Author Archives: Bill Brunone

About Bill Brunone

Bill has over 25 years as a senior manager in digital print and inkjet systems equipment manufacturing companies, and another 10 in factory automation and packaging equipment. Bill is exceptionally skilled at creating and leading strategic initiatives to commercialize new products. He has introduced many first-of-kind products into the digital printing marketplace, including the market leading high speed color inkjet web press for Dainippon Screen, automated marking and coding systems for AT Information Products, and addressing and traceability systems for Markem-Imaje. He has driven increased productivity and reduced costs and cycle times in his client companies using process analysis and leveraging the technologies of high speed inkjet, packaging and printing systems, and workflow automation. His strong preparation in engineering, operations, and finance also gave him a decided edge while managing and delivering consulting services at Xerox, and now at The Brunone Group.

High Speed Inkjet: Can You Build a Reliable Business Case?

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Since the advent of high speed color inkjet presses that approach the quality of offset, printers and data centers have begun struggling with the decision of integrating this new technology into their operation.

The decision to move print volume to high speed inkjet is complex and one that does not always have a clear ROI.  Since inkjet brings new and different ways of thinking about everything, you have to implement the system and related changes into your existing operation.

In small-to-midsize printers, this decision will impact nearly every facet of the organization’s processes, including the markets you pursue, how you estimate and price your product, production flow, quality, materials and warehousing, and personnel skills. In many cases, precise navigation these decisions can determine the very survival of the establishment.

But before you get to any of that, first you have to decide if the move to color or monochrome inkjet printing is right for you.  In some cases, modification of your current printing environment is all that is necessary to keep you competitive.  For instance, if you print offset now and have only long runs and little or no variable printing, switching to inkjet most likely will not provided any benefits.  Your efforts should probably be focused on tuning your current production processes.

If you have some of the factors that often make going to inkjet a decent return on investment, that is, you have short runs, need to print variable data, or are overprinting on preprinted material, actually calculating that ROI can be elusive.  Every business case that I have built has been has been completely unique.  Little of any previous analysis was usable. This is mostly because every shop I worked with has accounted for their usage and cost so differently, and each have their own business processes.  Because of that, a single model to capture all of the possible permutations would be so complex that it would lose its value as a template.

And each shop has a different starting point:  Some are all digital already, leveraging the best of the toner technologies, some are all offset, some print variable information on preprinted shells, some carry finished product and some don’t, and some need to meet incredibly tight SLAs.  Some are sheetfed and some are web shops.

Yes, there are common components that remain the same. This includes all the things you may normally think about:  Skilled prepress, press, and finishing labor; Press maintenance and cost of downtime; Plates chemicals and other consumables costs; Toner and click charges; Paper waste and energy costs.  You need to look at ink, paper cost differences, throughput and uptimes, waste, time to produce, cost of shells, and inventory obsolescence. I like to look at some things that you may not consider, like the efficiency gained by consolidating your longer runs to an offset press (if you use offset) and being able to capture business you could not reach in your current state. And if your customers are somewhat flexible, you can add to the business case by demonstrating the efficiencies that minor changes in format or color might give them a marketing advantage or you a cost advantage.

Although you probably have a great handle on your current costs, capturing which of those costs could be eliminated by inkjet, and most importantly, understanding what your new costs REALLY will be, is even more of a challenge. Often, the use of an outside expert could be a very valuable investment. They can help you understand exactly what your new costs will be as you transition to inkjet, model your production with real world data that will give you uptimes for both the printing and finishing environments, help you select and value the new kind of operator labor, and more.

In Line or Not in Line, That is the Question

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Finishing Web Inkjet Printing, Part 2

Last week we discussed the components that you need to put together a finishing line for a web-fed inkjet system.  So now you have a good idea of what you need.  But now you have to look at your own workflow, customer requirements, and need for flexibility, and decide whether this is to be an inline system, or broken up into sections.    So the question becomes more strategic, and it is one only you can answer.   The answer is that it depends on your product mix, your service level requirements, and your operator skills.

If you ask the printer manufacturers, they often would prefer that you separate the printing from the cutting and finishing.  The reason is simple:  Most inkjet systems will run with little downtime if they are kept running smoothly from roll-to-roll.  All systems will suffer productivity losses if they are stopped and started while in production.  Some will experience more downtime and waste than others (an analysis for a different day), but they all will be less productive if the systems are stopped and started in synch with the needs of finishing equipment.  And this may be your best choice.  But it also may not be.

By separating the finishing from the printing systems you get both productivity enhancements and detractions.  The price you pay for separating the two processes is that you need more labor to handle the printed roll transfer between printing and finishing, you can experience more product waste due to roll damage and setup, and you can lose time in getting the first piece out the door.  You can also increase your risk of wasting a specific recipient’s piece, if your product is personalized, causing more pieces to be reordered.  You also have extra costs of an additional extra unwinder and rewinder.

What you gain by separating print from cut is also important to look at:  You get an important buffer between the printer and the finishing system, which allows your most expensive component to be as productive as possible.  If you have many different product sizes or types, you get the flexibility of using one of several different finishing lines depending on the product type, without a time-consuming mechanical changeover.  Although specs are changing all the time, usually finishing lines can run faster than the print engines, allowing them to “catch up” to production if there was a mechanical maintenance item on them that needed to be replaced, like knives or other wear parts.

The reciprocal discussion can be made for keeping everything in line.  You gain in less labor, faster first-product out-the door, lower chance of losing a piece or damaging part of a roll in the process.  But you give up finishing flexibility, and if any part of the entire system goes down, the entire line gets shut down.

That decision gets more complex due to the growing sophistication of in-line finishing systems.   One firm has been a pioneer in developing multi-capability in-line finishing, and can saddle-stitch, cold glue, or adhesive bind in-line with most continuous printers.   A recent installation in Italy, in-line with a continuous web ink jet printer shows that it can be a great choice, under the right conditions.  The finishing portion can divert printed sheets to either the saddle-stitcher, or the adhesive perfect binder based upon a sheet barcode.   This might be the ultimate in in-line finishing.

All of these pros and cons to inline vs. near-line discussion can be quantified, and your specific “best configuration” really depends on the financial and service level requirement set.  Here again is an area that an independent expert can become an invaluable resource in helping you determine how you should approach your new venture.

From Roll to Page: What do I need?

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Finishing Web Inkjet Printing,  Part 1

This is the first installment of a 2-part series on web inkjet finishing.  This installment will cover the tactical considerations that need to be considered when building your finishing line, and the next installment will be the more strategic question of whether your system components should be in-line or near-line.

The thought of moving to high speed color inkjet printing is very seductive, with the availability of fully variable images, continuously improving quality, runs as short as quantity of one, and the nearly non-existent expense of make-ready, but there is a lot to analyze and decide after making a decision to do it.

After you decide on a printing technology and vendor, the next biggest consideration is finishing.  High speed color inkjet printers are web fed, and there needs to be all of the cut/stack/fold/bind operations that any web printing process requires.  But these processes are handled differently because of the differences in how digital print creates a finished piece as compared to traditional offset printing.  As you are aware, the digital printing process prints one complete book or mailpiece at a time, minimizing or eliminating the need for collating.  Depending on your end products, there are some strategic decisions to make, and some tactical ones, too.

The tactical decisions are the end-product-specific things that you need to finish your printed piece:  Do you need to perforate, punch, stack, slit, slit-then-merge 2 or 3 webs, or fold?  Your finishing vendor can determine the modules and accessories you need based on your product descriptions, and these selections are generally fairly straightforward.

Perfing/punching decisions are broken into two parts:  Static punching and perforating usually gets placed before the first print engine.  This is a device that allows you to create the tractor or pin-feed holes along the outside edges of the paper, and cross perfs at each page if you have legacy bursting/folding equipment that you need to use.  Don’t forget the web cleaner so that chads and paper dust is minimized going into the print engine.

Dynamic punching and perfing can be triggered by either barcodes or other queue marks that are inserted in the margins by the print file and give you the flexibility of placing horizontal and vertical perforations, either partial or full width, on only selected pages.

Then you need to understand how you are going to bind.  If you come from traditional printing, binding is a bit different in the digital world, since you can print an entire book or other document sequentially. As a result, little or no collation is necessary, except for getting covers on publications and books, or getting your printed stack into an envelope.  So your standard pocket-style binders or inserters are generally not going to be suited for this new product stream.  You will need to investigate binding devices that will handle the new product stream.  Again, your binding equipment vendor can help you make this selection based on your end product.  The considerations for digital print binding are much broader than they were just a few years ago, with choices that include stitching, perfect binding and even a cold-glue binding option.

Now that you have the right components and modules to finish your product, you need to decide whether they should all run as a single production line, allowing you to load roll paper in one end and out comes a finished book, mailpiece, or other product, or break the line up into two or more pieces.  That issue we will discuss in the next installment.

Just us next week for Part 2 of this post!