Digital to support evolution of finishing industry

A new Smithers Pira report highlights how post-press will increasingly look to incorporate digital technologies as it adjusts to changing nature of the global print marketplace.

Almost all printed material has to be finished and converted into a saleable item. In 2018, post-press equipment is increasingly sophisticated with computer control driving servomotors to automate set-ups. There are in-line integrated single-pass solutions, near-line where finishing is close to the printing machine and the finishing is controlled by the same software, or completely separate off-line solutions.

Market transformation

According to the study, in 2018 the global market for new post-press equipment is $4.87 billion. This is a little down from $5.10 billion in 2013 – a reflection of the general slowdown in demand for printed products. The market will rebound slightly across the next five years to reach to $4.90 billion in 2023.

This period will see a further decline in demand for finishing platforms in several traditional segments. Mailing equipment and systems is forecast to see the biggest decline, falling by nearly 40% across 2013-2023; sales of post-print equipment for commercial application will fall by 22.2% over the same 10 years.

This negative situation will improve to a certain degree by expanded demand for digital print finishing equipment as the boundaries between digital and commercial machinery increasingly merge. Many of the established equipment suppliers are developing machinery suited to the smaller formats and lower run lengths that are associated with toner and particularly inkjet work.

Growth is also forecast for finishing systems for packaging and labels as this segment becomes increasingly important to the print industry overall. The segment is worth $2.03 billion in 2018, and is the largest sector and will boost its share over the study period, representing 45.9% of the total in 2023.

New challenges

According to Smithers Pira, flexibility and connectivity are important in postpress. A few years ago the finishing department of a typical commercial print company would handle a few large jobs. Today, the situation is changing with the rise of web-to-print systems and greater variety of work, where there may have been 10 or 20 smaller digital jobs.

Equipment suppliers can capitalise on new opportunities based on the new potential of digital print technologies into finishing systems and adapting to changing print service user demands.

Digital enhancement

Many print service providers and converters are exploring ways to make print more appealing to consumers with special effects. This business model relies on embellishment techniques driven by digital print technologies.

Tactile features

The leading area of focus is in enhanced embossing and tactile features. There are many ways that suppliers exploit the physical tactile nature of print. Mechanical embossing to raise parts of a surface is well established, but leveraging inkjet processes is creating new options.

Israeli company Scodix has inkjet-based digital embellishment machines that operate by laying down a variable thickness of UV-curable modified acrylic varnishes with silicone-based additives. These are marketed as a lower-cost flexible alternative to embossing in commercial print products, often using web-to-print systems; book publishing; photobooks; and folding cartons for higher value segments, like cosmetics.

Other systems are being developed, such as MGI’s JETvarnish 3D Evolution, capable of finishing 4,200 B2 sheets per hour. This can give digital and offset printer operators a scalable upgrade path for a full range of production environments and post-press applications. Argos, Komfi Spotmatic, Autobond and Steinemann are also providing enhanced spot varnishing machinery.

Metallic effects

A parallel development, which can be combined with tactile print, is digital post-press metallic enhancement. This works as an alternative to established cold foiling processes, with inkjet or toner laying down a programmed pattern with a cold foil then pressed onto it. Prominent systems in this arena include the Digital Metal platform from Leonhard Kurz, and the iFoil feature on MGI’s JETvarnish machine.

Again innovation is coming out of Israel’s Silicon Wadi, in the shape of nano-metallography developed by Landa and being advanced as an option on its Nanography line of presses. Nano-metallography prints a design in UV curing fluid and the silver particles are then transferred from a specialist roller in the Landa machine.

Laser cutting

Laser cutting is another digital finishing technology that is gaining traction. Laser cutting employs high-powered solid state or CO2 lasers to vaporise material in the beam path. Spot size can be altered and the power can be adjusted to fully cut, kiss-cut or score a paper, film, or board substrate. This eliminates the need for mechanical dies, as the shape is defined digitally. Recent improvements in this technology mean there is less risk of burning and discolouration of the substrate.

Furthermore the lasers can also be set to mark the stock to add security features or coding. Suppliers – such as Highcon and Motioncutter – stress the benefits of laser systems in eliminating tools and reducing set-up costs translating into savings in changeover time, labour and waste.

The sector that has embraced laser system most readily has been label finishing, followed by packaging and commercial print. Across the next five years it is likely laser cutting will become much more mainstream, with laser units more routinely integrated into printing and converting machinery.

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