18 July 2018 Digital Printing Technologies

Printondemand Worldwide cracks colour ceiling

The Peterborough printer is finally able to offer book publishers litho equivalent quality on standard papers thanks to its investment in a new inkjet press.

The publishers that Printondemand Worldwide works for have signed off on the print quality that its Screen TruepressJet 520 HD delivers. This is no surprise: the quality achieved puts the press into a different category to most other inkjet machines. It paves the way for the Peterborough company to achieve the disruption in the book market that the printer has been targeting.

The piezo inkjet press was star of an open house bringing Screen, Hunkeler and Muller Martini customers and prospects from across Europe to the east Midlands. The audience of printers was invited to pick the difference between inkjet, cut sheet toner and offset litho printer on samples of the same job. The majority failed, as publishers had done when chief executive Andy Cork asked them to make the same choice.

It is changing perceptions of what the inkjet technology is capable of. Many publishers have endured countless presentations about inkjet printing and the benefits that will follow, but colour has never quite been good enough to meet expectations for illustrated trade books.

Cork says that one publisher agreed to talk with him, but banned any mention of inkjet, the perception being that too many printers are talking up a technology that could not deliver the quality needed. Instead Cork says he discusses the benefits of the print run of one, the choice of substrates and cost. Then he might mention printing on the Screen inkjet press.

The quality breakthrough comes as a result of Screen’s SC inks. These contain a polymer which becomes the bonding agent allowing the high pigment ink to adhere to standard offset papers without a pre or post print coating. And the press can run at up to 150 m/min, equivalent to a B2 litho press running at 15,000sph, though realistically will be less than this.

“We couldn’t really offer high quality and a full range of substrates before. With the SC inks that changes,” says Bui Burke, Screen Europe’s senior vice president sales. “Digital is now able to cater for a huge part of the market.”

Just as important to quality as the inks is the drying technology and matching this to the paper and ink coverage so the the ink is dried enough for the image to pass through finishing without marking and without damaging the paper. Ink optimisation technology also comes into play to keep the TAC levels as low as possible without harming quality.

The perception of quality is in the eyes of the client. The ink volumes will however have the greatest impact on the final price. Because the ink is dried on the surface of the coating, less ink is required on coated woodfree papers than on uncoated, something that inkjet shares with litho.

For Cork, the quality and automation that the company can now deliver fulfils a long-held dream. “We have been trying to disrupt the market place, by being able to produce a book of one in colour that is the equivalent of litho, and at the right unit price.”

The ability to print on standard papers provides the breakthrough. An inkjet paper can cost up to £1,100 a tonne and needs to be ordered well ahead of time; a litho paper will be £650 a tonne and much easier to obtain. And the experience for the reader is not changed.

“Before inkjet paper always looked and felt different. Now you can’t really tell the difference between inkjet and litho,” he says. Publishers can print an initial run litho and can switch to inkjet for subsequent top up orders.

The automation comes with an inline link to a Hunkeler BookLine, supplied by Friedheim International. While this is capable of producing six page signatures, PoD has it set to run four page folds continually. This avoids time sapping changes to the set up. It is the first line in the UK with Hunkelers DynaCut technology.

This adjusts on the fly to trim each book format precisely so that the printer can change from one job to the next on the fly without wasting paper in the trimmer at the head and tail of a book. The fore edge trim is the only waste generated as all books are imposed from the spine.

Books then pass to the binding line, a conveyor feeding a Muller Martini Vareo and Horizon BQ470 for binding and then to a Muller Martini Infinitrim to automate the final element of finishing. A single book is as easy to produce as a batch of a dozen or more.

Muller Martini’s Hans Fehr says this is part of the company’s drive for automation and its Industry 4.0 strategy, described as Finishing 4.0. “We have eliminated tools in the set up for the Infinitrim,” he says.

It goes further: the trimmer is an integral part of the production line and through JDF/JMF is like the Vareo binder controlled through the software to be able to produce the book of one without stopping the line. A bar code reader is used to ensure that the covers match the block and that the correct book has reached the trimmer via a conveyor from the binder.

The limitation is that PoD Worldwide runs only six grades of paper, but as these include silk and gloss coated substrates, there is little to limit the publisher. It can produce up to 7,000 books a day in this way “from one to 2,000 copies” says Cork. Most are shipped the day after placing the order and production is geared towards this. “We have four levels of service: same day, 24 hours, 72 hours and five days. If we don’t get the book out, Amazon will.”

Many are produced for mainstream trade and STM publishers; others are printed for self publishers, sometimes with surprising results. “One was a book on dustcarts which we thought would have limited appeal, but it has sold thousands of copies,” he says.

These can be promoted through the Great British Bookshop, a more parochial version of Amazon, that is part of the group approach. “We want a margin from across the whole supply chain,” he adds. The Book Vault holds the digital version of each title, ready for printing at Peterborough or elsewhere in the world.

A tie up with US distribution giant Baker & Taylor is taking PoD’s books to an audience in the US. “There are 750,000 titles in the Book Vault,” its digital repository Cork says. “We can supply that content globally.”

Orders can be supplied same day, overnight, at three or five day intervals. Cork says that 25% specify next day delivery. Software is used to manage the flow of work to avoid an on rush of work that can result in unwanted over time and the pressure that can lead to mistakes, reprints and cost.

The software will also track each job and performance of the production process. Any faults are quickly identified for remedial action.

The journey towards lean automated manufacturing of books has to date taken a 21 stop production process down to eight steps. Cork is pressing to reduce that still further, reducing the cost of production still further. It is producing more with fewer people thanks to automation.

There is the matter of what are described as the ‘uglies’. These are the products that are wire bound, case bound or out of normal formats that have to be produced in a semi manual way. And while inkjet has reached the point it has, 10% of books are printed on the cut sheet machines.

“The story is not about inkjet. It’s about disrupting the market place. We are producing a quality book at a unit price and if the end customer thinks that’s right, it’s right.”

There have been a few false starts, bedding machines in then finding that performance does not live up to expectations. One exception was the Muller Martini Infinitrim. It replaces four guillotine operators with a robot that moves the book to each cut in turn. The same throughput is achieved with one and a half operators, says Cork. “It has changed my life.”

The operation has also shifted towards predictive maintenance, using data, rather than break and fix. It requires better trained staff members, able to switch between roles. “The days are gone when you can have an expert in one area. I have to to be able to shift people around,” he says.

They must also be capable of managing their tasks he says even as technology and automation advance. Fewer people will be needed, tasks and therefore waste in a lean context are removed. “One day we will be able to switch the lights off and books will come out of the other end,” he says. The journey continues.

Gareth Ward

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