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Binding hardcover books on demand

Mar 1, 2002 12:00 AM

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In the mid-1970s, book manufacturers typically stored books for publishers. For example, a major New Jersey book manufacturer had 26 million books in its warehouse — mostly Disney and Dr. Seuss titles. Maintaining high inventories was inefficient and costly, but the technology at the time left little choice. There was no computer-controlled or servo-motor-driven hardcover binding equipment. It took hours to change over from one job to the next.

First, the operator had to take some signatures to a gathering machine and manually set up one hopper feeding station after another. Imagine repeating this task 42 times or more for a single job.

Once the adhesive binder was prepared — another time-consuming task — the operator had to set up the three-knife trimmer. After trimming a few book blocks, it was time to tackle the in-feed station, rounder/backer, lining station with gauze, headbands, kraftpaper, two glue stations, casing-in machine, and finally, the building-in unit, jacketing machine and stacker.


Thirty years ago, Smyth dominated the hardcover machinery market, with its triple lining and headbanding machine. Although its design was unique, the Smyth machine had one drawback: After casing in, every book block had to be hand-pressed into the cover to ensure a square fit. Kolbus (Rahden, Germany) compact lines also were popular, as was Stahl GmbH's (Ludwigsburg, Germany) VBF BL 100 introduced at Drupa 1972.

The Kolbus and Stahl machines could produce 30 to 40 books per minute. Hydraulic systems drove single machines. This revolutionary concept offered superior rounding and backing, as well as excellent binding-in (i.e., pressing and joint forming). Nonetheless, all settings still had to be made manually. It might take less than an hour to bind a run of 2,000 books, but the initial setup took hours.

Stahl's 1982 introduction of the BL 200 revolutionized book manufacturing. The BL 200 was the first machine to offer an automatic makeready system, the Central Automatic Changeover (CAC). Although computers were still in their infancy, CAC enabled operators to dramatically reduce binding-line setups.

In 1986, Stahl VBF introduced the Computer Operating System (COS) with a monitor. The BL 500 followed in 1992 — a subsequent version featured a new binding-in system with two-stream infeed, further improving joint quality.

Müller Martini (Zofingen, Switzerland) acquired the Stahl VBF book-manufacturing equipment rights in 1998. Shortly afterward, Müller introduced the BL 500 Plus. Speed was a key enhancement — the new model offered 3,300 cycles per hour (cph) versus the BL 500's 3,000 cph.

In 1995, six postpress vendors formed the Book Technology Group (BTG). This sales and marketing group provided book manufacturers with a single source of equipment. As of January 2002, Müller Martini has assumed responsibility for the VBF hardcover book-manufacturing equipment's marketing, parts and service (see “New chapter for Book Technology Group,” right).

At Drupa 2000, BTG introduced the VBF Diamant hardcover binding system, featuring:

  • A shaftless drive

  • An automatic makeready system (AMRYS) with touchscreen monitor and operator panels

  • Motor-driven adjustments (there are approximately 35 servo motors on the book line and stacker)

  • On-the-fly adjustments.

The VBF Diamant System reportedly has enjoyed rapid acceptance among book manufacturers. Satisfied customers include R.R. Donnelley & Sons' Roanoke, VA, facility. During a recent visit, I spoke with Floyd Edmonds, head operator of the hardcover lines, as well as John Earl, bindery supervisor. Both are impressed by the quality of the books produced on the Diamant.

“It's outstanding,” claims Earl. After conducting my own evaluation, I must agree. When I turned back the front cover of a book as far as it would go, the first sheet did not move. This test proved that no stress is placed on the adhesive binding — the book will last indefinitely.


More examples of state-of-the-art hardcover bookbinding could be seen this past fall when Müller Martini held an open house at its VBF facility in Bad Mergentheim, Germany. (Unfortunately, due to the events of Sept. 11, most North American book manufacturers didn't attend.)

A variety of demonstrations featured hardbound books from DIN A4 (8.5 × 11 inches) to DIN A6 (4.25 × 5.5 inches), square-backed and rounded and backed.

Signatures were gathered on Müller's 1571 gatherer and then fed to the Acoro adhesive binder (see diagram on opposite page). The Acoro's adhesive options include hotmelt, cold emulsion, two-shot or PUR. (See “Perfect binding that's slower, but faster,” March 2001, p. 42.)

The 3642 book-block feeder fed sewn book blocks that were produced on the new Ventura sewing machine. Regardless of whether the book blocks were adhesive-bound or sewn, they received a dual coating of adhesives and high-quality capping on the spine, with the lining material extending onto the endpapers.

The bound book blocks then were transferred to the Merit S three-knife trimmer. Then, they proceeded to a Diamant book line where they remained square, rounded, or rounded and backed. Lining-up followed, with gauze (if desired), kraft lining and headbands. The book blocks were cased-in to hardcover cases and transferred to the BLSD joint-forming/pressing station. Its double-current system and attendant long process cycle result in excellent book quality. The pressed books are then forwarded to the Jack Plus jacketing machine and on to the BLSD book stacker.

The equipment operators changed over the machines by accessing menus on the Commander touchscreen. Using this screen, an operator can control the line from the gatherer all the way through to the stacker. For repeat jobs, an operator can quickly call up any previous Commander-assigned parameters.

Other offline demonstrations at the open house included the Ventura book sewer and Hörauf's (Donzdorf, Germany) Universal casemaker. The Ventura book sewer, which is now manufactured at the VBF Mergentheim facility, is rated at 200 signatures per minute.

Hörauf, a Müller Martini VBF partner, showcased its BDM Universal casemaker. (The old VBF DM 300 casemaker model has been discontinued in favor of the faster, linear Hörauf models.) Highlights of the BDM casemaker include fast changeover and easy access to critical machine components.

Visitors also were particularly interested in the EKS 400 corner-cutter. The corners are cut round inward. The quality of the turn-ins as well as the corners was outstanding.

The operators of the various book-line components were challenged to perform complete (pre-programmed) changeovers, from large, square-back books to small, rounded and backed books. Thanks to touchscreen computer controls, they completed the switch within 10 minutes.

These short set-up times for a complex book production line permit the economical production of very short print runs. The demonstrations proved that high-quality, edition hardcover binding on demand has arrived.

Will those with older, manually adjusted hardcover binding equipment remain competitive? Probably not — our customers' requirements have changed and so have our tools.

New chapter for Book Technology Group

The Book Technology Group (BTG), a sales and marketing group, was formed in 1995 to provide book manufacturers with one-stop shopping for all of the equipment needed to set up a manufacturing line. Original member companies included Profinish, Hürauf, Stahl VBF, Müller Martini, Prosystem and Sigloch.

In 1998, Sigloch (Kunzelsau, Germany) left the BTG to enter a strategic alliance with Kolbus (Rahden, Germany). That same year, Müller Martini (Zofingen, Switzerland) acquired the rights to Stahl's VBF book-manufacturing equipment.

As of January, Müller Martini has assumed responsibility for the VBF hardcover book-manufacturing equipment's marketing, parts and service. Müller Martini also is serving as the distribution and service arm for Hörauf (Donzdorf, Germany) casemakers. Future VBF developments, such as hot-stamping equipment and ribbon-inserting machines, will also be distributed and serviced by Müller Martini.

Werner Naegeli, Müller Martini U.S.A. president and CEO, said that the company is marketing and supporting these product lines to provide its customers with single-source solutions.

The company recently announced that industry veteran Al Katz will serve as the sales manager for all VBF equipment. While at Kolbus America (Mahwah, NJ), where he served as executive vice president and CEO, Katz managed the introduction of the company's soft-binding lines and soft/hard-binding systems in the U.S. and Canada. Prior to joining Müller Martini, Katz was the Northeast sales and marketing manager for PEM Fastening Systems (Danboro, PA).

Jim Kaeli has been named product manager for Müller's bookbinding division. Kaeli spent 20 years with R.R. Donnelley & Sons, including 14 years at its Lancaster, PA, facility. He joined BTG in November 2000 as a regional sales manager.

Experts agree: Books are here to stay

This past September, more than 300 book-manufacturing experts from around the world attended a two-day open house at Müller Martini's VBF facility in Bad Mergentheim, Germany. Müller Martini (Zofingen, Switzerland) acquired the Stahl VBF book-manufacturing equipment rights in 1998.

Rudolf Müller, Müller Martini's CEO and chairman of the board, discussed the future of the book. The exec, who is also an RIT graduate, noted that despite radio, television, the Internet and electronic books, book sales have never been higher. He stressed that the company is confident books have a strong future, as evidenced by its expanded VBF division.

Müller said that the Diamant book line, as well as the BLSD 600 book stacker, will be manufacutered at the new VBF facility, as will Profinish's Jack Plus jacketing machine and bookmark-insertion machine. VBF will also market a children's book line previously handled by Italy-based Technograf. In 2003, the company will start selling an embossing press.

Hanspeter Pfister, managing director of VBF, noted that the number of new publications in the book market are growing. He explained that while there are more new titles, the trend is toward smaller print runs with shorter turnarounds. Book manufacturers are facing tight time and cost constraints. They are expected to minimize costs while producing high-quality books on demand.

“Our new VBF lines were developed in response to the market's demands and requirements,” said Pfister.

Other speakers

Other speakers included Helmut von Berg, a Munich-based publishing production manager who discussed book design in the age of industrial production.

Dr. Oliver Kranert, head of GGP Media, a Bertelsmann on-demand publishing enterprise, gave a presentation on key issues for future book production. The exec addressed how to synchronize technological developments with the actual market requirements, and offered some interesting book-market statistics.

Although Kranert identified requirements for digital printing, he concluded that digital printing and binding enterprises currently aren't cost-effective.

Uta Schneider, director of the German Book Arts Foundation (Frankfurt, Germany) reviewed some of the most beautiful German books produced in 2000. Schneider then discussed what makes a book a book. According to Scheider: If it doesn't have a binding, it's not a book!

Other presentations included the lecture by Professor Dieter Liebau of the Leipzig University of Applied Sciences on quality control of the finished book (Liebau is one of Europe's leading experts on print finishing and binding).

Matthias Will, editor of the prestigious bookbinder's journal, Bindereport (Hannover, Germany), discussed bookbinding in the Internet Age.