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Back to Basics

Feed it and Sort it

Speed, efficiency, and automation are all watchwords for the modern printer. Brendan Perring explores how feeders and collators can improve all three

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“Systems from five years ago simply were not created with today’s print engines in mind, and therefore would struggle to keep pace with the speeds required by today’s printers and their customers,” explains Ray Hillhouse of Morgana Systems. Pictured: Under the hood of the Morgana AF602 high-capacity feeder

Run with the pack

We sit in a market that can be described as ‘stable’ when all factors are considered. Some areas like short-run digital and personalised inkjet applications are growing, some like web-offset for newspapers continue to decline, albeit relatively slowly.

The reality is that in order to increase your profit margins, what is needed is to produce your current set of products more quickly—so you can produce more in a given time frame, more efficiently—reduce wastage and you can maintain prices while growing your margins, and with higher automation—sadly reduce the number of staff you need to tend to your machines and you can again reduce your overheads. So, I am not teaching you how to suck eggs, but the message is that even when it comes to comparatively simple systems that cater for print feeding and collation, there are genuine gains to be made in all three areas.

A penny saved…

This is a point picked up on by Steve Giddins, founding partner and director of Perfect Bindery Solutions, who responded to a question from me about how the technology it supplies has been evolved to meet these challenges: “Our gathering machine models built by Smyth and Risetec are available with inline stackers to reduce labour and increase productivity. They can also run single sheets (80gsm+) and book sections. For unattended quality control, the machines are equipped with the latest signature recognition technology/barcode readers.

“In the case of the Smyth models—a very much smaller footprint can also be achieved. A six-station machine set up for large sheets converts very simply to a twelve-station machine for A4 products, for example, and these machines can be run inline to automatic sewing machines. A smaller footprint means more print and finishing devices can be packed into a smaller footprint. A smaller footprint costs less money to rent if you are not in the lucky position of being your own landlord.”

Ray Hillhouse, vice president of offline business at Morgana Systems also weighs in on these important issues: “For us, operating almost exclusively with digital print, the demand for collators has dropped significantly and we are focusing our attention on feeding technology designed specifically for pre-collated digitally produced sets.
“The key things here are ease of set-up and set integrity. We are seeing more demand for control of the pre-collated sets, especially where there are variable data, so error detection and set integrity are very important. For this reason systems with barcode reading are growing in demand.

The key things here are ease of set-up and set integrity


“Our latest products are all about efficiency and productivity. Systems from five years ago simply were not created with today’s print engines in mind, and therefore would struggle to keep pace with the speeds required by today’s printers and their customers. Automated booklet-making has come a long way in that time.”

Looking to its core technologies however, the advances incorporated into systems like the latest Morgana AF and VF602 feeders could make a real difference when your profit and loss comes out in the wash. The AF602 is a high capacity dual bin feeder for loading pre-collated sets from digital print engines and it is specifically designed for digital applications and appeals to the type of printer used to digital print engines. These printers are used to loading paper trays on their print engines, and the AF602 follows a similar style for loading.

O Factoid: The Morgana AF602 features an air assist dual bin feeder unit, a loading capacity of 540mm, can handle pre-collated digital sets, and runs at a top speed of 1,800 sets per hour. O


“We find a lot of these operators do not have experience with collators, so having a similar configuration helps,” says Hillhouse.

Indeed, the AF602 can be loaded with up to 570mm of stock, and when one bin runs out of material the system automatically switches to the next. This means that the system can be loaded on the run. The machine is also capable of feeding sets with mixed stock in the set, so for example if a set is produced with a heavier cover, the feeder is smart enough to detect this, and will calibrate the set including cover for the run.

The system also comes with both ultrasonic and optical detectors, so if the set goes out of sequence it will stop production. The two feed bins can also be fitted with barcode readers, which is ideal for production of sets with variable page counts, or for matching sets from one bin to a cover in the other—where covers may have been produced with another printing device or have been laminated.

Morgana also offers the AFC510 air assisted smart tower feeder/collator. The ACF510 ten-station machine can be used as either a straight collator for printed sections or as a smart programmable feeder for pre-collated sets along with offset printed sections, inserts, and so on. “This is a distinct advantage for printers who have digital and litho production,” comments Hillhouse.
 
Don’t miss a beat

Now, another very important consideration is that over a year of producing print, every time one of your systems goes down it of course creates a bottleneck, hours are increased to compensate, jobs back up, and of course sometimes work is even lost as a result. In today’s sector that is really a catastrophe, as for many print businesses it can mean the difference between profit and loss, or the ability to service debt.

So, it is really worthwhile investing in technology that will not let you down. In the field of feeders and collators, Friedheim International supply one of the top names in the UK and Ireland, Pfankuch. The supplier is also now a distributor for Mailing Technologies Services (MTS) to distribute its feeders and other mailing modules.

“The MTS range of feeders and inserters are simple, straightforward, and infinitely modular. Any system that cannot fit an MTS friction feeder can be made bespoke by their team of experienced engineers. With the ease of installation, the modularity of the Pegasus 320 and the range of substrates it can use, MTS friction feeders are perfect for today’s short-run direct mail customers,” explains Martin Howells, national packaging manager at Friedheim International.


MTS’ Pegasus 320 friction feeder, available in the UK through Friedheim International, is almost universally retrofittable to any system, and if not can be made bespoke by its team of experienced engineers
 

He adds: “A real strength is their ability to innovate, and evidence of that is the Feedline 14, i-Stacker, and Mail Integrity Platform. These are added value products designed to build on your existing investment, improve productivity, and reduce labour costs. They are entirely in-house developments from concept, design, creation of their individual control systems, software development, and construction.”

An interesting example of these trends discussed above being addressed in a real world scenario will be at the Samhaber Open House on March 15th and 16th. As a world first, a BDT TPF 550-750 LT feeder will be exhibited in combination with a grooving, perforating, and cutting unit from Herzog + Heymann.

Stuart Bamford, national post-press manager at Friedheim, explains its attraction: “The TPF 550-750 LT Feeder incorporates the revolutionary patented BDT Tornado technology for media separation, lift, and transport. The technology provides enhanced feeding reliability with problematic media, such as light porous or heavy coated stock, as well as specialty media like perforated, creased or pre-glued mailers. The fully electronic control of the Tornado technology also allows for media feed parameters to be stored in the feeder memory and used to automatically configure the unit. Job changeover time is significantly reduced due to automation during the setup process.”

Worthwhile investment

Speaking to another expert in this field, managing director of Intelligent Finishing Systems’ (IFS) Bryan Godwyn highlights emphatically the difference that the right technology in the right place can make: “We recommend our customers consider the impact the latest in automation can make to their work mix. This may require more of a financial commitment, but the return-on-investment is considerably improved thanks to the system’s ability to handle a greater variety of jobs in terms of product range, run lengths, all with reduced makereadies. It can also make all the difference regarding the number of jobs that can be completed.”


“To maximise production capacity and eliminate bottlenecks the set-up and control interface needs to be simple and straightforward,” says Bryan Godwyn of IFS



This is also a view picked up on by Andy Benson, managing director of Duplo UK: “As print runs continue to drop, fast turnarounds for short-run jobs are becoming essential to maintain profit margins, as such it is critical to invest in equipment which allows printers to keep up and remain competitive. Duplo’s modular systems provide the ability to adapt and meet demands of a changing industry, with the option to invest in additional modules as and when required.”

Returning to Godwyn, and he explains that automation, specifically on the Horizon range—which it is the exclusive distributor for in the UK—helps deliver simple set up, reliable operation, and cost-effective production through a number of features. These include touchscreen set up, high-power double feed detect sensor, an image checking system, a sheet alignment mode to reduce jams and downtime for uninterrupted operation, advanced programming functions such as double cycle for non-stop operation and block feed for accurate booklet-making.”

Indeed, the VAC-1000/VAC-600H takes advantage of Horizon’s unique feeding technology and continues the Horizon development concept of ‘high speed’, ‘high performance’, and ‘high quality’. Its towers can also be placed in-line with Horizon booklet making systems and there is a high-power double feed detect sensor and an image checking system for the VAC-600H that checks the printed image of each page on each feed cycle to ensure page order and integrity.


The Horizon VAC-1000 features a unique rotary suction feeding system that operates effectively on a wide range of paper stocks


 
The VAC-80S meanwhile uniquely feeds sheets up to B3 on the long edge so the sheet is not turned in the production train, allowing greater stability and increased operating speeds. The Horizon ST-40/ST-60 also delivers high-speed, high-quality stacking to enhance collating performance and serves as a high-capacity offset or straight stacking device.

The Horizon HOF-400 is also well worth investigation and is a high speed offline feeder that feeds digitally printed sheets and transports the sheets to the next process that provides flexible system configurations. It can process both digital and offset print at a speed of 25,000 sheets per hour (A3/11 x 17”) and 35,000 sheets per hour (A4 SEF/8.5 x 11”). Connected to this system is the CF-400, which merges the cover sheets into the sheets fed from the HOF-400. The Horizon HIF 400 is an interface that connects a Vac Tower to the booklet-making system for smother sheet delivery.
 
The complexity and design of these systems really is astonishing when considered carefully, and Duplo as mentioned by Benson above is also an important technology leader in the sector. There are three key advances to its feeder/collator technology that are a case in point, the first being its new Air Management System, which is highlighted on our high speed intelligent DSC-10/60i suction collators. This is controlled from the PC Controller which manages the high-power fans that create air flow and vacuum independently for each bin, enabling reliable feeding regardless of paper weight or size. The second being its new Ultrasonic Sensors, which detect if a double feed has occurred, regardless of ink or paper colour and paper density. The third key advance is Duplo’s Intelligent Multi Bin Feeding system, which allows the operator to select an individual bin and feed more than one sheet.


“Landscape A4 has become a must. […] Investing in new digital feeder technology, such as those on Duplo’s 600i Digital Booklet System or iSaddle 2, allows printers to produce a variety of job sizes on more complex stocks,” says Andy Benson of Duplo UK
 

So, with all that in mind, the global print industry sits at something of a crossroads. In the West specifically we find ourselves in a sector that is still a little punch drunk from just how fast and how widely the market forces that influence it have changed in the last 20 years. But, and it is a big one, I am a firm believer that a new stable water level for our industry has been reached. To thrive now requires getting more profit from the products you produce. Looking at parts of your operation such as feeding and collating systems can make a genuine difference in this respect.


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