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Producing hardcover books inline: a Drupa preview

Feb 1, 2004 12:00 AM

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This past September more than 250 visitors from two dozen countries gathered in Germany for Muller Martini's (Hauppauge, NY) VBF open house. (VBF is a division of Muller Martini.) Held at VBF's Bad Mergentheim factory, the event showcased two new products — the VenturaConnect book-sewing system and Collibri back-gluing machine — as part of an inline hardcover book-production demonstration. Every step of the production process, from gathering signatures to the finished book, is automated — machines are coupled together and controlled via computer.

Approximately 250 books were produced during each demonstration. Coordinated control features, combined with appropriately arranged buffer zones, dramatically reduced set-up times. This new hardcover binding system could potentially eliminate the need for specialized short-run equipment, since changeover costs are the same whether the run is 100 or 100,000.

Users can produce books non-stop — even when switching from a small-format A5 book to a larger A6 one.

Participants in the open house had a chance to see this flexibility for themselves. Shortly after the last A5 book signature was gathered — while the downstream machines were still finishing the previous production run — changeover for the A6 book began. Within minutes, all inline machines, from the gatherer to the buffer zone, were changed over to the new, larger format. Production of the A6 book was underway before the last A5 books exited the Diamant binding line. The A6 book block accumulated in the buffer zone ahead of the three-knife trimmer. Changing over the trimmer and hardcover line never took longer than 10 minutes, and in one instance took only seven minutes.

Getting started at the gatherer

To start the demonstration, operators placed signatures for an A5-format book into the hopper stations of the ZTM 1573 gathering machine. After the Connect System stacked the gathered signature bundles, they were automatically transported to the Ventura book-sewing machines. Due to demonstration floor space limitations, only one machine was used, but up to three machines — each capable of sewing 200 signatures per minute — can be supported.

Sewn book blocks were diverted and stored in the buffer station. Next, the sewn book blocks were transported in stacks and automatically diverted to the book-block feeder. Following their transfer to the actual binding line, the book blocks got end sheets from the 3648 end-sheet tipper. From there, it was on to the Collibri back-gluing machine, for gluing off with a two-shot system. The glued-off book blocks were then stripped with a lining material. This gauze-free lining extended over and onto the end paper, creating a reinforced high-quality binding.

The next stop for the book blocks was the new TPM spine-drying and pressing machine, and from there, a buffer zone where the books were stacked and transported to a Slip Torque conveyor system. Book-block cooling and drying times are maximized with minimal space requirements. (I am well-acquainted with the need for a good buffer system, having set up the world's first fully automatic printing and binding system 30 years ago. You'll always have unexpected stops, but a well-designed buffer system helps maintain the line's overall productivity.)

Prior to arriving at the Merit three-knife trimmer, the stacks were again separated. The books were then transferred to the Diamant book line (first introduced at Drupa 2000) where they were rounded, backed, given headbands and cased-in. The books then traveled to the EP 680 joint forming and pressing machine and then to the BLSD 650 book stacker.

The Jack Plus book jacketing machine can be configured inline, but, due to space constraints, this feature was demonstrated offline, as was a new ribbon inserting machine. Hoerauf specialists also were on hand to demonstrate the BDM case-making machine rated at 5,100 cycles per hour.

Highlights of some of this book-production equipment follows. For a step-by-step description of the inline system, see p. 34.

VenturaConnect book-sewing system

Two years ago, Muller showed the Ventura Sewing Connect System as a prototype, but it is now in daily operation in Europe. The Ventura system can efficiently process one- or two-up signatures. The 1573 gathering machine is available in sizes up to 20 inches and features the automatic signature control system (ASAC). An automatic signature image recognition system (ASIR) is optional.

Gathered stacks are forwarded to a signature stack compression unit and then onto a buffer zone. This is a flexible configuration that uses a selectable number of transport carriages to ensure that all book-sewing machines are kept supplied with sufficient signatures. There are no empty cycles.

Integrating the Ventura sewing machines with gathering and automatic signature-transfer capabilities creates a “VenturaConnect” system. Free-standing Inventa sewing machines also can be incorporated into the system.

Collibri back gluing

Collibri literally means “glue books.” Col is Latin for “glue” and libri is Italian for “books.” This machine performs a critical operation — I have seen many instances where improper glue application resulted in ruined jobs, and subsequent legal action against the binder. But where Collibri really shines is at the difficult task of gluing-off sewn book blocks on the spine.

The adhesive must penetrate the sewing holes and secure the innermost four-page signature. It's essential to control glue application/penetration between individual signatures. Jobs that combine coated and uncoated stocks are particularly challenging, since the adhesive can easily penetrate coated stock, but not uncoated.

Also, since most conventional gluing machines typically feature a single glue pot, it's hard to control glue penetration. By contrast, the Collibri's glue stations are interchangeable, allowing the user to quickly switch from one gluing method to the other. At the open house, a two-shot FulDry system was used. The book blocks' backs were pressed and then received a primer coating and hotmelt application.

A new back-lining station feeds the lining material perpendicular from a wide roll, ensuring accurate positioning on the liner of the book block. Automatic cutting in both directions of the lining material allows quick setup when changing book-block thickness. Side-gluing secures the lining material up and onto the endpapers, reinforcing the book blocks from head to tail and side to side.

The Collibri is controlled from three menu-guided operator panels. Only the book block format needs to be entered. The machine then performs set-up procedures automatically within about one minute. It can be used as a standalone unit and can handle sewn or thread-sealed book blocks.

Book pressing

Sewn signatures create a slight swell on the spine. If the paper is cross-grained, the swelling increases. The best way to prevent machine stops is to strive for product uniformity. The Collibri can be configured with the RPM spine-pressing system and TPM spine-drying and pressing machine. The heart of both pressing machines is the patented roller-pressing system, which consists of three pressing roller pairs that provide good spine compression. The RPM is installed upstream or downstream of the back-gluing machine, while the TPM is installed downstream.

Inline hardcover book production and Diamant line [diagram key]

  1. ZTM 1573 gathering machine

  2. VenturaConnect integrated book-sewing system

  3. Ventura book-sewing machine

  4. Book stacker

  5. Book-block feeder

  6. 3648 end-sheet feeder

  7. Collibri back-gluing machine

  8. TPM drying and pressing machine

  9. CB12 book stacker

  10. Slip-Torque buffering conveyors

  11. Merit-S three-knife trimmer

  12. RHE 622 casing-in line

  13. EP 680 joint-forming and pressing machine

  14. BLSD 650/D book stacker

  15. Jack Plus jacketing machine

  16. BDM universal case maker

  17. EKS 400 corner cutter

  18. Ribbon 60 ribbon inserter

Inline book production: step-by-step

1. ZTM 1573 gathering machine

Assembling signatures at up to 8,000 cph, the ZTM 1573 can process a wide variety of stock weights and textures. It can handle book sizes ranging up to 20 inches at the spine. Its adjustable feeder magazines can be loaded from both sides. The magazine's signature-separation feature, as well as the ZTM's flying signature acceleration, contribute to reliable operation. The control system includes automatic signature detection (ASIR) as well as signature-thickness measurement (ASAC).

2-3. VenturaConnect

Making its debut at Drupa, VenturaConnect (2) gathers and sews signatures into book blocks in one pass. An angled infeed takes the gathered signatures to the signature stacker. The stacks, measuring up to 6.6 inches in height, are pressed, turned and gently transferred to transport carriages. The loaded carriages form a buffer zone from which the signature stacks can automatically be transferred on-demand to the Ventura book-sewing machine (3) or diverted for manual feeding. Muller's Connect solutions can be configured with up to three inline book sewing machines.

The Ventura sewing machine can handle book spine lengths of 4.7 inches to 20 inches. An adjustable air jet system eliminates the conventional gripper mechanism. All book-related width settings — except those of the hopper and book-counting stacker — can be set via touchscreen control.

4. Stacking, 5. Feeding, 6. End-sheet application and 7. Back gluing

The sewn book blocks are stacked (4) and taken to the book-block feeder (5). The 3648 end-sheet feeder (6) delivers the end-sheet before the book block is taken to the new Collibri back-gluing machine (7). This machine has a modular design and is offered in different lengths, for one- or two-shot gluing.

Interchangeable glue pots facilitate fast changeover between different gluing methods. The glue-level sensor, pneumatic glue pumps and temperature-monitoring system (for hotmelt) ensure that glue application remains consistent. For cold emulsion and combined two-shot gluing processes, an infrared section with air-circulating blower is used to extract moisture from the glue. The lining material is fed from a wide roll that unwinds perpendicularly to the book block, reportedly resulting in fewer roll changes. An integrated liner pressing station completes the book-block binding process.

8. Spine drying and pressing system

The TPM spine drying and pressing machine (8) efficiently dries each book block by transporting it through a 13-ft.-long gauntlet of infrared lamps and strategically circulated air.

9. Stacking, 10. Drying/cooling/buffering and 11. Trimming

The book blocks are taken via a lay-down device to the CB12 book stacker (9). Here they are stacked and then a Slip Torque conveyor (10) takes them to the Merit three-knife trimmer (11). The Slip Torque system increases the book drying and cooling time but can also be used as a buffer. Books with block thickness of up to 3.1 inches can be trimmed on three sides, either in- or offline. The trimmer, specifically designed for hardcover book production, is programmable and can be set up by the automatic AMRYS makeready system.

12. Casing-in, 13. Joint forming and pressing

The Diamant book line is downstream from the three-knife trimmer and includes the RHE 622 casing-in line (12) and the EP 680 joint-forming and pressing machine (13). The spines of the incoming blocks are warmed by infrared heaters so that they can be rounded. In the Diamant line, books are rounded and backed in two full wipes, ensuring a permanent and stable joint.

14. End/straight-through stacking

At the end of the inline system, the finished books are accepted and stacked by the BLSD 650 book stacker. As a straight-through stacker the BLSD 650 D is used in coupled systems as a buffer element. If there's a machine malfunction downstream, the BLSD 650 D switches automatically from the straight-through mode — with or without rotation — to the stacking mode and deposits the books in stacks on the delivery conveyor.

15. Jacketing, 16. Case making, 17. Corner cutting and 18. Ribbon insertion

Additional hard-cover production modules include the Jack Plus jacketing machine (15), the BDM Universal automatic case maker (16), the EKS 400 corner cutter (17) and the Ribbon 60 ribbon insertion machine.

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

MBO and Muller host open house

This past fall, U.S. printers and bindery specialists previewed advanced finishing technology at the MBO America/Muller Martini open house. The two bindery vendors were joined by 21 other exhibitors at MBO America's main warehouse in Westampton, NJ. Company officials estimated about 500 people attended the invitation-only event.

MBO unveiled a new option for creating on-demand saddlestitched brochures. The DIGI-Finisher combines an MBO B-21 folder with a pile feeder and saddlestitcher and can be used for both variable and fixed jobs. (For more details, see “On-demand postpress options,” p. 24.)

Using a BravoPlus stitcher, Muller Martini (Hauppage, NY) demonstrated how AMRYS servo motors strategically positioned throughout the machine, combined with JDF commands, can streamline a potentially time-consuming task: Setting up pocket, stitching unit and trimmer specifications between jobs.

Muller Martini's short-run on-demand perfect binder, AmigoDigital, was connected to an IBM Infoprint 4100 printing at 280 fpm. Its output was fed into a Stalfors LX500 for cutting, then to an MBO system where it was folded into signatures. A Palamides Alpha 500 gathered the signatures into book blocks, and the AmigoDigital completed the binding process.

The event was also the North American debut of the Esprit three-knife trimmer, which can be integrated with Muller Martini or other short-run to midrange perfect binders.

Making the case for thread-sewn books

Wouldn't it be easier for book manufacturers to just use polyurethane reactive (PUR) adhesive bindings rather than invest in thread-sewing machines? Not necessarily. Because today's papers contain more fillers than ever before, they can be difficult to bind — even with PUR.

But a sewn book will never fail — its pages will never fall out. Having tested all kinds of bindings during my 25 years at RIT (Rochester, NY), I believe that thread sewing offers unmatched durability.