by Brittany Willes, editor, PostPress
The printing industry has witnessed several changes over the last few decades. With the growth of print technology which allows jobs to run at higher volumes in faster periods of time, processes such as punching and perforating have evolved in order to better meet the needs of printers. Industry shifts have resulted in greater numbers of smaller print shops, shorter-run jobs and more entry-level employees. As a result of such changes, and with the advantage of new technologies, machines have become smaller and more user-friendly while delivering faster turnaround time.
Smaller shops, smaller machines
“When I first started in the industry, all of the machines were very large with all manual adjustments,” remarked Bob Cooke, general manager for Spiral Binding’s James Burn division headquartered in Totowa, New Jersey. “Because they were so big, they were pretty much permanently set in place. However, in the 1990s, the printing industry began to change.” This change was toward more versatile machines that were better suited for smaller print shops. According to Cooke, companies like Spiral Binding began “looking at making punching and perforating machines that were smaller and easier to set up. We also looked at putting machines on wheels since a lot of shops performing shorter runs were very close on space.”
In order for the printing process to become more efficient, especially for smaller shops, the technology had to change. Cooke went on to explain how the switch from all mechanical to electric machines allowed for more advanced, yet easier to use, equipment. “The switch to electric made it possible to move and work in much smaller areas, reducing the footprint of the machine,” stated Cooke. This was especially beneficial to smaller print shops that often didn’t have the ability to run the larger 220 3phase machines that had previously dominated the industry. “It’s not that we discontinued our bigger machines,” asserted Cooke. “What we’ve done is keep adding machines as the industry changes to meet certain customers’ demands. The shift toward electronics and digital technologies has made the biggest impact on us being able to make the changes to the equipment to meet demands of the industry.”
“Where I see our biggest growth is in our smaller automatic punches and finishing machines,” stated Cooke. The digital market has been driving the direction of smaller punching machines that allow companies to produce small runs more cost effectively. Customers no longer have to invest in large equipment in order to get something produced. “The technology and everything we’ve done since the early 90s has been about making the machines smaller in order meet the demands of where the printing industry is going,” he said.
Ease of set-up
As the industry shifted more toward smaller machines, it was necessary for machines to be made for quick set-up, in addition to being simpler to operate. Operators were no longer responsible for a single process; instead, they had to be able to move from machine to machine according to the needs of the current job. As shops perform shorter runs, each new job may be finished differently than the one previous. Advancing technology has made it easier to set up and operate the newer generations of punching and perforating machines and cut down on lost changeover time.
For instance, “In the past, an operator had to adjust the timing on a machine and make marks for the die placement. Now a few dials center the die to the paper and the timing is eliminated, making for much faster set-ups,” explained Jon Gasperini, vice president of North American sales for Data-Bind, headquartered in Enfield, Connecticut. As more print shops move from long runs to smaller digitally printed jobs, faster set-ups cut down on time lost between jobs.
“Another large time-saving improvement was the introduction by Renz of QSA (quick set-up) dies,” Gasperini continued. “Rather than having to remove a punching die from a machine and take it apart to remove an individual punch pin, now with the die still installed in the machine the operator can simply pull out a ‘cancellation’ pin to disengage that punch pin.” On average, this advance in punching technology can save printers up to half an hour for every changeover. Over time, this can add up to significant amounts of time saved and have a noteworthy effect on profits.
“Punching and binding usually are the last steps in a print job, and punching itself can be a major bottleneck when not done efficiently,” Gasperini remarked. “The difference can determine if a print job is profitable or not.” For example, a few years ago, 100 books wasted due to poor set-up quality could represent one percent of the whole job. Now, with shorter runs, the same amount of waste from poor set-up represents 10 percent. “On a larger scale, one can look at the digital photo industry. They have six weeks to produce a year’s worth of calendars, so every delay and downtime for set-up can have a substantial negative impact,” he explained. Therefore, making the set-up process easier for anyone to perform decreases the chances for profit-killing waste.
The push for machines with simpler set-up processes shows just how much digital printing has changed the industry. As Gasperini explained, once upon a time the companies with professional punching capabilities were trade binderies, converters and very select commercial printers. These companies represented approximately 90 percent of the market. “Today, the nature of digital printing is short-run and quick turnaround, so most shops are punching paper in some form or another. As a result, equipment manufacturers have adjusted their focus and now offer machines specifically designed for digital printers.” He went on to note that today’s machines must be easy to set-up due to the fact that, “where a trade bindery will have an operator who is an expert in punching, with twenty years of industry experience, the digital shop often will have entry-level employees running a machine.” Furthermore, punching equipment today also must be able to handle paper with static and curl, run collated sets and efficiently run tabs, all of which are very common in today’s digital printing environment.
“Today’s punching and perforating machines need to be more robust and capable of handling a larger range of applications,” agreed Johan Laurent, Standard Finishing System’s business operations manager. According to the Andover, Massachusetts-based distributor, “The latest generation of punching and perforating equipment is faster, more dynamic and easier to use.”
For example, Laurent described how the Hunkeler DP8 embodies Standards criteria for a dynamic punching and perforating machine. The DP8 “can be equipped with up to three cross-perforating cylinders and a punching tool for each side of the web and up to 16 vertical perforation wheels,” said Laurent. “Most importantly, perforating and punching patterns can be easily created, either in pre-press or using the touch panel. The user uploads an image of the job and draws the perforating lines or adds the punch holes before saving and uploading the pattern to the dynamic perforating and punching module.”
Flexibility and ease of use have a critical effect on a printer’s bottom line as customer requests become more complex. Laurent further stated, “Printers don’t know what designs their internal or external customers will challenge them with.” In order to meet those challenges as they arise, newer machines must be able to keep up with customer’s needs. “As the speed of inkjet printing systems increases, it is important that the dynamic perforating and punching modules stay ahead, to protect the investment,” he said.
While the overall mechanics of punching and perforating have not changed greatly, companies like Data-Bind, Spiral Binding and Standard Finishing have focused on making the process easier and faster with their technology advances.
The future of punching and perforating
While newer technologies clearly have made a positive impact on the industry, the popularity of digital devices such as Kindles, iPads and other e-readers have left many assessing the impact on printed materials. However, the panic over the death of print that was present a few years ago has abated. “I don’t see the decline today that we saw many years ago,” Cooke affirmed. “Instead, I see longer runs running on digital, rather than on conventional presses, with higher volumes of customized materials. There are certain customers that we visit and the biggest extent of their work is digital work.”
When it comes to punching and perforating, technology will only continue to improve the process. “It’s an exciting time to be on this side of the industry because there are many innovations coming in the near future,” Gasperini asserted. “Some are in development, and some are already being field tested – equipment add-ons like automatic feeders and counters, as well as simple automatic punch and bind combinations. The digital revolution that drove the first wave of changes to punching and binding machines, making the machines more simple to set up and operate, now is entering the second phase where these concepts will be automated.”
For Laurent and Standard Finishing, “In the future, we see a big opportunity for laser perforating and punching. These systems already exist, such as the Hunkeler HL6 laser perforating module, and will become more accessible as the technology matures. With lasers, there is no limitation in patterns – think small coupons, rounded perforation lines or even engraving and scoring. In addition, there will be no more need for mechanical tools, so these systems will be even easier to use.”
Whether digitally printed or conventionally produced on inkjet or offset machines, punching and perforating capabilities remain an important part of many material types, from coupons and tear sheets to booklets and mechanically bound projects.