer had to do to get a job out the door. The equipment they had was not large enough to be folded and glued automatically. After the job shipped, some basic research and with K&B listening to the customer, a 145-sized gluer was a better option than the 110 model the company was considering. With the versatility of the 145 they could still fold the smallest carton they produced as well as the 56” carton that was folded by hand. It would be a total win for the customer.

Folder-gluers also address the need for speed. There is a range of these devices—the Omega Alius, Allpro and Intro—all based on size and capabilities, that use touchscreen enabled software to drive automatic set-up processes based on an engineered drawing of a folding carton or corrugated box. The various parts of the machine move into position as the machine is readied for the next run of cartons or corrugated containers. This lets a folder-gluer be set up while a die-cutter or press is running, further minimizing downtime between the stages of each job. Furthermore, many post-printing devices can scale from small cartons and boxes to larger ones.

OK, there is plenty going on behind the scenes to make this happen but much of it is just business as usual for a folding carton or box printer. This is a place where a sales rep must understand what a printer does today and any future plans for his/her business. “The sales process for modern presses, die-cutters and folder-gluers has become far more consultative than it once was,” noted Fitzgerald. “It’s critical to listen to the customer, understand where they are today and the vision of where they want to go. That knowledge lets you offer more solutions, more capabilities, not just selling a product or service, but selling your company and the value your company offers the customer,” says Fitzgerald. This line of thinking works for both a press maker and a print provider.

“Sometimes you have to buy equipment for jobs you don’t have yet,” he adds. For example, if a customer is making folding cartons for a pharmaceutical company, does the equipment s/he is considering have the capability to do a full range of folding cartons the pharma company needs? Some containers may be just 3 x 6 inches. Others might be 8 x 14 inches or larger. Can that capability also used for companies that need larger cartons? Perhaps an expresso machine? Maybe a bottle of single malt? If the equipment selected can’t accommodate the range of sizes in the customer’s vision. then the printer is going to invest in equipment that cannot do all that is needed. Few print providers are solely focused on a single market. They must do the research needed to define their markets in terms of what capabilities they can or should provide to potential customers. This is where listening to print providers can be vital. Likewise, print providers should ask smart questions of their customers.

Fitzgerald also urges print providers to ask their equipment vendors questions. “Talk with the vendors you use, no matter which firms you work with. They have seen everything and are happy to tell about it. You never know what they’ll have to say. You’ll probably learn something you can use, either now or later.”

Still, some things just need to be seen. Fitzgerald related a trip with a prospect to visit a K&B installation. The prospect insisted he only bought equipment from one company and that Fitzgerald had a tough job to convince him otherwise. Then the prospect saw how versatile the equipment was and allowed jobs to be run in a single pass with far more productivity than the equipment he was using. The post press technology and ease of operation, productivity and efficiencies changed their mind.

Versatility matters
Searching online, I found that about thirty of the world’s top packaging printers run Koenig & Bauer presses. Some of these customers started asking for more with the result that company’s post-press machines are driven by customer demand to have machines that could match the performance of the company’s offset presses.

Aside from the speed, what makes all these devices stand out to me is the versatility they offer for packaging, labels, and commercial printing applications. Time is always money and being able to handle multiple applications on one press and on a single line of post-press equipment—without sacrificing throughput—provides a significant advantage in the increasingly competitive world of print.

The devices I’ve talked about here are among the highest performance post-press machines K&B offers so pick the one that is best for your needs. As you do this, though, look ahead to what you could do if you select a machine that does more than you need today. This way when your lead sales rep scores a big win with that major account you’ve always wanted you already have the technology in house to do all they want— and maybe even more.
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