Inline Finishing VS Offline Finishing
When printers and finishing processors are set up to operate offline, each machine working in close proximity to one another in the same room, offline finishing presents more benefits than drawbacks.
The increase in efficiency, speed and end product quality from an offline system is counter-intuitive however. Compared to the perceived logical benefits that inline finishing systems present “on paper”, unless they are applied to specific applications involving similar products, inline finishing actually does not perform as expected in most real business applications.
A few years ago the attractive idea of achieving more high-volume processing appeared in the printing industry when the speeds of digital printers and finishing processors became somewhat compatible. The concept of physically coupling printers and finishing processors into an inline system appeared to create a streamlined, highly automated process.
The Perceived Benefits of Inline Finishing
Inline finishing was initially perceived as a logical choice because on the surface there seemed to be more benefits than drawbacks:
- The more a process is automated, the more throughput the system should have.
- With the increase in throughput, the need for equipment and labor should diminish.
- Since skilled labor is expensive, the whole inline process using less skilled labor should be less expensive as well.
- Since product integrity increases conceptually, the inline process should create higher quality documents.
Inline Finishing Works Best With Homogeneous Products
When you are producing homogeneous, highly consistent print products, an inline finishing system has the advantage. When these conditions are in place, inline finishing has the advantage of gaining a consistent stream of operation that creates high quality end products. This also eliminates the need for labor to move the printed material to the finisher. The physical links in an inline finishing system allow for a faster turnaround time, and minimize the manual handling of the printed documents.
The problem with this however, is that most printing companies have few homogeneous products compared to the many dynamic, highly individualized printing runs they are in business to generate. And that’s where the enticing prospect of inline finishing breaks down on several realistic levels: speed matching, reliability, setup, flexibility, service, quality, and error recovery.
When a printing business must produce a wide variety of different products, and attempts to link a variety of different machine components to finish the different products inline, it can become an over-complicated ordeal that in the long run, subtracts from the perceived benefits of total automation:
- Speed Matching: When different machines with differing speeds are forced to work in an inline system, either the throughput of the finishing machines for example, or the printers themselves are significantly reduced because the faster device becomes a servant to the slower device.
- Reliability: Reliability is handicapped when different devices are linked in an inline system because the total system is only as good and reliable as the weakest device.
- Setup: In an inline system, setup and adjustment becomes over-complicated and difficulties are compounded with each additional inline component.
- Flexibility: Automated inline systems reduce flexibility because a mix of products add taxing demands that a rigid inline system is not really designed to handle.
- Service: With inline finishing systems, service nightmares rear their ugly heads becausefirst, servicing one inline device can impact the function of the other devices inline. Second,the complex interactions between linked devices must be considered when deciding exactly what kind of service technician is qualified to service the components of the inline system in the first place, AND… the actual higher costs attached to that qualified technician or technician team must be considered as well.
- Quality: Inline systems offer a reduced chance to inspect for quality.
- Error Recovery: Inline systems provide less chances to recover from errors, especially for example when the final individual products must be sealed in envelopes.
Offline Finishing Generally Has More Benefits Than Drawbacks
While some specific applications are highly suited for inline finishing, offline finishing systems are more robust, versatile and can handle the diversity of product assignments that most printing companies are faced with.
The benefits of offline finishing actually turn out to be quite significant:
- One component will not cause another to slow or fail.
- Since there is no interaction between devices, downtime between each device is minimal.
- Instead of being forced to begin a run at the beginning of an inline system, material in an online system can be evenly distributed to any available device.
- Labor costs will be minimized with automated material handling devices such as high- capacity paper carts and, or roll feed units by less skilled workers who can easily be trained to operate them.
The best approach is to bring printers and finishers working offline into a close, but comfortable working proximity with each other in the same space. This way, you can move material using automation between pieces of equipment, and you’ll actually be able to see the amount of buffering you’ll need between pieces of equipment to keep your operations running smoothly.