While inline systems might seem to have a natural advantage, this near-line challenger has charms all of its own, discovers <i>Adam Hooker</i>
Inline finishing has long been seen as the go-to format for situations where integrity is paramount. This is based on the logic that the document remains in one system from start to finish. However, Alan Harrison, technical director at finishing kit supplier Intelligent Finishing Systems (IFS), believes that he has a better solution in the form of the Horizon High Speed Roll-to-Variable-booklet Production System, which is based around the Horizon StitchLiner 6000 Digital (SL6000D).
According to Harrison, times have changed and he claims that, with the failsafe verification features that are now available, Horizon’s near-line solution actually offers higher levels of integrity.
"The levels of automation, with icon-based touchscreen control, also remove the technical barriers for operators," says Harrison. "And the crunch comes with the bottom line: the near-line solution provides far greater flexibility, versatility and productivity. With integrated management software control, available through Horizon’s JDF-compliant pXnet system, near-line is the new inline."
The machine can be used as an offline solution, but when coupled with a Hunkeler UW6 unwinder and CS6-1 feed platform it forms a near-line solution for digital printing.
Although the latest configuration of the SL6000D was launched at Ipex 2010, it is built around technology developed almost 10 years earlier. According to Harrison, the StitchLiner 5500 was introduced in 2002 with the modest goal of being a "revolutionary heavy-duty saddlestitching solution for the on-demand commercial sector". It featured automated set-ups and collated flat-sheet sections upstream, rather than gathering pre-folded multipage signatures.
"This eliminated a costly process, reduced waste and increased efficiency," says Harrison. "At that time the application for roll-fed digital print engines was mainly in the transactional and mono book sectors, for which the StitchLiner solution was not appropriate.
"The two drivers that have defined the SL6000D are the development of high-speed, commercial quality colour print capabilities in this format and the adoption of CRM (customer relationship management) principles in the wider marketplace so that single customer or subgroup-centric booklets, brochures and catalogues can now be identified as a future mainstream component of commercial print."
The SL6000D was developed following Ipex 2006 and shown at Drupa 2008 with a landscape format collating platform – while the Hunkeler interface and AS-30S/AFC-30S sequencing and accumulating modules were developed in time for the Print 09 preview.
Unsurprisingly, the machine was built on Horizon’s tried and tested platform, which features a compact-footprint. The Japanese manufacturer prides itself on continuous upgrades, ensuring the system will always offer up to the minute quality, security and performance enhancing controls such as barcode checking, camera verification, double detection, miss-feed and auto-reject.
Basically jobs are printed in predetermined sequence onto the roll, which is then transported to the Hunkeler unwinder. The roll is cut and slit and sheets are accumulated into the required sets, while a separate cover or additional sections can be added throughout the book – there are barcode systems to verify integrity. The sets are then spine creased, plough folded and delivered onto the saddle before the spine is nipped and the book three-knife trimmed.
As with many of the latest finishing advances, according to IFS, there is technically no direct alternative for the complete system, although suppliers such as Watkiss, Duplo and Bourg have systems that can do a similar job.
"The StitchLiner solution benefits from a vast array of intelligent software and integrity and verification options that Horizon has developed over the past eight years for the on-demand bespoke product sector," explains Harrison. "Combined with the intrinsic integrity of the printed reel, this solution provides a 100% secure audit trail for security-sensitive print environments. This extends to optional cover feeder and high-speed sheet feeding modules with the capability of merging print from other sources – including litho – securely. Because it was originally designed for litho as well as digital print, it can handle the full range of stocks too."
The key to the high production speed of this near-line system is the AS-30S advanced sequencing accumulator, which synchronises the speed of the roll cutter and the saddle-stitching unit. Through this, the roll can be fed continuously with the flat sheets being worked on individually.
A four-stage buffer also smoothes the product flow to ensure that the Hunkeler and Horizon units can run at their optimum speeds. There is also an option to fit a centre knife at the three-knife trim section to allow two-up booklet production, as well as an optional hole punch and pressing unit.
Safe and smart
Since its launch, the unit has been taken up by firms looking for integrity, as well as for personalised applications such as medical schedules, insurance or financial documents.
"The opportunity lies in the potential for delivering data-driven smart marketing initiatives in the form of catalogues and brochures for sub-groups and individuals within a client’s customer base, rather than mass printing and distributing catch-all documents. Coupled with roll-fed digital print engines, an SL6000D might replace one of the litho presses in a printer’s pressroom line-up," adds Harrison.
He believes that the machine could open a lot of doors for printers as businesses that have strived to collect data come to terms with how best to use that information.
"The system is just about as close as you can get to a ‘plug-and-play’ processor for the customer behaviour data that all major sales organisations go to such expense to gather through loyalty cards, membership schemes and transaction tracking technology. As such it represents a massive opportunity for printers with the insight to inspire and energise their clients, and capturing their business, by introducing them to these smarter solutions."
So far, four systems have been installed in North America. Two of these are at Merrill Corporation in St Paul, Minnesota to produce time-sensitive personalised items such as enrolment kits, statements, prospectus documents and benefit statements. There have been some in Europe, but numbers and locations remain confidential. According to Harrison, IFS is in "serious discussion" with two high-profile organisations with similar requirements. Only time will tell if the system will be a hit this side of the pond.
Max sheet size 350x500mm
Min sheet size 210x279.4mm
Sheet weight range
Intelligent Finishing Systems
020 8997 8053
Duplo Inline System 5000
Available exclusively from Xerox, the Duplo Inline System 5000 connects to the iGen4 and Nuvera printer range offering both variable-page extent and fixed-page extent booklets. The modular system can also be fitted with the ASM Squareback. Working inline, the system will create a complete full-bleed printing and bookletmaking system.
Max sheet size 350x500mm
Min sheet size 120x170mm
Sheet weight range 52-300gsm
Production speed 5,000bph
Price from £87,058
Contact Xerox 0870 873 4519
Watkiss Powersquare 200
Although not a direct alternative, the Powersquare is also capable of running inline on the back of a digital press to finish books. The machine can be bought direct from Watkiss or from digital vendors as part of a package. The price of the machine is dependent on whether it is bought direct or as part of a line.
Max sheet size 340x500mm
Min sheet size 200x200mm
Sheet weight range 70-250gsm
Production speed 850bph online
Price around £51,500
Contact Watkiss 01767 685700
Bourg Document Finisher
The BDF system is a purely online machine, which can be attached to a number of digital units, including the iGen range. It combines uni-stitching, folding and trimming and features a fully automatic set-up.
Max sheet size 520x356mm
Min sheet size 203x120mm
Sheet weight range 60-200gsm
Production speed 4,200bph
Price circa £42,000
Contact Terry Cooper Services 0115 9702248