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PERFECT BINDING: Automatic settings aid adhesive operation

May 1, 2001 12:00 AM


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New easy-to-use equipment offers quick changeover, fast makeready and flexible feeding mechanisms

Increased automation and computerization are the hallmark of the modern bindery, and perfect binding is no exception. Driven partly in response to on-demand printing and partly by lower skill levels in the workforce, both commercial printers and trade binders are using more automated perfect binding equipment to remain competitive and meet the delivery deadlines and quality expectations of their customers.

Moreover, tighter turnaround times and the increased need to control all aspects of production are prompting many commercial printers to expand their in-house perfect-binding capabilities.

SHORTAGE OF SKILLED OPERATORS

“Prior to the mid-1980s, there was very little automation in the bindery,” says Bob Shafer, president of Kolbus America (Mahwah, NJ). “Over the past 15 years, machine settings have become more automated to produce an industry-accepted product with shorter makeready times for less-skilled operators.”

The move toward automation and digitally controlled equipment, says RIT's Professor Werner Rebsamen (Meredith, NH), takes all the important settings away from the human factor. “This is especially critical with multiple-shift operations. Every operator has a different idea of how to do a job, which causes problems.” This lack of consistency can create serious issues in terms of efficiency, productivity and quality.

Rather than relying on the craft and knowledge of the operator, equipment manufacturers are building more intelligence into their machines, says Mark Hunt, director of marketing for Standard Finishing Systems (Andover, MA). “It's becoming progressively more difficult to attract talented craftspeople to the trade in general and binding in particular.”

Mark Agresta, a bindery consultant with Vijuk Equipment (Elmhurst, IL), notes that bindery operations are being forced to dip into a labor market of operators with limited skills. “Customers don't have the talent pool that they did 10 to 20 years ago,” Agresta says. “Manufacturers are having to help pick up the slack by building more automation into devices.”

PLCS REDUCE GUESS WORK

Duplo (Santa Ana, CA) has responded to the labor issue by eliminating the need for operator adjustments on its Quadrimax four-clamp binder. “It doesn't need any adjustments between jobs,” notes Jose Alvarez, marketing manager. “If you're switching to a job of a different size, you don't have to do anything — the machine automatically does it for you.” According to him, this automatic setup also makes the Quadrimax suitable for high-quality on-demand applications. Rated at 1,000 books an hour, it can accommodate book thickness from two sheets to 1.8 inches.

But the push for automation in perfect binding is a double-edged sword, says Kerry Burroughs, division manager for perfect binding at Müller Martini (Hauppauge, NY). “Our customers are demanding the features that computerization brings, but at the same time, we're seeing fear as a result of the labor problems they are experiencing.”

In response, Müller Martini is aggressively ramping up several programs to provide its customers with enhanced operator training. The program includes computer-based training programs for printers to use in their shops, as well as a series of courses at Müller Martini's facilities in Hauppauge that have been designed for beginners through advanced operators.

At the computer consoles of Müller Martini's Acoro and Corona perfect binders, an operator can input the parameters of a book, and is then walked through the makeready steps. Servo motors on the Acoro, controlled via the Commander console, automate 35 product-related settings, enabling changeovers in less than five minutes. (See “Perfect binding that's slower… but faster,” March 2000, p. 42.)

“It takes away a lot of perfect-binding guesswork,” says Burroughs. “The programmed logic of the computer won't allow an operator to mess up the books.”

The Acoro is rated at 5,000 cycles per hour, while the Corona is offered in configurations ranging from 12,000 to 18,000 cycles per hour. For short-run jobs, the company offers the stand-alone Amigo perfect binder (1,500 cycles per hour) and, for inline applications, the Tigra (3,600 cycles per hour).

Another technology that Müller Martini has incorporated into its perfect binders is Automatic Signature Image Recognition (ASIR), a video-chip camera that looks at signatures and determines whether they are in the correct position and in the right pocket.

In addition, by incorporating a reject gate between the gatherer and binder, the equipment is able to automatically reject individual books as warranted. The reject gate also can be programmed to allow for single rejects caused by misfeeds and to automatically shut off the binder after a specified number of continuous rejects.

Single-clamp machines also reflect the need for easy operation and faster setup times. Ron Bowman, vice president of sales for Rosback (St. Joseph, MI), reports that his company's 880 floor-model perfect binder now features PLC controls that guide operators through the setup process. “Operators can make or break machine productivity,” says Bowman. “We're trying to make setup faster and easier for the novice.”

TIME MARCHES ON

Hoping to improve productivity dramatically, Time Inc. has been working with a major finishing equipment manufacturer and Quad/Graphics to come up with a new way of binding magazines.

While details about the new equipment are sketchy, Barry Meinerth, senior vice president of production for Time in New York City, confirms that the “MagnaBinder” would have a gross speed of 40,000 books an hour and would produce a square-backed magazine.

The three companies have been working on the new approach for four years, Meinerth says. A prototype was put in the field 15 months ago and now the first production model is being fine-tuned at the Quad/Graphics plant in Lomira, WI.

While he acknowledges that today's printing operations must deal with lighter paper and gimmicks, Meinerth says his company is eager to improve overall bindery productivity.

The exec notes that saddlestitch binders today should be able to run at a gross speed of 18,000 units an hour. “Depending on the complexity of the magazine, the weight of the paper stock and the gimmicks, you can get 6,000 to 12,000 books an hour on the machine. I've never seen much higher than 11,000 on a very simple magazine and the average has been 8,100.”

While Meinerth doesn't expect to get 40,000 an hour, “we would love to get 20,000 net books an hour out of this machine.”

ADDRESSING PRODUCTIVITY ISSUES

Increased automation also addresses the need for increased productivity and reduced spoilage as run lengths continue to decline.

“Everyone is looking for high volume, low maintenance and quick changeover, especially when you're looking at medium-range binders,” explains Tyrone Adams, national product manager for finishing systems at MAN Roland (Westmont, IL). “Printers want to be able to switch from job to job in a relatively short period of time to maximize their productivity.”

Last fall, MAN Roland signed an agreement to represent Wohlenberg perfect binders in North America — the press manufacturer also offers Wohlenberg's line of three-knife trimmers and guillotine cutters.

While Wohlenberg perfect binders may be new to some North American users, “in Europe they are very popular and in Japan, Wohlenberg is probably the No. 1 perfect binder in the marketplace,” claims Adams.

Wohlenberg makes a series of medium-range perfect binders, ranging from totally manual to totally automated machines capable of handling 4,000 to 8,000 units per hour, Adams says. The Champion E model, for example, can be set up with 28 to 30 pockets from a remote station in five minutes.

HIGH-SPEED PAPER HANDLING

In addition to automation on the binder itself, equipment manufacturers are also attempting to boost paper-handling speeds. Kolbus, for example, has introduced its ZU840 gathering machine as part of its Publica line of equipment serving magazine and catalog production markets. According to Shafer, the traditional gathering process in perfect-binding machines is a cross-rotary gatherer, where a signature is pulled out of a pocket of a rotary drum and then deposited into the raceway of the machine. This, however, requires a change of direction of the product.

Rather than a rotary drum, Kolbus' new gathering machine uses a shuttle-type belt feeding system that feeds the signature directly into the raceway in the direction of product flow.

“When you're talking about paper handling at high speeds, any change of direction creates a problem,” Shafer says. “By eliminating that need for a change of direction, you eliminate a lot of the problems that are encountered in perfect-binding gathering, particularly with very lightweight stocks and two-page signatures.”

Another growing challenge facing the perfect-binding market is the increased use of “gimmicks” or specialty inserts in publications.

GIMMICK GAFFES

“Look at the content of magazines today. We used to have an occasional card tipped in. Now we've seen an increase in CDs, 3 × 5-inch cards and full-size single sheets bound into books,” says John Morgenstern, director of product planning and management at Heidelberg Web Systems (Dover, NH).

Morgenstern notes that one customer's publication contained so many gimmicks that it required a pre-bind because the printer's equipment didn't have enough pockets to accommodate everything in one run. Even then the publication was no more than three-quarters of an inch: “Most of the content was not editorial but gimmicks.”

The increase in gimmicks, Morgenstern says, directly reduces the potential for high productivity from a perfect-binding operation. As a result, he says, equipment manufacturers like Heidelberg are focusing on what they can do to improve efficiency.

“We've had to look at feeding mechanisms to accommodate not just traditional signatures but other inserts while still maintaining the integrity of the product within the set.”

This approach includes looking at the entire perfect-binding operation, from feeding to trimming.

“Now, instead of flat, square surfaces, we often have irregular surfaces that can affect the trimming process,” Morgenstern says. To improve material flow for irregular pieces, equipment must be designed to avoid catch points and to make smoother transitions from section to section.

Equipment manufacturers have also had to look at ways to improve spine preparation. One factor affecting those changes, Morgenstern says, is the dramatic change in paper stock. “We're now seeing lighter-weight paper and more coated stock than we did five years ago.” Since the cut-off at the roughage station depends on the type of stock being run, Heidelberg is trying to help binders provide the best overall quality without changing heads between jobs.

YOU WANT IT WHEN?

There is a growing trend among commercial printers to add perfect-binding capabilities. While it may make sense to outsource complex or long-run jobs, shorter run lengths and faster turnaround times are compelling some printers to add adhesive binding services.

“The printing market now is an instant gratification market. Deadlines have become tighter and the pressure is on the printer,” says Vijuk's Agresta. “The biggest issue is control of the product and throughput, and not having to rely on someone else to be sensitive to your deadline. It's bringing more commercial printers into the finishing end of the business.”

While the market for Heidelberg's BindExpert is primarily small commercial printers, Steven Calov, product manager for perfect binding at Heidelberg USA, says that many larger printers also have added smaller systems to handle special requests. If a customer is doing a million-piece run but wants 40 to 50 samples, for example, the printer might run them on a small perfect binder rather than set up a large perfect binder, Calov says.

David Spiel of Spiel Associates (Long Island City, NY), reports the same trend for the company's Sterling Minibinder, a single-clamp machine. It can bind up to 600 books per hour with a setup time of about 10 minutes. A heavy-duty nipping motor eliminates the need to score most covers.

“Keep it simple when you can keep it simple,” is Spiel's advice for perfect-binding operations. While the Sterling Minibinder doesn't have pushbutton automation, Spiel stresses the machine employs all that is needed to produce a high-quality book, including a full milling, notching and roughing station with a carbide saw blade, as well as a side gluing attachment for producing hinged covers.

At the recent OnDemand show, GBC (Buffalo Grove, IL) introduced its PF3200 tabletop perfect binder. Ann Higgins Gonzalez, director of market development, cites operator-controlled length of clamp time and a notching system said to eliminate paper dust as key features. The PF3200's auto clamp feature instantly sets up the system for any document thickness, eliminating job-to-job setup. Its two-pass notching system aids glue penetration.

Brackett (Topeka, KS) offers low-volume users versatility. “You can do perfect binding or padding,” notes J.M. “Mike” Murray, president and CEO. The company's latest offerings are the I-binder and I-binder II, which are rated at 80 to 120 books per hour and up to 480 pads per hour, 0.25-inch thick. The I-binder can handle books up to one inch thick; maximum thickness for the I-binder II is 1.5 inches.

OVERCOMING OPERATOR ERROR

When evaluating on-demand options, pay close attention to spine preparation. According to Rebsamen, better quality adhesive machines remove approximately 0.125 to 0.1875 inch from the spine, milling and roughing it for optimum linkage. While razorblade slitting may suffice when binding uncoated papers, you can't skimp on spine preparation for ink-covered, coated stocks. Two new cold-emulsion adhesive binders, the Planax binder and Ribler Gmbh's RC-1, drew favorable reviews at Drupa (see “Drupa 2000: strong to the finish,” September 2000, p. 34).

While perfect-binder manufacturers are using automation to reduce human errors in the finishing process, most operators ultimately will have to do some troubleshooting.

“Ninety-five percent of the time, operator error is responsible for perfect-binding flaws,” claims RIT's Rebsamen. “When we analyze the perfect-binding quality problem samples sent to our lab, poor operator judgement always ranks as the No. 1 reason.”