Finishing First: Changing Mindsets to Ensure Greater ROI

by Lance Martin, vice president of national accounts, MBO America

One of the things that end users can do for themselves is to think about finishing first. The printing part of the process is undeniably sexy – the vivid colors are beautiful and watching the print process is just cool – but as finishers like to say, you can’t sell a roll or a sheet until you actually do something to make it into what you want.

Having the mindset of “finishing first” will enable businesses to capitalize on greater return on investment (ROI) while making sure they are best able to serve their customers. Many times, the end user will go down the path of the press without fully considering the job they are doing or how that job will be finished. This often results in missed ROI opportunities and is not an infrequent occurrence. It’s partially a flexibility issue, and making sure end users educate themselves properly in the buying process is one of the most important things they can do. You have to go outside the box when you look at finishing.

From afterthought to forethought

Flexibility and education are key issues in today’s fast-paced and ever-evolving market. End users run the risk of putting themselves in a box – and out of business – when they fall into the rut of producing products in certain ways without opening themselves up to new ideas and new ways of doing things. Education can play a significant role in helping to avoid such instances, and it can begin with something as simple as learning to ask the right questions. If end users just ask more open and general questions of their suppliers, they might get different answers from a finishing expert than they would from non-experts. That can make all the difference.

Current end users are not the only ones we would like to see increasing their knowledge about the finishing side of the equation. Today’s college training programs are not typically geared toward finishing and focus more on the printing side. So, a great way to educate young people is for suppliers of finishing and binding equipment and supplies to get involved with local and regional colleges and technology schools. With this type of outreach, companies can get an idea of what’s going on, what students are learning about the industry and what that will mean for the printing/finishing business in the future. It is going to be very important to get programs like this in the education system involved with the finishing/binding side of graphic arts to help grow and educate the industry.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy, however. Many of those in the industry currently come from an environment that has long been characterized by self-maintenance and self-training. It’s still an offset world, and there are a lot of conventional printers out there. As a result, we have to do things differently than we used to. We’ve had to change to keep up with the times. Part of keeping up involves initiating new training programs.

Training programs that are closely tailored to the hands-on finishing experience are the most effective. When working with a customer, it is recommended that operators have the opportunity to work on the new equipment first-hand in a training facility or showroom. This will provide the best environment for pre-installation training, where operators can set up a few jobs with educated trainers to help.

This is especially useful for facilities looking to move from offset to the digital world since digital is a very different animal. You have to do things differently, so approaching customers differently is the best answer. The more flexibility you can build into the system, the more you can do what your customer needs you to do.

One size does not fit all

When flexibility is not built in, businesses have little choice but to drive their customers to existing solutions, which may or may not be the best fit for all customers. In my experience, the most successful businesses do it the other way around. Thriving businesses not only ask what the customer needs to be successful, they also are able to produce it for the customer. Relying on this premise, offering finishing/binding systems that are built to provide customers not just with what they need now, but also with the ability to change as the industry changes, is of utmost importance.

Building flexibility into a finishing system means decreasing the number of times pieces need to be touched during the finishing process. Fewer touches means fewer opportunities for error. In the old offset world, you would print the piece and sheet it, then take the sheet over to X unit to perform one function before going to another unit to do the next thing. Given the increase in customer demand for short lead times and cost reductions typical of digital inkjet printing and finishing, that approach is just not practical anymore. You have to touch the piece as little as possible.

The pressure to increase efficiency and reduce costs can be a compelling argument for printing and finishing in one pass wherever possible, especially where finishing requirements are relatively simple and straightforward. However, problems can arise when you put a series of complex finishing processes inline with a press that is able to run at 95 percent efficiency and above. In that case, what you’ve actually done is reduced the efficiency of the entire system by increasing the chance for error due to makeready delays, jams and other issues.

For example, if your finishing system applies glue, folds the piece four times, adds a Post-it note to the outside and then perforates and folds it over into a direct mail piece, the chance of something going wrong increases greatly. The resulting shutdown and cleanup – even if it takes only a few minutes – can dramatically reduce both productivity and profit.

That’s when you do the math and realize you’ve just taken a $2 million production inkjet web capable of running at peak efficiency and turned it into a 70 percent production machine. Given the dynamic nature and progression of inkjet technologies, therefore, printers are often well-advised to choose fast, efficient offline finishing systems to complement their high-speed production inkjet webs.

When considering a finishing system, printers and finishers owe it to themselves to ask questions. How flexible is the equipment relative to the demands of the market? Can it be adapted to meet those demands if the printer’s product mix changes? Can it handle a wide range of substrates and formats? Questions like these are why MBO takes a modular approach to finishing, where every digital finishing unit is compatible with any other unit. This means that finishers can add onto existing systems as requirements change and new opportunities come along. Each unit rolls quickly and conveniently into or out of a given system so a finisher can reconfigure his finishing system at a moment’s notice.

Finishing first

In either an inline or offline finishing environment, the need for a skilled finishing operator cannot be overstated. When the finishing process is simple (incorporating few or no extra functions), all the finishing operator may need to know is how to cut a sheet. On the other hand, when the finishing process is more complex, as in the example above, an operator must learn both how to print and how to be a good finisher. However, the talent pool for finishers is not especially large, and it can be difficult to find knowledgeable, experienced operators. Among other things, the “finishing first” mindset requires a practical understanding that finishing is not a matter of simply pushing a button and being able to guarantee that a beautiful, complex piece comes out the other end.

Again, this is where training programs come into play. Providing customers with the opportunity to train on new machines – even before those machines have been installed in their individual facilities – and encouraging end users to educate themselves in the buying process, are necessary steps toward encouraging a shift in mindset whereby finishing becomes a primary consideration instead of an afterthought.

As noted earlier, quality finishing requires thinking outside the box. Printers and finishers have to do things very differently now. Conventional practitioners already know what it means to go from prepress to the final product. As the industry has evolved, however, printers and finishers have had to change their mindsets and learn how to incorporate more flexibility into their systems to achieve greater efficiency.

Lance Martin is the vice president of national accounts for MBO America. MBO America, Marlton, New Jersey, offers a broad array of cutting-edge, high-performance finishing solutions for conventional, digital and hybrid print operations and fulfills specialized needs upon request for pharmaceutical, commercial finishing, packaging, diecutting and digital finishing sectors in the Americas. From intricate folds and diecuts to niche packaging with special standards, MBO gives printers the edge over the competition with next-generation achievements in digital finishing, high-speed systems and workflow flexibility. For more information, visit> or call 800.336.1164.