Continuous automation at Hunkeler Innovation Days 2023

The inline and near line finishing solutions for web-fed digital presses

The main hall at the Hunkeler Innovation Days 2023 in Luzern Photo Nessan Cleary
The main hall at the Hunkeler Innovation Days 2023 in Luzern Photo Nessan Cleary

This is my final report from this year’s Hunkeler Innovation Days event in Luzern, Switzerland and so it seems appropriate to finish with a look at some of the finishing solutions that were shown.

Hunkeler puts on this event to raise awareness of the role that postpress plays and, of course, to help it sell more of its own kit. But the success of the show is down to Hunkeler’s willingness to treat the event as a collaborative space where all the different players can come together, even including some competitors. This year saw some 6,700 visitors from 100 countries brave the cold Swiss weather, which is a similar number to the show before the pandemic up-ended everything. The overall mood was extremely positive, with everyone I met happy to be able to gather together again. As Yukiyoshi Tanaka, president of Screen, told me, “It’s a small show with just one main hall. Customers can see and compare each machine and each solution within a day so it’s a very efficient show.”

In the first part of this story I covered the various printers that were demonstrated in Luzern and noted that the press vendors were increasingly talking about challenging offset presses and taking on more commercial print work. Tanaka summed this up by saying, “Recently our customers are changing. Our aim was for the transactional market but recently the quality has improved so now we are going for direct mail and book and commercial printing. Using this roll-to-roll technology the range of applications is getting bigger and bigger.” He added, “Digitization is really on the way. We feel that it’s really happening in the US and coming to the UK and continental Europe.”

Continuous feed printers have an obvious advantage over cut sheet devices as it’s relatively simple to transport the web through the press under tension and the paper can be positioned precisely under the printheads. This makes for a faster, cheaper and less complex press than with cut sheets. But a sheetfed press allows the printing and finishing to be separated out, with each job handled one at a time, an important consideration as run lengths continue to fall.

However, in the continuous feed world, the printing and the finishing are always two halves of the same game, even if the postpress is not inline with the press because print still has to be processed as a complete roll. Of course, you could split the roll into sheets but then you would lose the automation and productivity advantages of working from a roll.

Hunkeler PF8 Plowfolder as part of its Starbook Plowfolder solutionPhoto Nessan Cleary
Hunkeler showed this PF8 Plowfolder as part of its Starbook Plowfolder solution
Photo Nessan Cleary

Hunkeler’s Starbook production solution

To this end, the main hall featured a number of automated postpress production lines, mainly centred around book-making. Hunkeler itself unveiled several new additions to its Gen8 range of postpress modules. The most eye catching of these was the new Starbook book production solution which was shown in two configurations.

The Starbook Plowfolder is mainly based around a PF8 Plowfolder combined with a BD8 book delivery unit. This can take web widths from 203 to 762mm and will handle four-, six- or eight-page signatures up to 120gsm. The Plowfolder folds the paper roll into two or three layers, where it goes to a CS8 cutter that slits the roll into sheets. It takes around three minutes to change the folding patterns.

The BD8 unit collects the sheets together and can either deliver them as loose stacks or glue them into book blocks. It’s a very impressive production line that can cope with variable page counts and variable book spine lengths. The entire line runs at up to 250mpm and can produce up to 2,000 book blocks per hour but to keep up with this speed it does need the BD8-iii variant which has three stations.

There’s a simpler variation on this line in the form of the Starbook Webfolder, which is based around a WF8 Web folder that folds the sheets once over. This runs at 180mpm and uses the BD8-ii module, which has just two stations and produces up to 1,000 books per hour.

Hunkeler also demonstrated a new Book Sorting Module, or BSM, which can sort up to 2,000 book blocks per hour, and which was shown with the Starbook Plowfolder. Hunkeler is developing a new series of Smart Logistics Solutions and this is the first of these units. It can be used together with all of Hunkeler’s book block solutions and sorts the book blocks into different containers ready for different delivery streams.

Seiichi Nakao, director of strategic alliances for Hunkeler in the Asia Pacific region, shows off the Starbook PlowfolderPhoto Nessan Cleary
Seiichi Nakao, director of strategic alliances for Hunkeler in the Asia Pacific region, shows off the Starbook Plowfolder
Photo Nessan Cleary

Hunkeler also showed an interesting Auto Splicer solution in the shape of the RX8 media changer. This has two roll units in line. Seiichi Nakao, director of strategic alliances for Hunkeler in the Asia Pacific region, says, “You can put a different type of paper on each roll. Or you can have the same type of paper on both units and the paper can be spliced to the printer continuously with automatic changing.”

This is an essential module if the press vendors are really serious about challenging for commercial work, as it gives continuous feed printers the ability to change automatically between paper stocks.

Hunkeler also showed a new variation on its DocuTrim module. There’s an existing module for SRA3 and B3 sheets but this year Hunkeler has added a new sheet cutter for B2+ sheets. This can take sheets up to 530 x 750mm at a rate of 11,500 sph.
Horizon had two main book production lines set up, including one based around the Saddle Stitcher Mk5, which was first shown at last year’s IGAS show in Tokyo but was here making its European debut. It can be connected inline to a continuous feed printer and was shown directly connected to a Hunkeler Unwinder UW8 and Cutter CS8. However, Yoshihiro Oe, Global business director for Horizon, was quick to point out that Horizon has worked hard to ensure that its systems can connect to most other vendors’ kit.

The previous model would slow down when dealing with book blocks with less sheets but this new version can run at full speed of up to 6,000 book blocks per hour, regardless of the number of sheets. The saddle stitcher can be fitted with two or four heads. Oe points out, “What’s new is that you can adjust the stitch wire. This is because if you do, say, two sheets or 50 sheets stitching then the amount of wire required is different. So it’s much better to adjust the length of the wire to have the exact same length of wire when you open the book.”

He adds, “The important thing with saddle stitching is the tightness of the fold so we individually score each sheet to make a tight fold. The cover feeder also has a built in scorer so the cover can be separately scored.”


Horizon also showed a line producing book blocks for subsequent casing-in though Horizon itself does not currently make a casing-in machine. The line featured two buckle folders to make a complete signature from a single sheet. The system can handle variable thicknesses up to 65mm. The signatures were collected, stacked and glued before being sent to the BQ500 binder.

Oe explains, “We have a barcode and we check the blocks physically to make sure that it matches the barcode according to the design. If it doesn’t match then it’s rejected.”

Yoshihiro Oe, Global business director for Horizon.
Yoshihiro Oe, Global business director for Horizon
Photo Nessan Cleary

Most of the Horizon equipment now features its intelligent connection system or ICE. Oe says, “The non-ICE machines might not need the information or you might need an extension option to connect them to ICE. Most of our machines are ready for ICE.” He adds, “We receive the JDF from upstream and can send back JMF. If the customer doesn’t use JDF then this still uses the same information.”

Horizon also showed a dashboard that shows all the machines in the production lines, together with OEE and KPI data, and which can share some details from other vendors.
Muller Martini showed off a brand new hybrid saddle stitcher, the Prinova Digital, which produces at 9,000 cycles per hour. It is suitable both as an entry-level model for digital saddle stitching, but can also process conventionally printed jobs.

Muller Martini and Meccanotecnica

Muller Martini also demonstrated an improved version of its existing Vareo Pro perfect binding line with a new mixed mode. This allows print shops to produce mixed softcover end products and hardcover book blocks in the same production run without changeovers. A new de-stacker solution optimizes the feeding of book blocks by process-safe separation of piles consisting of book blocks of soft and hardcover products.

The system was shown with an InfiniTrim cutting robot, plus a sorting unit to separate finished products according to various criteria as defined by the customer.
Muller Martini teamed up with Xeikon, which produced book blocks on its SX3000 press that were then bound on the Vareo Pro. The paper for both the inside book pages and the covers was supplied by Sappi and UPM Specialty Papers.

Muller Martini demonstrated this Vareo Pro with InfinitrimPhoto Nessan Cleary
Muller Martini demonstrated this Vareo Pro with Infinitrim
Photo Nessan Cleary

As an alternative to perfect binding, Meccanotecnica demonstrated its Universe Web automatic book sewing machine, in conjunction with a Hunkeler UW8 unwinder and CS6-HS cutter for use with printed rolls up to 520mm in width. It’s designed to automate short and medium runs of books.

Despite all the talk about book printing and general commercial work, transactional printing is still the mainstay of the continuous feed world. So not surprisingly several vendors showed off solutions for this market. This included Muller, which brought along its 6500 cutting system. This is designed for vertical and horizontal slitting and gutter cuts of paper from 40 to 250gsm. It runs at up to 90mpm.


There were also a number of inserting systems shown. Kern demonstrated its K3200 flash, a modular multi-format inserter that can be configured with up to 16 inserting stations. Bluecrest showed its high speed Epic inserter, which can produce up to 21,000 cycles per hour, with a further option to take this up to 24,000 cph. Bowe showed its Fusion inserter. There are three versions available starting with the Fusion Lite, which can process up to 16,000 envelopes per hour. The Fusion Cross can handle both envelopes and flats, up to 24,000 cycles per hour, while the Fusion Speed can reach up to 30,000 cph.


Beside the running production lines, several other vendors also demonstrated finishing kit in the second hall. Thus Scodix showed a B1 Ultra 6000 with SHD, which is a digital finishing device that can add a number of different effects. The SHD technology is essentially a method of adjusting the amount of the polymer material that’s been laid down to achieve a particular effect, much in the way that some printers might lay down more ink because more pigment leads to deeper colours but in this case also taking into account the texture of the substrate. Mark Nixon, VP global sales and marketing for Scodix, explains, “The algorithm is looking at the sheet for areas of micro elements. So it drops extra drops where we need good solids. So the machine works out whether it needs to put one or two drops.”

Mark Nixon, VP Global Sales and Marketing for ScodixPhoto Nessan Cleary
Mark Nixon, VP Global Sales and Marketing for Scodix
Photo Nessan Cleary

Nixon says that the traditional approach of using dies relies on pressure breaking the fibres of the paper and the trick is to emulate this effect with a polymer that just sits on the surface of the media. He says that the Scodix system of digital embellishments is cheaper but adds that nobody wants to pay less money to produce something worse, “The quality has to be the same or better than analogue. Then we can talk about the economics.”

Plockmatic, Morgana, and Kama

The Plockmatic Group launched a larger format version of its SC5000 digital die-cutting system with the new ColorCut SC6000, which can handle longer sheets up to 340 x 710mm. The unit will cut and crease virtually any shape on up to 350-micron media and will also produce kiss-cut sheet labels. A QR code/job library retrieves the associated cut files, even for a mixed job batch run. The SC6000 can accept a mixed stack of jobs. It uses a Vision3 CCD camera to read and instantly retrieve cut files for every sheet, on the fly. The stacker can hold up to 900 sheets, which means that the system can be left unattended while producing medium- to long-runs.

Morgana also previewed an updated version of its PowerSquare two knife trimmer, which can be equipped with a third knife for producing two-up applications through the PowerSquare range.

Kama showed off its ProCut 76 Foil with the new AutoRegister AR3, which uses two cameras to position each sheet even at full speed. It takes 760 x 600 mm sheets up to 1,500 gsm as well as heat-treated, corrugated material and can produce up to 5,500 sheets per hour.

It can be used for a number of applications including die-cutting, creasing and perforating as well as embellishment with hot foil, hologram and relief. The foil works as a carrier substrate and remains on the press and is completely recyclable, transferring wafer-thin applied pigments to the sheets. It can be set up with either a mobile heating plate, which is a heatable honeycomb plate, or with integrated head heating.

In conclusion, the attraction of the Innovation Days has always been that it’s a fairly niche show mainly concentrated around continuous feed printing. We’ll get a much bigger picture of the overall inkjet printing market at next year’s Drupa, and I think the success of this event bodes very well for Drupa 2024. Ultimately, for me, when I think of the number of people that I met with, the range of machines that I saw and the questions that I was able to find answers to, HID2023 proved to be an extremely efficient way of working. And this seemed to be the general vibe of the show.
The next Hunkeler Innovationdays will take place back at Messe Luzern, Switzerland, from 24 to 27 February 2025.

In the meantime, you can find my other reports from this year’s event here –
Canon shows ProStream 3000
HP speeds up Advantage 2200
Kodak launches Ultra 520 in Europe
In from the cold

First published on 22 February 2023 on Republished with permission.

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