Lessons About Technology for Building Business

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Digital printing is often thought of as a standalone operation for producing documents containing variable data and/or short print runs. However, with the right equipment, digital printing can be integrated with traditional offset or flexo presses and finishing equipment to streamline operations and build business.


Such hybrid printing systems offer the best of both worlds: the high-quality color production of traditional presses and the variable printing capability of digital technology.


The benefits of hybrid configurations go beyond producing a top-notch product. The workflow and job processing improvements they enable can help a plant's operations economically. An integrated system lets you run a complete job, from blank roll of paper to finished product, in one operation, minimizing material-handling steps, work-in-process inventories and a lot of the labor that goes into such jobs when run in multiple steps.


This saves time and money, reduces waste and drastically cuts the need for inventories. Also, the expanded capabilities of this type of configuration open new market opportunities, broadening the business base and providing a leg up on competitors.


To realize the benefits of such a hybrid printing system, one must choose the digital equipment carefully. Typically, someone considering this configuration already has an offset or flexo press. The value of creating a hybrid system often is to leverage the initial investment by enabling a broader range of print applications, thus opening new opportunities for incremental business. From direct mail to financial printing to publishing, important lessons in technology and market trends can be leveraged to build business with integrated digital printing. The key is to bring together the right combination of products to enable the most opportunities.


Technology matters. For digital printing, magnetographic imaging technology is probably the best suited for hybrid systems, especially when combined with a cold flash fusing system to fix the toner onto the substrate.


Magnetography uses a series of microelectronics electromagnets (600 per inch) to create precise magnetic images on the surface of a specially coated metal cylinder. Toner with magnetic properties is then attracted selectively to the magnetic image to "develop" it, and it is then transferred to the substrate.


With cold flash fusing, the toner is then fused to the substrate without heating it. High-energy light flashes impart energy selectively to the toner, causing it to melt and adhere to the substrate, while the substrate reflects most of the energy striking it and stays cool. This means that it does not warp, shrink, distort or dry out. Static electricity on the web, which can cause difficulties in finishing operations, is all but eliminated, and finished pages lie flat at the output of the process.


So what makes magnetography ideal for integration with traditional printing equipment? It's fast. At 410 feet per minute, and with its high up-time rating, it ranks as one of the most productive toner-based digital printing presses on the market. It's available in a "tension-web" configuration, so it can be put directly in line with a printing press and "slaved" to the web, meaning that it prints at whatever speed the web is moving, ensuring accurate registration and top output quality regardless of the material being printed.


Another key benefit comes from the fusing technology. Because it imparts no heat to the substrate, a magnetographic printer can image on various materials, including papers (from lightweight to heavyweight), synthetics, labels, affixed plastic cards, foils and even pressure- and thermal-sensitive stocks.


Look beyond speed. Magnetographic printers are very productive, running at high speeds for extended periods. This is a key element in an integrated system. The digital printer must be able to operate at speeds compatible with the offset or flexo press. But we know that some types of offset presses will have to run at speeds way below their capabilities to accommodate an in-line digital press, so clearly other features of the digital unit must come into play in considering a hybrid configuration.


One key additional feature is the flexibility of the magnetography printer. With its cold fusing technology, it can run a very broad range of stock types, letting a business expand into new areas. Adding variable printing capabilities to one's flexo press and being able to run many types of stock can provide the tools to satisfy a broader range of customer needs, giving more of a "one-stop-shopping" opportunity that can increase business.


Inventory reduction reduces more than inventory. In a recent survey by InfoTrends/CAP Ventures and Outputlinks.com, 53.6 percent of the transaction-oriented in-plant printers interviewed cited reducing preprinted inventory by using digital printing as a major goal in the next two years. More than 70 percent said they intend to reduce the number of stocks with the goal of reducing inventory. The industry recognizes the value of inventory reduction.


Hybrid printing with integrated finishing answers this need. It eliminates inventory at several points in the process. The need to stock preprinted rolls is eliminated as well as work-in-process inventory. Reduced inventory means not only saved space, but lowered overhead costs as well. And less material handling is required, so labor costs are reduced.


More products equal more business. Making a process faster, cheaper and better is always desirable. Creating new products at the same time further maximizes ROI on technology investments. The ability to print on a range of substrates allows a greater range of finished products. This lets print providers anticipate requests from customers for special foils, films, tipped-on cards and thin or thick weights of paper.


Magnetography and cold flash toner fusing are ideal for enabling a range of substrate printing and finishing capabilities. The non-heat, non-impact nature of the technology reduces downtime and lets these products be smoothly printed with variable data, folded, stamped, cut and glued all in one seamless process.


Magnetic ink character recognition, or MICR printing, offers another example of cost-effective product expansion. Since magnetography uses toner particles that have magnetic properties, it can print MICR characters by default. Users can switch seamlessly between MICR and non-MICR applications with no downtime or need to switch to costlier toners. This can help printers diversify markets. Such applications show that printers need a flexible variable data printing technology that can cost-effectively produce documents the market is demanding.


Choosing the right technology combination is essential to realizing full ROI on an integrated digital printing line. Speed is important, but flexibility is the key to integrating traditional, digital and finishing technologies. This ensures that a printing operation can reduce costs while offering better and more varied applications.


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