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August cover story: The latest and greatest midrange saddlestitchers

Aug 1, 2004 12:00 AM

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New saddlestitching upgrades have made some of the bells and whistles of automation available to smaller print shops. Vendors also have improved manual stitchers for optimal output. The different levels of automated equipment on the market mean you can pick and choose the technology you need — at the price you want — to maximize your ROI. Here we cover the latest midrange saddlestitchers on the market and present opinions from current users.

The key to profitability

Vice president and general manager of McCain Bindery Systems Dennis Keihm asserts, “Automation in itself is not [necessarily] the solution. The key is to find automation that leads to higher productivity with less cost. The real solution is faster machines requiring less maintenance [with] easier makereadies.” McCain offers the manual S2000 saddlestitcher, a model rated at 13,000 cycles per hour (cph) and targeted at companies with average run lengths between 25,000 and 50,000.

What the S2000 lacks in automation, Keihm says it makes up for in user-friendliness and versatility. Recent upgrades to the S2000 include a new electric system, a freestanding caliper to simplify electronic makereadies, and interchangeable signature and inline cover feeders. Additional capabilities are available, including quarter folding, inline cover folding, calendar and three-hole punching, fourth and fifth knives, inside/ outside inkjetting and inline mailing.

Longevity and flexibility

Dwayne Burgess, postpress manager at Texoma Web Offset Printing (Gainesville, TX), recommends McCain saddlestitchers to “anyone who wants a good machine that'll last forever.” Semi-retired Burgess has worked with McCain models for more than 10 years. Texoma Web installed a mechanical McCain 2000XL in 1994 to run alongside its older 1800 version, which in turn was replaced by the new S2000 in 1998.

Texoma Web, a 73-employee commercial print company, produces everything from publications to coupon books to newspapers on its heat- and coldset web presses. Burgess claims the S2000's new adjustable caliper, which can be set to inspect booklets at any point between the head and the foot to check for the presence of cards, envelopes or order forms, is “ten times better” than the previous version.

On an average day, Texoma Web runs the stitcher on one shift, stitching six or seven jobs ranging from 3,000 to 300,000 pieces. Typically, changeovers take only 10 to 15 minutes, reports Burgess, despite having to adjust to dimensions ranging from 3½ × 3½ inches to a maximum 12 × 20 inches. While the older stitcher took 10 people to keep up and running, now just four operators handle daily production.

Despite the limited automation, Texoma makes even the most challenging projects work on the S2000. “This machine can do anything,” claims Burgess. “You can make any [size] work.” He has stitched and trimmed 4 × 6-inch jobs, even though the machine's technical specs report a minimum of 7½ inches. As a result, Texoma often runs jobs for other local print companies that can't finish the jobs on their own equipment.

‘Less to go wrong’

Commercial-print company Golden State Graphics (San Marcos, CA) often sends postpress work to its facility in Mexico, where staff complete perfect binding, Wire-O binding, punching, drilling and hand work. But as the official printer for the San Diego Padres, the $15 million, 65-employee company decided that adding a saddlestitcher to its main location would be the best way to finish the baseball team's programs, magazines and brochures, as well as other customers' orders.

After researching equipment and speaking to other users, plant manager Joe Geimer decided on the Vijuk 321-T saddlestitching system, which was installed at Golden State Graphics' 40,000-sq.-ft. headquarters in January of this year.

Vijuk's 321-T reportedly runs at 10,000 cph and comes standard with six horizontal feeders featuring status lights and signature racks. Mechanical and adjustable vacuum-assist openings allow feeding to be done at a ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Each feeder has an adjustable gripper as well as missing-, double- and dropped-signature detection for quality control. When detected, irregular sets are diverted to a separate tray. The manual 321-T has hand wheels for adjustments and an easy-to-operate electrical control panel.

The ease-of-use factor was what originally appealed to Geimer. While he says the system may be less automated than others he considered, the 321-T's simplified operation means “there's less to go wrong.”

Golden State Graphics currently runs the stitcher on one shift. Only one operator is required, with assistance from one or two other employees. A typical run consists of 15,000 to 25,000 pieces that, after stitching, can be shrink-wrapped inline and boxed for distribution.

Benefits stem from the saddlestitcher's quick setup times — makereadies and changeovers usually can be completed in less than 30 minutes. Cards and inserts can be fed without extra parts or attachments. More challenging jobs — like stitching staggered pages of different dimensions, for example — may take longer to arrange, says Geimer.

Pick your price point

W&C Printing Co. (Winona, MN), which has 50 employees and specializes in sheetfed offset printing, chose the Duplo System 4000 bookletmaker two and a half years ago. A fullsize saddlestitcher would not have fit in its 40,000-sq.-ft. production facility, says Susan Meine, vice president of manufacturing, and W&C found the bookletmaker a perfect fit for its stitching needs. In May 2004 the $4 million company added an updated System 5000 and now, after overhauling the System 4000, runs both machines regularly.

Meine wanted a machine that could handle the demands of a heavy commercial-print environment (W&C runs the 5000 24 hours a day). Recent upgrades to the System 5000 include increased durability and stability, a spine crusher to produce flatter books and an enhanced air system. W&C stitches a lot of coated product, and the air bursts help prevent sheets from sticking together. An accumulation system reportedly offers the flexibility to accept sets from the traditional offset market as well as pre-collated output from digital printers. Jobs can be stitched immediately off press.

The System 5000 has helped combat decreasing print runs with quick setup times averaging 10 to 15 minutes. Meine says typical run lengths range from 200 to 30,000 pieces. Easy changeover is achieved by diverting corner- or side-stitched jobs to a separate catch-tray, while other jobs continue through the trimmer onto the belt stacker. Twelve frequently used setups can be stored in the system's memory. The exec says her bindery has turned up to 10,000 books in half a day, and only one operator is needed to work each bookletmaker. Inline punching and three-hole drilling complete jobs straight off the stitcher.

A durable alternative

The most recent saddlestitchers available from Best Graphics come in three levels of automation — the Best Osako Estar (formerly 368), the Tener (formerly 368AS) and the Poder. All models control all functions via a touchscreen, do not require tools for setup, may be adjusted on the fly and are rated from 11,000 cph to 14,000 cph depending on which rotary feeder and trimmer model it's configured with. The Tener model includes AutoSet capabilities, which automatically sets stitch heads, clinchers and chain timing in 15 seconds. Additional touchscreen controls automatically cycle the trimmer into position, setting knives and side guides. The new Poder model has all the Tener automation, plus the ability to automatically set the digital caliper. The Tener is designed for printers who want to do inkjetting (allowing only perfect books to be delivered to the inkjetter) or selective binding (it can be set to feed or not feed specific signatures, making different books in the same run).

According to Best Graphics president Bob Morton, the stitchers reportedly can run bond paper at 10,000 pieces per hour. The cover decks and feeders also can run lightweight signatures. Difficult signatures, such as postcards, CDs and trifolds, can be run through the non-fixed, fittable rotary feeders.

Morton says all three models best fit printers stitching between 5,000 and two million pieces that want to “strike a balance between automation and price.” Printers may choose a price and automation level that makes sense for them based on their individual business mix.

A simplified workflow

When 60-employee Watkins Printing Co. (Columbus, OH), which specializes in short-run publication printing, replaced its dated saddle- stitcher with the Best Osako Tener (then 368AS) in July 2003, its goal was to find a stitcher offering increased productivity that was easier to run. Now plant manager Bob Smith runs the company's stitcher at twice the speed — up to 11,000 cph — with only three employees, half as many as the previous model required. Smith says, for him, the key features of the Tener are easy setups and flexibility for versatile stocks.

Watkins has simplified postpress workflow by installing a pneumatic clamp to hoist large bundles onto pallets. Staff untie the bundles, then Feuiltault streamfeeders automatically feed signatures into the pockets. Watkins Printing has configured its stitcher with seven pockets plus a cover feeder — it opted not to install an extra card feeder for inserts, but unusual materials, such as plastic holders, cards or tip-on forms, can be stitched in from a regular pocket at half-speed. Smith reports setups take approximately five minutes per pocket, and any adjustments can be fine-tuned on the run. After finished products come off the stitcher, Watkins Printing can perform bundling and inkjetting inline.

While it has CIP3 capabilities in its pressroom, Watkins Printing passed on what would have constituted an additional $10,000 bindery investment. It may consider postpress process automation in the future, but for now, Smith says, qualified personnel make the technology unnecessary.

Total recall

Don Hockenbury had no intentions of buying a saddlestitcher at Graph Expo 2002. The Garlich Printing (Fenton, MO) vice president of production found himself wowed, however, by the Heidelberg Stitchmaster ST 400's ability to memorize, store and return to past jobs. “I was blown away,” says the exec. Automatic recalling and restoration of setups in less than 10 minutes was exactly what Garlich Printing needed to jump, as it often does, from one stitching job to the next.

The ST 400 is almost fully automated, with automatic format presetting of the entire machine, and automatic synchronization of all feeders and the stitcher with the saddle chain. Tilting servo-driven feeders can be mounted on either side of the saddle chain and can be adjusted for height. Five different feeder types are available, including new drum feeders. The ST 400 also may be equipped with the WK 400 sample gluer and the Streamfeeder.

Garlich Printing, a 100-employee, $20 million commercial sheetfed company, frequently receives orders for books that must be produced repeatedly in small quantities on tight deadlines. Reorders for an additional 5,000 copies are set up swiftly with the ST 400, which replaced a Heidelberg ST 90 in May 2003. The old machine required up to an hour of setup time between each and every run; now makereadies recalled from memory take only nine to 15 minutes. Other improvements include the ST 400's faster speed of 14,000 cph and the ability to run books two-up.

Hockenbury reports that his bindery is no longer swamped, as it was frequently with the old stitcher. Now he has room to take on more work — and the orders are coming in. Unlike other companies, Garlich Printing has seen run lengths growing rather than shrinking. An average job may range from 3,000 to 70,000 pieces, and some orders come in for 100,000 books or more.

Garlich Printing runs many different projects through its stitcher, including books, brochures and annual reports. Hockenbury notes the ST 400 provides the unique advantage of allowing the pockets to open up. This feature came in handy when a job required insertion of an unusual booklet into a larger book. The job was accomplished on the machine by opening the pockets, physically dropping in the inserts and letting the machine stitch them in at a slow pace.

Impressive capabilities

Vincent Sita, vice president of manufacturing for Rex Three (Sunrise, FL), returned from an open house at Action Printing (Fond du Lac, WI) thoroughly impressed by Muller Martini's automatic makeready system (AMRYS). The optional automation provides computerized makereadies and changeovers for quick customization to job requirements.

Rex Three, a $20 million graphic-communications service provider with 150 employees, installed a BravoPlus with AMRYS system in December 2003. Its stitcher has six pockets and two cover feeders, the second often used to insert cards, envelopes, etc. Sita praises the machine's construction and solid engineering, as well as reduced noise and vibrations.

AMRYS downloads job files via a management information system (MIS) or directly to the stitcher, which then automatically sets size settings on the feeders, stitching unit, three-knife trimmer and compensating stacker. The resulting setup times are reduced by up to 50 percent. An initial makeready takes from 12 to 15 minutes, but jobs can be saved for recall and reset in just seven minutes. With customers demanding one- and two-day turnarounds, Sita says this feature helps when one job has to be interrupted in order to finish another on a shorter deadline. “Jobs turn over so quickly it boggles my mind.” Depending on the number of pockets used, the BravoPlus can run jobs up to 13,000 cph.

Rex Three supervisors spent three weeks learning the AMRYS system, then began training employees. They've experienced few glitches since. Sita says the BravoPlus has created a vacuum: “It sucks work right out of the bindery.” The exec also notes that, with the bottleneck at the stitcher solved, the company is now in the market for a new cutter.

Muller Martini is helping customers implement CIP4/JDF capabilities — Sita reports that Rex Three is experimenting with CIP4 capabilities, but it's not foolproof yet. Sita hopes the need to enter data manually will have been eliminated by the end of the year. With the proper front end, however (Rex Three uses Creo's UpFront), information can be captured from the stitcher and data sent directly to the MIS. “The cool thing [about JDF],” says Sita, “is that I get stats straight off of the stitcher — production rates, alerts if a problem occurs, and what and where the problem is. If a customer asks about job status, we can provide instant answers.”

Leslie Shiers is assistant editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

On your mark, get set, sew

When Triangle Printers (Skokie, IL) created an annual report for the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, it encountered an unusual challenge. How do you create an environmentally friendly binding? If the printer used staples, the paper couldn't be recycled unless the readers removed the staples by hand. And since the report is only 32 pages long, perfect binding wasn't a great option.

Fortunately, Triangle has an established relationship with Chicago Protective Apparel, an industrial sewing facility. After some trial runs, it was determined that Chicago Protective Apparel could stitch-bind the books on its sewing machines.

“[We had] a really close collaboration with the designer to avoid any problems,” explains Allison Rickett, Triangle account executive. Triangle made paper dummies and did test sewing. To see how the images worked on the variety of recycled paper stocks, they press proofed color photos for the cover on ivory, brown and white paper. Ultimately, the project was delivered a week ahead of schedule and right on budget.


  • At this year's Graph Expo, Best Graphics will show, for the first time in North America, its heaviest duty inline stitching trimmer. The 327A three-knife trimmer has independent clamping and a separate clamp-drive motor. It is said to accept books of 20-mm thickness into the clamp and cuts 17-mm-thick books.

  • Heidelberg introduced its midpriced Stitchmaster ST 350 at Drupa. Operators of ST 270 and ST 300 models gave the manufacturer input for upgrades, which led to the ST 350's semi-automated capabilities and CIP3/PPF integration possibility, as well as makeready reductions of three to five minutes per pocket. The ST 350 is still in beta testing, but keep an eye out for it at Graph Expo.

  • At Drupa, IBIS introduced four new Smart-binder systems, which combine stitching and gluing production in one piece of equipment.

Upgraded bookletmaker/saddlestitcher

IBIS (High Wycombe, UK) has improved its Digi-Stitcher for 2004. The model DS1220 hybrid bookletmaker/saddlestitcher now has multiple-bin cover and insert sheet feeding, allowing loading of different covers that can be changed from one to another while the stitcher is running. Format changeovers reportedly take five minutes.

The DS1220 also provides higher speeds of up to 1,200 ppm or, when outfitted with an optional prefolder, up to 2,400 ppm. A high-torque drive system comes standard for a maximum book thickness of 0.4 inches. Changes in book thickness are automatic based on information in barcodes on the sheets, while format changes continue to be done manually.

The Digi-stitcher can be configured either inline with high-speed digital printers or offline. For offline operation, IBIS's sheet pile feeder now includes an optional pile-loading trolley system to decrease loading time and avoid manual handling.