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What's new with glue?

Jun 1, 2001 12:00 AM

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Know your product mix when evaluating glue systems

Gluing systems have come a long way since the days when a hypodermic veterinary needle was the main conduit for applying glue to paper. The systems of yore could be a real pain: They typically demanded extensive setup and cleaning, and required skilled operators. At high speeds, glue application was unreliable and maddeningly imprecise. Glue systems mounted on folders ultimately handicapped the folding equipment, so commercial printers and trade binders would farm gluing work out to specialists.

But during the past 10 years, gluing systems have evolved significantly. Like other bindery and pressroom equipment, they have been outfitted with automated features and other improvements that have enabled faster job production, simplified operation and better accuracy. Glue and adhesive offerings have also been expanded and improved.

Gluing systems can be configured for numerous applications. There are inline systems on web presses for gluing catalogs, magazines and other web applications. Glue systems on perfect binders are essential for binding magazines, phone books and similar applications. When attached to folders, they apply adhesive to mailings, brochures, multiple-page pasted booklets and a variety of other commercial projects. They can be custom-configured to meet the requirements of most jobs. Determining the product mix to produce with the glue system should be the first step when considering a purchase.


“Identifying the range of products you wish to manufacture is paramount,” confirms Tom DeVito, vice president of Graphic Machinery and Systems (GMS) (San Rafael, CA). “Then you can determine what type of machinery you will be doing it on. From that, a system can be configured.”

GMS manufactures a range of gluing options that fall under the Microglue product umbrella, including application control systems for cold, water-based or liquid adhesives. As part of the lineup, GMS offers microprocessor-based controllers, applicator valves, glue delivery equipment and other peripheral items required for glue systems. The unit's multilingual display prompts operators through all programming options.

Microglue controllers are said to ensure accuracy within 2.5 mm at 1,000 fpm. The two-channel controller provides outputs for line, dot or stitch gluing, separately or in combination. The eight-channel Model 801 controller is expandable to 64 applicator heads and suitable for more complex jobs. GMS plans to introduce a new touchscreen control console at Print 01 that will reportedly work with a wide array of output capabilities.


Controllers are an important element to consider when evaluating glue systems. The pool of trained, qualified workers is shrinking, yet more printers and binderies have picked up gluing to diversify their service offerings and satisfy their customers' needs. Increased automation, beginning with the controller and extending through the entire system, has yielded a more user-friendly production process.

“Operators are overseeing more than an individual machine, and they may not have received extensive training,” says hhs America (Dayton, OH) president John Edgar. “The easier and more logical it is, the less it is an obstacle in the bindery.”

The Programmable glue system from hhs America is a non-contact system that can be installed on folding machines and mailers for spine gluing, complex mailers or other applications. It features unrestricted grouping of singles and multinozzle applicators; simple, precise glue volume adjustment; no contamination of rollers and fold plates; and minimum setup, maintenance and cleaning. The C-1100-4-GS and 8-GS microprocessor controllers, available with four or eight channels, respectively, feature two program versions for continuous and single products, pattern input in millimeters or inches, pattern accuracy within 1 mm, dot size adjustment and a job counter.

Edgar is quick to point out that hhs America also manufactures basic systems without computerized controllers for simple gluing tasks. “In some instances, there is a need for a relatively no-frills system,” he says.

Technologically advanced controllers do have a downside: If they malfunction, it can be exceedingly difficult for a glue system operator to troubleshoot and fix the problem. Mark Fasano, regional sales manager for folder-gluer manufacturer Dick Moll & Sons (Warminster, PA), points out that users were previously able to get into the system, quickly determine what the problem was — a dead battery, perhaps — and fix it. But when a microprocessor-based controller malfunctions, the scenario is infinitely more complicated.

“Not everyone is able to rewrite a hard drive,” Fasano notes. “If you're tapping on the screen and the machine won't do what you want it to, you have to call someone to come fix it.”


Product support is another important consideration, especially for more advanced systems. Although technology exists that enables access to computerized systems on the shop floor by the manufacturer or support staff via modem, that type of connectivity has yet to be implemented by most printers. Dave Swedes, director of engineering and manufacturing at gluing system provider Valco Cincinnati (Cincinnati), says that gluing systems are no different than any other pressroom or bindery equipment: Users require help when setting up new jobs and with maintenance, not just when something goes wrong.

Prospective buyers should find out warranty details as well as what kind of service they would receive from the system manufacturer or dealer. Swedes says that warranties typically extend for one year after a system is installed.

Valco offers a warranty and a satisfaction guarantee on its RobondPro system for web presses.

RoBondPro's dispensing valves are mounted to motorized cross-web bridges, reportedly enabling fast and easy positioning of gluing and softening patterns. Valve position data, as well as intermitent gluing lengths, are stored on the control. The microprocessor-controlled RoBondPro applies glue on an intermittent or continuous basis at machine speeds of 1,000 m per minute. The OT-100 touchscreen operator terminal uses graphical representations to depict glue data and machine geometry, simplifying data entry, performance tracking and quality monitoring. All system functions, including valve position on each bridge, are controlled centrally from the touchscreen.

Baldwin Technology Co., Inc. (Shelton, CT) also offers gluing systems for high-speed web presses. MicroSet 497, a contactless inline gluing unit, applies a continuous or intermittent glue line on the web in the running direction. A folding aid for moistening the fold can be cut in. The application heads are mounted to clamping crossbars in the folder and can be adjusted by the remote controller. Application of glue and/or softening solution is done by MicroJet nozzles, available for different glue line application widths. Automatic cleaning of the applicator heads occurs before start of production, at press stop, during blanket washing and at the end of production.


Adding a gluing system can be a reasonably inexpensive way to expand a shop's capabilities — some systems cost as low as $5,000. Print providers have been known to install them to fulfill the needs of just one customer on a particular project, if the ROI warrants it.

Shops should also consider the other kinds of projects that could be produced with the new system, and should try to evaluate the system's flexibility. “A printer or binder has a certain customer base today that could be different next month. Or because a product went out of style, they're doing a different application,” Dick Moll's Fasano says. “They should make sure the system can grow with them and change with the times.”

Moll's Glu-Bind duplex glue system is available for both hot and cold applications. It can be operated on folding machines, carton gluers and mailing machines. It features non-metallic nozzles, reportedly for cleaner, non-drip running. It can apply dots or lines, and its settings are available in either inches or metrics. Contact or non-contact heads are available. It has two channels and up to four outputs.

Machine flexibility doesn't end with its potential for add-ons. A glue system should be adaptable to the environment in which it is installed. If circumstances dictate moving the glue system between different machines, “it should be able to keep up with a brand new machine that's running 10,000 linear inches per minute, but also function with the old machine that's doing 2,000 linear inches per minute,” Fasano remarks. Technical flexibility also includes being able to change voltages, from a 12-volt to a 24-volt valve, again to accommodate both newer and older equipment.

Chuck Cline, technical marketing manager of bookbinding at National Starch and Chemical (Bridgewater, NJ), advises bookbinders to maintain flexibility by investing in a polyurethane reactive (PUR) gluepot, which can be used for both PUR and hotmelt adhesives. Although PUR is still a relatively small chunk of the adhesive market in the U.S., demand is growing as more binders and print buyers learn of its advantages, which include heat and cold resistance, adhesion to difficult substrates and durability.


Jeff Reece, graphic arts specialist at Nordson (Duluth, GA), notes that PUR is more expensive than other adhesives, yet its ability to produce higher-quality products at increased speeds with less waste has enabled its growing market presence. Reece says that PUR is commonly used in softcover applications for products such as computer or software manuals that have a short shelf life but need to stand up to heavy use.

Nordson sells a number of systems that apply PUR, although most are installed in Europe, where PUR originated and flourishes. The EP48V applies PUR as a film instead of by a wheel applicator, which is the typical instrument for perfect binders. Nordson recently combined its sales and service centers with those of subsidiary Slautterback; Slautterback markets a wide selection of adhesive systems, controllers, applicator nozzles and other components.

Nordson will soon release the LA 4100 and LA 4400 high-speed microprocessor-based systems. The LA 4100 will be suitable for buckle folders in the folding carton industry. The LA 4400 is the more advanced of the two, featuring four photocells, up to 16 channels with touchscreen control, integrated drawer boards that can run eight to 16 guns, and two encoder inputs. It will be used primarily in gluing commercial print jobs.

Another trend in adhesives is the increased use of remoistenable hotmelts, especially in mailing applications. “It's a technology that has worked well for a long time, and now there are good adhesives and products to put it down,” remarks Frank Hughes, vice president of sales and marketing at Robatech USA (Roswell, GA). “People are getting away from cold glue, because so many mailings are produced with coated paper or odd inks, and there have been problems with cold glue popping open.”

Hughes says that after a hotmelt system is installed as an option for producing mailers, the printer or binder eventually foregoes cold glue altogether. “Hot glue costs more, but once it's there, it costs more to switch it out for cold adhesives,” the exec says.

Robatech manufactures a complete line of hotmelt-adhesive and cold-glue equipment, including automated system controllers. Its Integrated Control System (ICS) for hotmelt application units controls temperature, the gear pump, pattern application and communication with the parent machine. The company supplies specific software solutions for different application units, enabling compatibility throughout the entire program.


As gluing systems become more efficient and accurate, printers, binders and their customers have continued to raise the bar on quality expectations. Many print producers are installing glue detection systems to ensure the adhesives are applied correctly on every piece, in terms of placement, length and timing.

“There has been greater interest in glue detection because users are demanding a demonstrable quality control program,” says hhs America's Edgar. He says that detection equipment is commonly used for pharmaceutical products or other jobs with strict glue specifications.

Equipment buyers' efforts to provide their customers with the highest quality products are also evidenced in the trend toward higher-end systems. “People are getting tired of lower-quality equipment,” says Robatech's Hughes. “If you look at five-year operating costs, the price of maintaining glue systems can be high. Because the equipment is constantly heated up, more things tend to go wrong.”


Glue selection also plays a major role in quality assurance. Like any other market, there are inexpensive, low-quality products, as well as higher-end, pricier glues. “Systems are only as good as the glues they use. They range from cheap to very expensive and have corresponding performances,” says Valco's Swedes. He advises customers to find highly stable glues that flow well, to avoid buildup on the nozzles and subsequent start-up problems. He also says to trust glue vendors' adhesive recommendations for a given system.

Sometimes glue vendors and system manufacturers are one and the same. Purchasing supplies, whether it is glue or system components from a single source can simplify operations. As Robatech's Hughes explains it, “Operators want controls on each unit to be similar. We have the same control panel push buttons on all of our machines, so once an operator learns one, they can move from one machine to another with ease.”

When shopping for system components, printers and binders should evaluate all vendors' offerings to find the best fit for the equipment currently in house.

That might be, however, easier said than done. “There is a lot of choice out there,” says Moll's Fasano. “It's almost like paralysis by analysis, because there are so many to choose from.”

Rest assured, there is something for everyone.

For more information on gluing systems, go to for these archived articles:

  • “Folders: smarter, faster, friendlier,” March 2001

  • “Minding your bindings,” January 1998

  • “Strong Business,” January 1998.

Other adhesive options

If you can't justify the cost of investing in a full-blown gluing system or have an unusual fulfillment project, you many want to consider other adhesive options.

Glue Dots International (New Berlin, WI) offers an alternative to hot glue and double-sided tape. Its adhesive dots are used for a variety of applications, including attaching samples or product information to direct-mail pieces, such as the phone card shown here.

Similar to the fugitive (or “booger,” if you prefer) glue used for some tip-in applications, the flat, transparent dots are packaged in roll form on a release liner in quantities ranging from 1,000 to 4,000. Standard dot thickness is approximately 15 mils (1 / 64 -inch) — the product is offered in tack levels ranging from temporary to permanent bond. An optional automatic feeder is available.