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Midrange saddlestitchers

Aug 1, 2002 12:00 AM


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Users' expectations for midrange saddlestitchers run a wide, sometimes paradoxical, gamut. They need to be speedy, but flexible enough to accommodate a variety of applications and run lengths; they should be easy to make ready, but shouldn't be equipped with cost-prohibitive automation.

Fortunately, there are a variety of midrange options that allow printers to select a system best-suited to their individual bindery operations. Best Graphics (Menomonee Falls, WI), Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA), McCain Bindery Systems (Alsip, IL), Müller Martini (Hauppauge, NY) and Vijuk Equipment (Elmhurst, IL) are the dominant sources of midrange stitchers in the U.S.

AMERICAN PRINTER spoke to four printers with midrange stitcher installations to learn what motivated their purchase decision, the kind of work they run on their stitchers and how the equipment has performed on their pressroom floor.

RELIABILITY: NO. 1 PRIORITY

In March 2001, a fire swept through CLB Printing's (Kensington, MD) facility, destroying most of its bindery and mailroom. The $6.5 million printer produces high-end commercial work, ranging from small brochures to annual reports, for nearby Washington-based associations. It had to replace all of its bindery equipment, with the exception of one cutter.

CLB Printing opted to replace its McCain stitcher with a newer version — a McCain S2000. “Our main motivation for purchasing the McCain stitcher was that we knew it would be reliable,” says production manager Kevin Gilboy. He notes that the former stitcher was nearly 30 years old and continued to run well.

The S2000 has a segmented chain, which allows operators to switch from a 14-inch to a 21-inch pin spacing. “If we have a long-run, 8½ × 11-inch job, we can switch all of our pins down to 14 inches and run the machine at a slower surface speed, but still net the same number of books per hour,” Gilboy says.

The S2000 is available with a downstream shut-off feature, which stops all the pockets if one pocket fails to pull a signature. “It makes it easier to pull rejects, which is especially important when you're tight on count,” Gilboy says.

Although the S2000 lacks some of the automation found on other midrange stitchers, Gilboy estimates that most makereadies are completed in 15 to 20 minutes: two to three minutes per pocket, five minutes for the trimmer and two minutes for the compensating stacker. He notes that trickier applications require more setup time, but never take more than an hour, thanks to the user-friendly stitcher as well as CLB Printing's skilled bindery employees.

“If you can do a makeready in 15 minutes, how much time is the automation going to save?” Gilboy asks. “And if the machine trips up once or twice during a midrange run, you lose any of the time you saved with the automation. Our equipment is trouble-free — we can run it for hours and it doesn't shut off.”

INCREASING PRODUCTIVITY

Swift Print Communications (St. Louis) is a 51-person shop with three product niches: financial, industrial catalog and association/educational printing. It installed a Müller Martini Bravo-T saddlestitcher early this year to replace an aging stitcher. The printer's main objective was to enhance productivity, and to that end, the installation has been successful.

“The Bravo-T is four times as productive as our previous stitcher, and it requires fewer operators. Instead of three people, there are now just two,” says owner Bryan Swift, who estimates that makeready time has been cut by 40 percent. “From the moment the product gets to the stitcher, to getting the first acceptable book off, we're up and running at full speed within 25 to 30 minutes.”

Swift credits the stitcher's automation for the improved makeready time. “The electronic console walks the operator through every single step the exact same way, so whoever is working on the machine is going through the same setup process,” he says.

Swift Print's average run lengths on the saddlestitcher range from 1,000 to a few hundred thousand; page counts span from eight pages plus cover up to 132 pages plus cover. Swift notes that producing two-up books is remarkably easy with the Bravo-T; according to him, it only takes four steps and 15 minutes to set up the machine for that application. “With the old machine, we would strip it just to run it one-up, and then we'd try to reconfigure it just to feed the one-up signatures,” he says.

The Bravo-T has also lent Swift Communications greater product flexibility. “We do all sorts of strange inserts — envelopes in between stitches, or on stitches,” Swift says. “We run it flat out at 11,000 cph, and it's not even like we're hustling.”

Swift Print selected an Apollo compensating stacker with dual deliveries that keep up with the speed of the machine. The printer also opted for a fourth and fifth knife attachment. Swift notes that the company is currently investigating CIP4 front-end options; it plans to implement the technology on its cutters, folders, perfect binders and the Bravo-T stitcher. “It's foolish not to take advantage of the enhancements that you can get from developing technology,” Swift says. “If it helps prevent operator error and improve speed and productivity, and can be integrated cost-effectively, I think printers will continue to want it.”

At Ipex this past spring, Müller Martini and ScenicSoft (Lynwood, WA) announced what is said to be the first CIP4 link based on the print-production format. The link connects UpFront, ScenicSoft's print-production planning tool, and Müller Martini's stitchers.

SWITCHING EASILY BETWEEN JOBS

JK Creative (Quincy, IL) is a $5 million full-service printer that specializes in producing high-end, four-color marketing material from the concept stage to distribution. The company offers graphic-design services, and according to president Mike Nobis, about 50 percent of JK Creative's print volume is designed in-house.

The company installed an Osako 368 saddlestitcher from Best Graphics a year and a half ago to expand its capabilities and replace aging equipment. JK Creative's stitcher has six pockets plus a cover feeder, and although it isn't fully automated, it does have a few automated features. “When we buy new equipment, we try to stay with the automation,” Nobis says. “We're a custom operation — we'll go from four colors to one color, to folders to top-notch annual-report covers. Equipment has to be easy to set up and tear down.”

The stitcher was JK Creative's first piece of Osako equipment. According to Nobis, the stitcher was appealing because of its sturdy, steel design, and because operators could easily switch from job to job. With average run lengths of 10,000 to 20,000 on the stitcher, JK Creative's operators are kept busy with changeovers and makereadies. Nobis says makereadies on the Osako 368 take about seven to eight minutes per head.

JK Creative's bindery employees are highly skilled; most have been with the company for 25 years or more. Nobis says that as the older generation begins to retire and younger workers are brought in, the level of automation on the equipment can be a key component to a smooth transition. “With the technology available today, it is easier to induct someone who doesn't know much about the bindery into the system,” he says. “You still need a quality person to put out a quality product, but it's easier to train new people today than in the past 10 years.”

JK Creative does not have a packaging device attached to the end of the stitcher. The company provides mailing and fulfillment services, and most of the saddlestitched jobs require special finishing, such as punching, inserting or packaging.

CUSTOM TO THE FINISH

Every finishing job that comes in to Fong & Fong Printers and Lithographers (Sacramento, CA) is custom. According to executive vice president Curtis Fong, this requires bindery operators to completely break down and reconfigure the equipment for each job. “Every application is largely different from the previous job. We're not just a publication printer, or a shop that does a limited number of size formats and configurations,” he says.

Fong & Fong specializes in premium commercial work, including annual reports, automotive brochures and corporate collateral. Its clients are primarily West Coast-based design studios and advertising agencies.

The company installed a Heidelberg Stitchmaster ST 270 nearly three years ago, to replace two old stitchers. “It was a new line from Heidelberg at the time,” recalls Fong. “We were impressed with the structural integrity, the automation and the quality of the machine.”

Fong & Fong's ST 270 is configured with eight pockets and a cover feeder. Extra features include a fourth and fifth knife trimmer, a Rima compensating stacker and the Opticontrol signature recognition system from Optigraf (San Pedro, CA). Finished product is moved from the stacker into a shrink-wrapping line and then into packing boxes.

The average run length on the stitcher is 30,000 to 40,000, although Fong says runs can range from 10,000 to 100,000. Makeready is typically completed in 30 minutes, depending on the complexity of the job.

Fong says the two greatest advantages of the Heidelberg stitcher are the reduced makeready time, compared with the previous stitchers', and the machine's versatility. “We do covers with pockets, covers with diecut centers and gatefold pages, and the ST 270 can handle just about every type of stitching configuration we can throw at it.”

Fong believes the ST 270 is competitive with several high-range stitchers on the market, without being as cost-prohibitive. “It doesn't have as much maximum production speed, or as many of the automated features — but for the price point, we can't beat it,” he states. “More automation means a higher cost center, which makes us less competitive.”

What you can see at Graph Expo

In addition to the midrange stitchers highlighted in the main story, here are some developments to watch.

Heidelberg's (Kennesaw, GA) Stitchmaster ST 400 gang-stitcher, announced at Drupa, will be showcased at Graph Expo in October. The ST 400 is equipped with an integrated format presetting and servo-driven motors. Operators control the machine through a color touchscreen monitor and keyboard, and the system is CIP3/4-compliant. It has rated speeds up to 14,000 cph and can accommodate products up to A3 oversize format. Its mobile feeders are said to allow improved production flexibility.

Tech-ni-fold (Leicester, England) recently announced the Tech-ni-cover Tri-creaser, a specially adapted reverse crease system for all types of Müller Martini (Hauppauge, NY) saddlestitcher cover feeders.

“The existing male steel-scoring wheel is simply replaced by a female part consisting of three crease widths with unique profiles,” according to managing director Graham Harris. “A patented scoring belt snaps into the machine's feeder drum — scoring occurs when the two parts counter-rotate.”

The company is offering a 60-day free trial — see www.perfectprintfinishing.com for more information.

Midrange stitcher trends

Last year, AMERICAN PRINTER talked to saddlestitcher vendors about current trends and anticipated developments in the midrange market (see “Midrange saddlestitchers get sophisticated,” July 2001, p. 34). As one might expect, many 2001 trends are still evident today: increased adoption of saddlestitcher accessories, a push toward faster makeready and automation that compensates for bindery employees' decreasing skill levels.

One trend, or force, that is being felt by printers and binderies more predominantly than before is the economic recession in the U.S. “The market is tight; it's very competitive. It's a general fight [for printers] to get jobs,” says Felix Stirnimann, manager of the print finishing division of Müller Martini (Hauppauge, NY).

Bob Morton, president of Best Graphics (Menomonee Falls, WI), says that return on investment (ROI) on equipment is more important now than ever. Mark Agresta, bindery consultant and product manager for Vijuk Equipment (Elmhurst, IL), concurs. “Customers are asking, ‘If I buy your machine, can I replace a person?’”

Dennis Keihm, vice president and general manager of McCain Bindery Systems (Alsip, IL), encourages printers to take a hard look at productivity levels before purchasing a new saddlestitcher. “We've always tried to find the happy medium between cost and return, and how productive the machine is. You can purchase all the technology in the world, but if it doesn't increase productivity for your operation, it's not worth it.”