The digital journey.
Muller Martini joins a distinguished industry panel to discuss what’s happening in digital book manufacturing...and what’s ahead.
Held during the recent Hunkeler Innovation Days in Lucerne, Switzerland, the Interquest Digital Book Printing Forum presented a Q&A session whereby a panel of print and finishing executives fielded questions from a global audience of publishers, printers, and other industry influencers. The panel included Andy Fetherman, Division Manager of Digital Solutions for Muller Martini North America. He was joined by representatives from Kodak Graphic Communications Group, Ricoh Europe, and Hunkeler AG.
One area of discussion were the challenges faced when utilizing more difficult substrates, including glossy and coated stocks. The audience welcomed news from print manufacturers that hundreds of stocks are now verifiable when using digital print technology. From a finishing perspective, Muller Martini has engineered solutions that are signature-based, and, therefore, independent of substrate type. This allows for better handling of lighter weight stocks and higher speeds, and adds more efficiencies with heavier stock weights.
A more dominant exchange centered around workflow. Facilitating workflow is always a top priority. However, when it comes to digital manufacturing, workflow issues are even more critical. That’s because printers who were once handling hundreds of files a day, could now be facing thousands.
Mr. Fetherman offered this recommendation. “Before even considering a press or finishing solution, you should first and foremost analyze workflow and the requirements necessary to handle all of the data you need to push through. And that means making sure you have the digital file workflow infrastructure to handle many, many more files. Only then should you can decide on your print engine and your finishing solution.”
Muller Martini’s scalable SigmaLine technology greatly alleviates “decision anxiety” and delivers a fast, efficient, and a fully automated workflow. With its SigmaControl, powered by Connex, all that’s required is a preflighted PDF. The system imposes it, sends it to the Digital Front End (DFE), and does all the production planning and file tracking.
Gilles Biscos, President of Interquest, had this to say about the future of digital book production, “We estimate that currently less than 5% of books produced worldwide are printed on digital equipment, but this will increase to 20% or more over the next five years.” And exactly where is this all leading? Faster machines. An even wider array of substrates. Better print quality at a lower cost. Greater finishing options. These factors are creating opportunities that will greatly expand the digital print manufacturing playing field. Next up? Commercial applications like magazines, catalogs, and direct mail.
Bring on the SKUs!
The Variable Sleeve Offset Printing (VSOP) press provides a significant competitive advantage when handling multiple image changes.
Gary Hughes, Muller Martini’s Director of Global Packaging, comments on how Muller’s VSOP technology is poised to play a significant role in packaging’s future.
Muller Martini’s Variable Sleeve Offset Printing (VSOP) press handles a variety of packaging formats. What opportunities are best suited to this technology?
GH: The VSOP offers a significant cost savings over conventional printing methods, particularly when a client has to keep changing an image. So the press is ideal for specialized applications and on-demand printing within the label and packaging industry.
In addition, within the folding carton market, for instance, sheet-fed printers lose a considerable amount of capacity every day by running short sheets in their presses. But, in the past, that was not considered a problem because everyone was using sheet-fed presses. Today, with more printers using web presses, they are gaining upwards of 13 production days—and in many cases much more than that—of added capacity without adding more equipment or labor. To some, that may sound too good to be true. But it is.
Flexographic presses have long dominated the packaging industry. How does the VSOP fit in?
GH: Narrow web flexographic presses remain ideal for certain applications like decorative embossing and foil stamping. But they’re also fairly slow. The VSOP excels in the shrink sleeve, label, pouch and folding carton arena where its low cost of image change, combined with high repeatability and print quality, can meet increasing brand demands for lower costs and shorter runs.
Moreover, Muller Martini can combine the VSOP with in-line web processing capabilities such as die-cutting and hybrid printing, as well as engineer and configure systems with offset, flexo and rotogravure units to handle very complex packaging. That makes the VSOP a very powerful, complementary technology for packaging companies that utilize dedicated and less flexible high-volume systems.
What are the major brand managers saying about VSOP technology?
GH: Brand managers see great value in the cost effective “on-demand” production VSOP enables. But the VSOP is much more than an alternative printing method. Its true value is in the cost-effective flexibility it provides marketing champions. Brand managers also value the fact that there is no new technology risk because offset is an established technology with an experienced labor pool. Moreover, they are well aware of Muller Martini’s extensive track record in commercializing new systems.
We're seeing innovative packaging formats evolve day by day. Any comment on what’s ahead?
GH: There’s a curious dichotomy that makes predictions somewhat difficult. The packaging industry is hyper-competitive, and therefore driving continuous innovation in order to differentiate their brands while reducing costs. On the other hand, it’s a risk-adverse industry due to the enormous responsibilities that come with packaging retail consumables and the need to constantly balance consumer demands for convenience and environmentalism.
What’s clear is we will continue to see flexible packaging innovating to meet sustainable packaging goals, which in many cases is displacing conventional rigid packaging. One need only look at all the new products being released in pouches, not thought of a few years ago.
Yet ultimately the Digital Generation consumer wants instant gratification. And that means more personalization and more customization. The impact on packaging? Greater brand fragmentation creating more and more SKUs. And that’s where the unmatched capabilities of the VSOP will play an integral role.
It’s not time to turn the page on hardcover book manufacturing.
Traditional and emerging markets are providing robust and lucrative opportunities for printers and binderies.
By Jim Kaeli, Business Development, Hardcover Systems, Muller Martini North America
It’s hard to avoid the constant chatter of pundits and prognosticators who proclaim that the “end is near” when it comes to hardcover book manufacturing. But that’s simply not the landscape we’re seeing. The hardcover book business is experiencing a resurgence of growth, both in traditional as well as innovative, new markets. As a matter of fact, In 2012 Muller Martini experienced a record year in hardcover equipment installations within North America.
What’s fueling the continued investment in hardcover press and finishing technology?
One reason customers continue to purchase new equipment is to better enable a skill-set transition that’s been evolving for years on the press floor. As workers retire, the limited craft skills of new operators have led to the need for highly automated equipment that allows them to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.
Muller Martini has helped facilitate this transition through a design philosophy that lessens the need for technical know-how. Our intent has never been to remove these skills, but instead reduce them through automated equipment that is not just easier to learn and operate, but also shortens setup times, increases productivity, and delivers a high-quality product.
Many traditional hardcover markets remain strong, while emerging segments show exciting potential for longevity—and profitability.
Last year, we witnessed healthy hardcover investments in a wide variety of traditional markets, including
When it comes to hardcover book manufacturing, the story is far from over.
Adult trade and religious (i.e., Bibles) publishing. As runs and cycle times get shorter, demand for faster delivery continues to increase, so larger book manufacturers require high-speed, high quality, automated machines. These book segments have made continued investments in machines and workflow systems that improved quality while reducing changeover time.
Returning markets. Some traditional hardcover products that were outsourced overseas are starting to return to our shores, a result of market pressures impacting wages, regulatory issues, lead times, etc. One such returning segment is juvenile books, which for years were manufactured in China.
Emerging markets. Photobooks (also known as memory products or keepsakes) continue their rapid growth. This market has a highly defined target and season. Buyers are predominately well-educated females with impressive household incomes. To date, “like-size, one-off” photobook manufacturers are realizing the bulk of their volume within the fourth quarter. Better still, they are claiming annual growth rates of 20-30%.
There’s a distinct optimism surrounding hardcover book production. That’s one of the main reasons why Muller Martini continues to support traditional segments while accelerating product development solutions for emerging markets. We are bringing new technology to market more quickly than ever before in order to accommodate the rate of change that new opportunities demand.
And the book manufacturing spectrum will continue to evolve. As the graphic arts industry looks to complement its traditional offset longer runs with short run digital book production, there’s a distinct need for the technology that provides the performance, workflow and flexibility to do so. Muller Martini is spearheading this effort, not just through highly innovative equipment, but with scalable solutions that can be implemented when the time is right for each and every customer.