Put the Finishing Touches on Print Sales
Post-press operations ensure that solutions suit applications to a "T."
Print suppliers looking to add unique perfing and other finishing capabilities often come to New Richmond, Ohio-based Graphics Equipment to make it happen. With backgrounds in engineering and packaging equipment design, partners Mark Martin and Rick Rectin specialize in out-of-the-ordinary solutions for printers across the United States, Europe, South America and Asia.
At one time, all of Graphics Equipment's business came from the printing industry. Today, only one-third of it does, although orders have increased within the last 18 months. Still, the message to distributors is that different manufacturers offer different finishing options, which can take design efficiency and customer satisfaction to a whole new level.
Form and Function
Martin defined offline post-press processing as perforating, scoring, punching, diecutting, sheeting or any other mechanical treatment of the web done outside of an integrated manufacturing line. "Print manufacturers utilize offline machinery to either augment their press capabilities or, in the case of digital printers, provide all of the processing required for the job," he said.
Often, business form and check designs contain perforations that were not provided for when the perf cylinder was made. For instance, Martin explained that checks are typically 31⁄2˝ in depth, but they can also be 35⁄8˝ or 32⁄3˝. Although a press may have a position to do perforations, a single cylinder may not have a position to accommodate atypical specs. In this case, Graphics Equipment has made special adapters to work with its quick-change gibs, allowing manufacturers to, for instance, move a 31⁄2˝ position to a 35⁄8˝ position.
He went on to say that sometimes forms manufacturers choose to go offline with processes that are too limited in scope or too expensive to include on several presses. "One customer I have produces a 3.4˝ gift certificate on a 17˝ press," Martin added. "Rather than installing a custom perf cylinder on his press, he chose to purchase an offline servo perforator [with a highly controllable, computer-driven motor] that can be used for multiple applications. Instead of a costly and limited mechanical modification to a press for one job, it's more prudent to invest in a little machine that will do that particular job, as well as others."
Martin pointed out that even though there are hundreds of products available in standard sizes and designs, manufacturers and end-users may go with an odd size or non-standard features as a strategy to gain a market advantage. The customer with the 3.4˝ gift certificate, for example, is someone who wanted to lock up future orders for the product. "The original manufacturer made it an odd size and probably invested in a special perforation cylinder to do it, knowing that others wouldn't have this capability," he said.
Martin also noted that pack-to-pack printers often process their paper into the format of a continuous business form well in advance of running a particular job. "If that job requires a special perforation or file hole pattern, it will have to be run offline," Martin commented. "Offline processing is much more common in pack-to-pack forms production than it is in roll forms production."
Unlike the processing options available on web offset printing presses that enable most jobs to be processed inline, Martin observed that digital presses often don't contain any integrated processing. "Here, all mechanical treatments of the web are done by offline machines linked either electronically or by web-sensing devises, particularly for on-demand printing."
Facts of the Matter
While post-press processing may be handled differently in various manufacturing environments, all suppliers remain dependent upon distributors to communicate accurate job specs.
Speaking on behalf of the production and estimating group at Illinois-based Chicago Tag & Label, Marketing Manager Judy Jacobs noted that although finishing options are a necessary part of a product's design and function, they also add value when the application is taken into consideration. "Distributors are becoming much more diligent in gathering information about their customers' needs and communicating it to us," she said. "We'll partner with distributors and go with them to meet with the customers to evaluate their processes. We can then determine what options are available and design the best possible solution to meet the application."
Manufacturers can also suggest questions to ask customers to ensure an effective application. "For instance," offered Jacobs, "find out if the product will be bursted by hand or by machine so that the correct perforation is used. With tags, ask whether the entire piece needs to be reinforced or if a patch will work. Chicago Tag & Label offers a reinforced patch that's done inline and provides superior reinforcement where it is needed."
With advances in technology, she also recommended checking with manufacturers to determine if the options requested are done inline or offline. Said Jacobs, "Chicago Tag & Label is now capable of performing many of these options inline, such as mixing multiple materials on one liner."
According to Donna Grounds, vice president of distributor sales at The Flesh Company, Parsons, Kan., a manufacturer's ability to do more of the work inline is cost-effective. "Having to go offline for finishing processes increases the costs of manufacturing the piece," she said. "However, sometimes the actual design itself, rather than the manufacturer's capabilities, dictates an offline process."
Grounds also reiterated the importance of thoroughly communicating end-users' needs to the manufacturer and being as specific as possible to avoid confusion. Distributors must be sure to give accurate specs, even in the quote process. "Some distributors are very knowledgeable when it comes to product design," she said. "Although including perfs on a product is fairly straightforward, a distributor new to the process may have to rely on our expertise to offer suggestions, and we are always happy to help."
By Maggie DeWitt