The do-it-all options for short-run specialists

By Simon Eccles, Monday 07 March 2016

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Short runs and fast turnarounds have been a particular feature of digital printing since the start. Most people will be aware of the concepts and challenges of variable data and runs lengths of one, or a few. What’s less apparent until you actually try it, is the knock-on effect this has on finishing.


Conventional litho finishing lines are designed for long runs and only a handful of jobs per day. Having to adapt these for a few tens of sheets at a time may be difficult. The problem is exacerbated if you’re trying to mix conventional litho jobs with short-run digital on the same lines. 

With that in mind, a digital multi-finisher may save a lot of hassle. A multi-finisher is a modular machine designed to take sheets straight off a digital press and to perform several finishing tasks in the same pass. Typically this might include slitting, cross-cutting, creasing and perforating. 

A single machine does the work of a separate guillotine, creaser and perforator in one pass, with one operator and jobs set up as a whole, often from pre-existing templates. Often the multi-finishers can work inline or next to a folder, so no hand finishing is needed and the documents arrive in the delivery ready to pack. 

Today these are available from several manufacturers, but the general idea and configurations were mainly pioneered by Duplo 10 years ago. The other main manufacturers today are Horizon and Uchida (sold via Morgana in the UK). 

Dedicated business card finishers are in some ways comparable, but the multi-finishers are far more flexible. “These machines finish anything from a business card all the way up to a 4-up A4, or even more on a long sheet digital press. That’s the big trick: that it can take anything and finish it in one pass. If you’re set up the right way, it can be at the touch of a green button,” says Andy Pike, international commercial manager for Duplo’s DC range.

“The idea of the DC range is that you chuck the sheets in and press go. We’ve got a lot of customers who instead of using their finishing department, put the DC in with the press, so the minder can put the sheets in and leave them running, then attend to the press again. They come back and pick up the finished sheets.”

Early advances

The first multi-finisher to make an impact on the market was Duplo’s DC-645, launched around 10 years ago and replaced last year with the DC-646.

As the digital print market expands. Pike says it’s still necessary to explain why a multi-finisher makes sense: “A lot of people still aren’t aware of what they can do with one unit. For instance one of our customers does personalised greetings cards, particularly for the schools market. These are short-run, high-value applications. They are personalised runs of maybe 15 sheets and then on to the next job. You don’t want to print more than 15 sheets, because an extra two or five means the profit has gone.”

“We’ve now got a complete new suite of products that are evolutions of the previous models. There is also the DC-745. This is a faster version of the DC-645. We found that a lot of customers were needing several DC-645s to cope with their throughput. One customer has five DC-645s. The DC-745 was a no-brainer there.”

At the top of the range is the DC-746, which costs from around £70,000. This replaced the original high-throughput DC-745, with about the same speed but new features in terms of scoring and microperforating. “This has made a difference; just by providing much finer perforating it gives a completely different feel to the finished product,” says Pike. 

At the entry level is the DC-616, which replaced the DC-615. These are smaller machines that are a step above a card cutter. “The 616 goes into offices and schools. I’ve sold a couple into law firms. It can be your inplant or copyshop all-in-one finisher. For people who are just getting into digital, it’s very easy to learn and use.

“We then have the DC-646, more for the commercial digital print market, where they are doing a bit of everything.

“So now we have a renewed suite of the 616, 646 and 746. That full range is our most versatile and productive to date.”

In fact, there is still a DC-445 too, fitting between the DC-616 and DC-646, and at present the only model that can be fitted with an inline bookletmaker. However the DC-445, DC-646 and the old DC-745 can take an Integrated Finishing System.

“It’s for the likes of greetings cards or estate agents’ brochures,” Pike explains. “It takes the manual folding process and finishes automatically. All the setting are carried over, so if a crease is at 210mm, it will fold at 210 mm automatically.”

Horizon’s new rival offering in the market is called the SmartSlitter. It’s an all-in-one system introduced in September 2015. It can slit, gutter-cut, edge-trim, cross-cut, perforate, and crease in one pass. The optional SMSL-PR perforation cassette enables skip perforation for applications such as coupons, tickets and cheques.

Up-front benefits

Horizon’s UK distributor, Intelligent Finishing Systems (IFS), says the SmartSlitter benefits from an advanced registration system that offers more accurate operation and a minimum trim width on all sides of a sheet of just 3mm for full bleed applications. It also says that the machines’ front-loading set-up for cassette changes is a marked improvement over top-loading alternatives.

In terms of cost, the SmartSlitter range starts from £52,200 for the SMSL-100 with the SMSL-CR08 creasing cassette, and IFS says it measures up well against the high-end DC-746 in terms of spec. At approximately 54spm, throughput is roughly equivalent. It’s suitable for both digital and offset production and can also be used to cut and crease book covers for perfect binding as it features two creasing dies for creasing both up and down in one pass. IFS describes this as a “super solution” for firms producing short-run, soft-cover books.

It is operated from a colour touchscreen, which will also provide a link to Horizon’s pXnet finishing room network and wider JDF networks, if required. Although Duplo demonstrated JDF years ago on the DC-645, Pike says there was limited customer interest, so it did not become a regular offering. That’s due to change soon, he says: “People liked the idea of JDF but didn’t have the confidence to take it on as a project. I think the market is ready for it and it will be on our devices more.”

Morgana started selling the Uchida AeroCut Quattro multi-finisher after Drupa 2012. Uchida had demonstrated it on its own stand at the show. “We already sold Uchida collators and joggers, so we decided to take on their multi-finishing devices to sell alongside our own CardXtra and CardXtra Plus machines,” says UK sales manager Paul Williams. “Now we can cater from entry-level up to fully automated machines similar to Duplo’s high end.” 

The Quattro is built with digital printing in mind, with features including a sophisticated double-sheet detection and correction system and automatic correction for image drift. It’s a development from the original AeroCut finisher, which is now called the Classic. The Quattro has more memory to store templates and can also handle longer sheets. Sheets up to 365x520mm are taken in standard mode and 999mm long in flexible mode. This lets them work with the Kodak NexPress, MGI Meteor and Xerox iGen models. 

Options include a side-stop partial-width perforation unit and an Adobe Illustrator plug-in. The plug-in lets designers set up jobs to fit into Quattro templates. Some 200 templates are supplied as standard, and more can be created and stored. 

Actually there are three machines, the Nano, mainly for card cutting, the Classic, which Williams says is equivalent to the Duplo DC-616, and the more advanced Quattro, which is equivalent to the Duplo DC-646, although not quite as fast. 

Prices range from £9,000 for the Nano up to £26,000 for the Quattro, although there are some optional extras and additional modules. 

For instance the Quattro can have a dedicated business card module that does 25 cards from an SRA3 sheet – the standard does 21. There is also an ionising module if static is a big issue. As standard the AeroCuts will try to feed a stuck sheet three times before it stops, which can overcome some stickiness.

Like the Duplo DC models, it’s also possible to fit a folder inline with the Quattro, in this case the Morgana Autofold, which costs about £11,000. 

“The AeroCuts’ price points are very competitive,” says Williams. “We have a lot of installations out there, the sales guys are doing a good job. It’s a product that’s needed in the entry-level digital general jobbing printer, and also the offset litho plants that are getting involved in digital. These products definitely answer that need for business cards, compliment slips, folded leaflets, stationery and small amounts of collateral for specialist work. They can handle 15 or 20 of something, instead of thousands.” 

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