Post-press kit for digital B2

Finishing equipment that goes above and beyond

Duplo has been an active supporter of B2 digital sheet finishing; the PFi Blade being one example

From the start, manufacturers of B2 digital presses made their compatibility with existing B2 offset finishing installations a big part of their pitch, and this works fine when replacing offset jobs of identical copies.

With some exceptions however, finishing manufacturers have not responded to the different potential of B2 digital presses, ie short runs, on-demand production, variable data, with the same alacrity as they did to SRA3 models.

Maybe it’s because of the applications. For A4 or A5 finished sizes it’s a relatively trivial matter to cut a B2 sheet in half and then send it through an SRA3/B3 finisher. Why go to the expense of a larger machine?

Meanwhile, the SRA3 market has developed into “long A3,” with sheet lengths of 660mm up to 1,200mm in some cases. You can get a lot of A5 postcards, booklets or business cards onto those. Some finishing manufacturers have modified their SRA3 systems for long sheet.

Fujifilm was the first pressmaker to deliver B2 digital inkjet presses in 2012, so it’s had plenty of time to see what they’re being used for. Mark Stephenson, Fujifilm Europe’s product manager for digital printing and press systems, says that in his experience B2 digital press work isn’t confined to jobs that divide into classical A4/A5 finished sizes.

“The value end of the digital markets is moving away from A-sizes. A lot of the everyday A4 work – brochures, transactional, etc – is going over to roll-fed high-speed inkjet, where the quality is getting better all the time. For sheetfed B2 digital the value is in coffee table books, photo books, packaging.”

B2 presses mostly haven’t taken the long-sheet route and most are a little over B2 size – the new HP Indigo 120k for instance takes sheets up to 750x530mm. However, as Stephenson points out, Fujifilm’s new Revoria GC12500 B2+ toner press is an exception, with a sheet size of 750x662mm, or as he puts it, “nearly square.” While this allows 6-up A4s, it’s not confined to standard A-system shapes. You could also view the format as double-width “long A3.”

One reason for the relative rarity of dedicated B2 finishers may be that there aren’t enough press installations to make development worthwhile. HP Indigo has been selling B2 duplex sheetfed presses since 2012, and it is by far the best seller. Even so, there are only about 1,300 installations worldwide, and all the rival B2 manufacturers only add up to a few hundred each, possibly a total of 3,000 or a few more worldwide.

Duplo has been the most active supporter of B2 digital sheet finishing, with dedicated B2 models for cutting and creasing and digital embellishment. It doesn’t have a B2 bookletmaker, but it is taking the cut-in-half approach for bookletmaking with its DC-20K: this feeds then cuts B2 sheets down to B3. It can optionally be fitted inline with a high-end DC-746 SRA3 multi-finisher to do the rest.

“There is efficiency in larger sizes – for instance you can get 77 business cards on an SRA2 sheet, which is a lot more than you’ll get on 2xSRA3, says Duplo UK’s marketing manager Zunaid Rahman. “There’s also more to it than simply cutting in two. It could make long SRA3s, or one-third B2s and other formats.”

Duplo also has systems for full-sheet B2 work, such as carton cutting and creasing (with the B2 PFi Blade) and digital raised varnish and foiling embellishment (its DuSense high-build inkjet varnish and foil embellisher is available in B3 and B2 models).

At Drupa Duplo showed an early prototype B2 compact folder-gluer for very short runs, that takes cut and creased sheets from a rotary die-cutter or table. It was producing sets of 20 boxes and five pocket folders in seven minutes. “It’s slower than a conventional folder-gluer, but the point is the very fast changeovers,” says Rahman. Delivery is expected in late 2025.

Another prototype was a B1 cutting table, PFi Blade Pro, to be added alongside the current B2 model by the end of this year. This will take either single B1 sheets or two B2s side by side, with setup via bar code reader.

Smart option

Horizon so far hasn’t taken to B2 digital in a big way, but what it does offer is significant. It introduced its B2-format Smart Stacker in 2012, originally for HP Indigo 10000 presses. It can run inline or nearline with digital presses. It’s not quite a multi-finisher, but it can trim, collate, slit, score and stack. It can separate jobs or sections on the stack by offsetting them, and it can eject blank sheets. It will run via conveyor with downstream processors such as the BQ-500 perfect binder.

Horizon Smart Stacker

At Drupa there was a Horizon Smart Stacker running on the Fujifilm stand, handling sheets from the B2 digital presses. On Horizon’s own stand there was a Smart Stacker along with a robot arm and four-clamp binder. B2 collated sheets were turned into blocks by the Smart Stacker, then the robot arm loaded them into the trimming and binding line.

As Jason Seaber, technical sales director of Horizon’s UK distributor IFS, points out: “The Horizon folders can take B2. We can add a Horizon presser-stacker with an optical mark recognition reader to detect the first and last section of a book so it knows when it is complete.” So these become compatible with short-run B2 work, digital or otherwise.

Hunkeler is best known for its roll-to-roll systems that support fast digital inkjets. However, its DocuTrim is a B2-plus (up to 520x750mm) modular sheet finisher that can run inline or nearline with presses. It will cut, merge, collate and stack, with more modules planned. Daniel Erni, CEO of Hunkeler says: “This can do 8-up sheet finishing, with SRA3 or B2 sheets. In future we will be able to do things like perforation and folding for these formats. We will develop more inline systems for sheets, as we did with roll-to-roll.”

B2, however, isn’t just about fitting more small items on a sheet. Whole-sheet jobs include posters and small cartons and posters. Posters can easily be trimmed by guillotines in a stack, or one-by-one through a digital cutting table or trimmer.

Cartons need cutting and creasing, and there are quite a few options for handling B2 already. The German die-cutter maker Kama introduced its B2 format ProCut 78 platen machine at Drupa 2012, billed as digital-friendly due to short makereadies with auto register. Maybe its time has come. Apart from Kama’s stand, there was one running on the Fujifilm stand at Drupa, for foiling, cutting and creasing – “it got almost as many enquiries as our JetPress!” says Stephenson.

Duplo entered the platen die-cutting market for the first time in April with its compact B2-plus DSM-1000, for sheets up to 530mm wide and 750mm long. Fast die setup is predicted. It has camera registration and standard waste blanking.

Digital cutting tables will work for small to medium volumes with no need for metal dies. Typically they are for larger formats, but what can take a larger sheet will take a smaller one, and you may be able to cut two or more B2 sheets simultaneously.

Mimaki and Morgana (with the former Intec ColorCuts plus the smallest Valiani Invicta 80) already had small tables in the B2 range, and Duplo joined them with its PFi Blade B2+.

Separately from these, a fairly new development is the ability to run multiple cutting heads side by side on the same beam. MGI has developed an elaborate implementation called Octopus, with up to 15 heads on five beams, but so far this is only for narrow labels up to 420mm.

At Drupa Vivid was showing Veloton, a table that also has the option to take multiple cutting heads: three, four, five or more side by side, that easily bolt into place. It cuts identical shapes per row, but each row can be different and it’s said to be up to 10 times faster than a single head. There’s automatic skew correction and a link to Fiery printer controllers for setting up print artwork. The heads can cut materials up to 2mm thick. This was about two months from delivery at Drupa and pricing hadn’t been announced.

Laser cutters are faster than knife cutters for short run and individual sheets This is fine for labels and stickers, but apart from the so far unique (and expensive) Highcon B1 range they can’t form proper creases in cartonboard – half cuts and perforations are the best they can do. Highcon cuts with lasers but creases with digitally output photopolymer rules.

Rollem is one of the few manufacturers to actively produce B1- as well as B2-format systems for digital, although mostly for playing card manufacture. However, its Jetstream bi-directional trimming, slitting, scoring and perforating system is running inline with B2 HP Indigos in some installations, in conjunction with a Mailstream direct mailpiece processor.

As covered in Printweek, Drupa saw some significant new B2 digital press announcements. These are faster than their predecessors, with good quality and substrate flexibility. However, unless installations really pick up, B2 finishing manufacturers might still not be tempted to expand their efforts.

Even standard B2 litho finishing kit has adopted much the same computer-controlled, motorised setups as the overtly “digital” models, so maybe there are no longer the same capability gaps that we saw with SRA3 two decades ago.