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A knack for stacks

Apr 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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What are we are going to do with these “haystacks” of digitally printed sheets? It’s a question some of us have pondered for more than a decade, ever since Xerox introduced its first DocuTech in 1990.

At a 1993 Hunkeler Open House in Switzerland, all of the major players, such as IBM and Xerox, showed off their amazing new digital print capabilities. The stage was set for a steady stream of inline and offline finishing solutions.

Some of these early devices had serious problems. During the 1996 Graph Expo in Philadelphia, books bound inline off a DocuTech fell apart due to a chemical problem between toners and hot-melt adhesives. It was a development that sparked lots of questions from our students, but most of these problems are behind us.

Nonetheless, a few challenges remain, especially if sheets are heavily coated with toner, such as multicolor digital printed photo books. Hardcover and softcover books bound with a heavy coating of hot melt on the spine, on relatively inexpensive, single-clamp perfect binders, often have bindings with a built-in “mousetrap.” Applying endpapers for hardcover bindings is a major headache, as expensive as it is labor intensive. And three-knife trimmers require precious minutes to change from one dimension to another.

Book binding veteran addresses on-demand options
Kurt Richter, a mechanical engineer experienced in all aspects of book manufacture, recognized these problems and sought a solution. Richter, previously known for his work with the Book Technology Group, teamed with a group of German engineers to develop some new concepts for binding short-run digital and offset printed books. The resulting company, Short Run Solutions, ( is located in Lugano, Switzerland, with some engineering/manufacturing in Leipzig, Germany—near MAN Roland, Heidelberg’s postpress operation and other well-known neighbors. At DRUPA 2004, Short Run Solutions introduced a new perfect binding concept: ShortRunBIND.

Slightly more than a year later, the all-new binder is operating at several European plants. The first such binder/trimmer connected to a complete SRS hardcover binding line in North America recently started up at Thomson West (Eagan MN), the nation’s largest law-book printing and binding facility. The line handles the output from 14 OcĂ© print engines (seven lines).

Innovative binder
The fully automated binder is relatively compact and can bind stacks of single sheets and folded signatures. Best of all, it also can process Smyth-sewn book blocks, which need to be glued-off and lined up on the spine. For hardcover bindings, this binder features a unique, fully automated endpaper attachment. It should be noted that after spine preparation, the endpapers are aligned flush with the binding edge. This will ensure an excellent joint structure, which exerts less pressure onto the critical first and last leaves. The new ShortRunBIND machine is delivered with a manual infeed, but it can be connected to any existing gathering unit. (In most cases, a gathering unit would defeat the purpose. After all, short-run binders need to process all kinds of materials—stacks of single sheets, folded signatures and sewn-book blocks.)

The binder is easy to operate. Using a well-designed touchscreen, the first step is to select the appropriate binding method: soft- or hardcover bindings with endpapers, gluing-off and lining up sewn book blocks, a lay-flat binding (Otabind), a Swiss brochure, etc.

If it is a softcover binding, the infeed will measure the thickness and automatically adjust the cover scoring. Even during the production run, every stack is measured to ensure no material is missing. An operator only needs to press a few screens and the binder is ready to bind 20 books a minute with a single operator. A changeover to hardcover binding or a different format takes only seconds. If desired, the spine can be lined with a reinforcing material and glued up onto the sides of the endpapers, thus eliminating the need for a gauze. The spine preparation is adjustable and the notches can be spaced as desired, all depending on the papers to be processed. If sewn book blocks are glued-off and lined, the milling station is simply deleted. No mechanical changes are required.

Get the PUR
ShortRunBIND is available with hot-melt, PVA or PUR adhesives. Multiple glue stations are exchanged easily. I recommend spending a little more money for PUR. This will give you a competitive edge, a superior binding quality for all papers. On the offset side, PUR prevents insidious ink solvent migration problems. Most importantly, the finished product will offer superior strength and open flat every time. Cleaning up the PUR extrusion head is quick. At the end of the production day, all you need to do is wipe off the application head with a towel. (See “PUR in every glue pot,” April 2005.)

All machine adjustments are completely motorized, eliminating the need to swap out parts manually.

Speedy trimmer changeovers
Once a book is bound, it must be trimmed. Conventional three-knife trimmers can eat up time during changeovers, because cutting blocks must be exchanged. Vendors eventually reduced trimmer changeovers to minutes, but Short Run Solutions’ engineers have created a trimmer capable of changing over in mere seconds. The secret is a new, patented shutter-like pressing device. No parts need to be exchanged to switch the trimmer from one mode to another. I observed an operator at Thomson West change the entire trimmer from a two-inch-thick, 6 x 9-inch book block to an oblong, odd-size, 1/4-inch-thick book in a few seconds. All he did was use the touchscreen to indicate what should be trimmed. Everything else was automatic.

A swing-cut knife movement ensures good trim quality. The compact unit can be used inline or offline.

The SRS binder and trimmer feature integrated, touchscreen-activated troubleshooting software, enabling the average user to identify and solve problems. Both the binder and trimmer are JDF/CIP4-compliant.

Richter is pleased to have built and introduced an exciting new generation of binding equipment. His achievement is indeed impressive and well worth investigating for those evaluating affordable on-demand binding options.

The case (so to speak) for short-run finishing
A major trade binder recently contacted me to discuss binding on-demand. My correspondent said his company opened a short-run book division about a year ago, with strong online sales. “The market we are going after is from one to 300 books, all hard-cover,” he told me. “We are selling these services with the printing included. Sales for 2005 were $250,000, but we expect them to double in 2006.”

Many Library Binding Institute members have shared similar stories. Library binding is declining, but on-demand, short-run hard-cover books are growing at an accelerated pace. A little more than 20 years ago, 60,000 titles were published annually in the United States. In 2005, that number was 193,000! But the total units produced remains similar to years past. Our industry has changed—we are now in a short-run environment. Jobs coming in require 20, 50 or a few hundred to be printed and bound in a most efficient manner. These days, quick changeovers and versatility are essential to survive in an increasingly competitive environment.

About Short Run Solutions
ShortRun Solutions’ mission is to develop equipment that “reflects the market’s need to reduce book production to run lengths of about 50 to 2,000 copies per title.” The vendor’s goal is to develop machines suitable for inline, near-line or offline operations with common features—including a speed of up to 20 cycles per minute, fully automatic and motorized changeovers, and JDF and CIP4 compliance.

In addition to its binder and trimmer, Short Run Solutions offers an assortment of equipment for case making, hard-cover binding, stacking and other finishing operations.


Werner Rebsamen, professor emeritus, RIT (Rochester, NY), has lectured and consulted with more than 300 printing and binding facilities around the world. Contact him at