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Green Button Technology in Print Finishing

Years after the Green Button Revolution changed the way we print, that same concept is now coming to the bindery.

August 2012 By Al Boese
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Beginning in the mid-90s of the last century, digital technology changed the world and the printing industry along with it. This was a revolution indeed, as the devices employed by printers—while improved over time—had remained substantially unchanged over centuries.

In the late 20th century however, the digital revolution tore down everything within a couple of decades. If you were a cold type setter in 1980, you were working a Compugraphic phototypesetter in 1990 or not working at all. If you were a darkroom film stripper in 1980, you were learning color management software in 2000.

Most people date the beginning of this massive metamorphosis to the introduction of digital imagesetters, a disruptive technology that changed prepress forever. Because these devices could go directly from artwork file to press, they single-handedly eliminated facilities, darkrooms, cameras and stripping.

It was in the late 20th century, however, that the seeds of the next phase were sown. This was when prepress technology made the jump to imaging directly to plates already installed on the press—skipping the film stage altogether. This was the beginning of what I call the Green Button Revolution.

What is the Green Button Revolution?

Basically, it is the next stage of automation in digital printing, and it is now beginning to affect all phases of paper handling, binding, protecting and the other print finishing processes. Green Button means that worker intervention is minimized; in its most ideal form, the operator merely needs to load the machine and press a button (which is most often green). The final product comes out the other end.

In the late 20th century, the Green Button Revolution was already manifesting itself in other ways. Office copiers were moving toward a green button state, increasingly deploying touch pad controls to select the myriad options available to the operator. Along the way, these machines were becoming multifunctional in ways that the old office mimeograph user could not have imagined.

Options such as duplex printing, reduction or enlargement, print orientation, collating and stapling became standard. It was all integrated with and enabled by desktop publishing technology and distributed far and wide by networking systems. Simultaneously, electrostatic and inkjet printers propelled digital printing into the large-format world.

But where did this leave print finishing, the overlooked stepchild of the printing industry?

Print finishing was an analog world from the beginning and has remained so almost without exception until a few years ago. The shining exception was the Fastback thermal strip binding process developed by Powis Parker in the mid 1990s. That product was a glorious success owing to several factors, including aesthetics (the finished bound book looked great), operator simplicity, versatility and modern industrial design. It was a pioneer in the Green Button Revolution.

Green Button Lamination

It was not until early 2000 that the next Green Button Print finishing machine came along. This time it was a laminator, somewhat surprising in that lamination was the most analog in a pantheon of solidly non-digital print finishing processes. Competent laminator operators were hard to find due to the tricky requirements of setting up and running a job.

This all changed with the introduction of the ALM 3220, a fully automatic laminator. Designed by FujiPla of Japan and introduced by DryLam, the ALM 3220 changed the way the industry thought about lamination. Beginning with this machine, we can more or less date the onset of an ever-growing parade of Green Button finishing equipment. These new machines are large and small, inline and offline with an increasing level of sophistication that is changing everything again.

At the recent BindRite Dealer Association's trade show at the JW Marriott in Palm Desert, Calif., our members were blown away by new Green Button equipment, especially small console and desktop models that will appeal to the corporate in-plant digital printer. We saw another generation of smaller sizes, simplicity of operation, versatility, economics and, above all, quality.

The lineup included the MBM Aerocut, which cuts, creases, slits, scores and perfs in one step, and the Powis Parker Fastback 20, demonstrating custom-imaged tape binding strips. Other notable examples were the Count Machinery iCrease creasing machine, the Formax folder inserter and programmable digital guillotine cutters from Standard Horizon and MBM.

Just why is Green Button digital technology so important and what are the benefits to the owners and users of this new design approach? In the final analysis, it means greater productivity by minimizing wasted labor and material costs. Time is saved because the user interface is intuitive and simple. Many standard jobs are pre-programmed, and custom work can be stored for future use.

Job setup is simple, swift and precise. Machine operation during a job run is automatic, freeing an operator to prepare the material for the next job or other multitasking activity. Likewise, material is conserved because makeready is essentially eliminated and a perfect result is usually achieved on the first sheet or book.

Most of us at the trade show took away a feeling that Green Button technology is alive and flourishing, but with even more potential for the future. Seeing the manufacturers' commitment to forward thinking equipment design is revealing about the importance and size of that segment of the digital printing market.IPG


Al Boese is executive director of the BindRite Dealers Association. Contact him at al.boese@bindrite.com

 

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