The Future of Finishing: The Evolution of Print – and Printed Products – Demands a New Finishing Paradigm

by Andy Fetherman, vice president of sales and technology, Muller Martini Corp.
The Presto II Digital enables printers to saddlestitch personalized and hybrid products, both conventional and digital inline.

Nearly six centuries ago, German Johannes Gutenberg invented the first printing press. Many point to this development as the beginning of manufacturing, since inventors began looking for new ways to make production more consistent and faster. Yet, the concept of streamlined processes didn’t get the attention of most industries until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1760s. Today, the manufacturing process continues to evolve.

Many futurists believe we are now experiencing a “post-information” revolution. Coined “Industry 4.0” or the “Internet of Things (IoT),” it is considered the next phase in the manufacturing process. At its essence, IoT is about connecting any device with an on/off switch, including machine components, to the internet, as well as to each other. The result? A digitized manufacturing process that communicates and deciphers data to achieve intelligent decision-making. What’s driving the Internet of Things?

  • Rapid increases in the ability to create and store data
  • Significantly greater computer power and connectivity
  • Advancements in how humans interact with machines, such as touchless interfaces and barcode readers

Concurrently, game-changing advancements in the graphic arts industry, such as inkjet technology and digital print manufacturing, have produced an extraordinarily complex finishing process. Today, not only are customers demanding both long and short runs, including runs of one, but they also are seeking high levels of personalization and customization for their products. So, the challenge facing finishing manufacturers is simply this: to provide printers with leading-edge solutions that feature the systems, machines and software that welcome, accommodate and exploit the Internet of Things.

Today, finishing operations – whether through a trade bindery or finisher, or within the printing operation – must embrace IoT and understand it will continue to become an important part of manufacturing and the printing/finishing world. Muller Martini’s manufacturing philosophy, trademarked Finishing 4.0, features five precepts that not only represent the future of finishing but also are integral to the design and engineering of a finishing manufacturer’s portfolio.

  1. Automation. Although automatic control of machine processes dates to the 1940s, the emergence of barcode readers in 1974 truly legitimized this advancement. And today’s increased demand for variability dictates that highly intelligent automation be present within every phase of the printing process.
  2. Interconnectivity. Barcodes embedded on the product during the prepress imposition process provide linkage throughout the entire production line. Not only does this help streamline (and greatly lessen) makeready, automate processes and eliminate human error, but interconnectivity provides actionable, real-time data for on-the-fly decision-making.
  3. Variability. A variable world requires efficient production and finishing of variable end products, independent of their thickness, format, content or trim and run size. Likewise, content integrity and validation from book to book to book is a crucial component.
  4. Touchless workflow. Requiring a high degree of interconnectivity, a barcode-enabled touchless workflow facilitates uninterrupted print finishing with little or no manual intervention, thereby reducing labor and waste.
  5. Hybrid systems. The processing of both offset and digitally printed products on the same machine – either separately or concurrently – necessitates scalable systems that are engineered to expand as your business evolves and grows. Hybrid finishing solutions not only provide commonality in quality but optimal production efficiencies. In addition, they offer significant investment protection, allowing you to add features and functions as digital and hybrid opportunities increase.

To successfully compete in today’s – and tomorrow’s – variable world, binderies/finishers and printers must embrace forward-thinking finishing solutions that efficiently and expeditiously accommodate offset, digital and hybrid printed products. Operations must be designed to embrace these challenges with end-to-end workflow from file to finished product that achieves the greatest quality – and even greater efficiencies. These efficiencies include reduced makeready and manpower, less waste and faster speed to market, all while significantly improving the experience of the product’s end user.

At the end of the day, the future is all about ultra-efficient finishing – and enhanced profit potential. So be sure to consider these five pillars – automation, interconnectivity, variability, touchless workflow and hybrid systems – when you choose your finishing partner. And be extra sure they are as committed to growing your business as you are.

Andy Fetherman has more than 30 years of experience within the graphic arts industry, beginning his career in 1986. He joined Muller Martini in 1994 as product manager in the Press Division. For the past 15 years, he has been spearheading the development of digital finishing systems for print providers worldwide.