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Seeking speedy and specialized stitching

Apr 1, 2002 12:00 AM

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At rated speeds of 15,000 cycles per hour (cph) and above, high-speed saddlestitchers are fast — and that point should not be understated. Whether the stitching run numbers in the millions, or as low as a couple hundred thousand, the goal is to get it done fast.

Ironically, at the 2001 R&E Council bindery seminar, Quad/Graphics (Pewaukee, WI) president and CEO Harry Quadracci noted that maximum speeds of saddlestitchers (excluding those with drum technology), are not what they were originally projected to be. Finishing equipment vendors have instead shifted their focus toward improving added-value capabilities of stitchers.

What differs today from the saddlestitchers of 25 years ago, then, is the level of complexity, Quadracci says. Automation is paramount, compensating for lower skill levels in bindery workers and enabling faster makeready. Selective and demographic binding give printers a wider range of services to offer their clients.

Four vendors cover the U.S. high-speed saddlestitching market: Ferag Americas U.S. (Bristol, PA), Heidelberg Web Systems, Inc. (Dover, NH), McCain Bindery Systems, Inc. (Alsip, IL) and Müller Martini (Hauppauge, NY). All offer features that allow for specialty applications.

AMERICAN PRINTER spoke to printers that have installed high-speed saddlestitching systems to find out how they are using the complex systems of today. While increased automation and capabilities can be advantages in the profit-squeezed bindery, not all printers take full advantage. Speed, in many cases, is still the name of the game.


Continental Web (Walton, KY), a $35 million catalog, retail and commercial printer, is “a complete one-stop shop, when it comes to finishing and fulfillment,” according to vice president and general manager Bill Scarpaci. The company installed a Ferag SHT gatherer-stitcher in the summer of 1995 to process catalog work for clients across the U.S. It also has four Heidelberg saddlestitchers. The plant, which employs 232 (another plant in Itasca, IL, has 300 employees), also does perfect binding and polybagging, but only eight percent of work is perfect bound.

Ferag offers two saddlestitching systems in the high-speed category: the CombiDrum and the SHT. The CombiDrum, introduced at Drupa 2000, features a patented rotary-drum design and magnetically charged grippers (as opposed to standard chain-linked grippers) that allow signatures to be carried overhead instead of on a conveyor belt. These features are said to provide consistent movement at speeds up to 25,000 cph and problem-free processing of signatures with low paper weight. According to Ferag Americas president Walter Wild, three U.S. printers have installed the CombiDrum, and more are running in European shops.

The SHT gatherer-stitcher is rated at 40,000 cph. It can accommodate up to 10 infeeds with product widths up to 350 mm. Single-copy conveyors feed the signatures to the gathering-stitching drum. The sections can be fed to the gripper via a hopper or log automatically via the Ferag-Disc system. “It's a different process compared to standard saddlestitchers,” says Scarpaci. “It's a one-of-a-kind, as far as we're concerned.”

Job lengths at Continental range from 100,000 to 15 million, although the average run length is estimated at about 330,000. That equates to a monthly average of five million to six million books for the SHT, which is usually run 24 hours a day, five days a week.

The exec says the company's main motivation for purchasing the SHT was reduced job-turnaround time. “Customers like the compression of their job schedules — we can produce more units in less time,” he observes. “It gives them more time on the front end.”

The exec notes that throughput on the SHT, according to historical company data, is 2.5 times that of other saddlestitchers.

Specialty applications, such as sticky notes and other adhesive labels, can be fed inline and off the roll on the SHT, but the majority of Continental Web's catalog work is inkjet-addressed.

Ferag plans to showcase the SHT at Ipex in combination with the SNT-U compact trimming drum and the UTR universal conveyor. The trimming drum suctions the face head and foot trims directly next to the knife, reportedly reducing trim errors. The trimmer works in conjunction with the SHT or inline connected to offset presses.


At Dingley Press (Lisbon, ME), few jobs require unique customization. “Most of our work is straightforward — we don't do tabloids, we don't do double-digests,” Bill Braley, vice president and general manager, notes. “We're more speed-based, so we try to make products look similar to each other.

Dingley Press produces medium- to long-run catalogs and publications. It operates seven Heidelberg Pacesetter 1000 saddlestitchers and three Heidelberg 855 Pacesetters. All are equipped with inkjetting capabilities for demographic saddlestitching. The company acquired the equipment in 1987 when it expanded and relocated to a new facility.

The Pacesetter 855, the predecessor of Heidelberg's Pacesetter 870, has a rated speed of 15,000 cph. It handles book sizes from 7 × 5 inches up to 18.75 × 11.5 inches. The Pacesetter 870 and Pacesetter 1000 are the latest-generation high-speed saddlestitching systems in the Heidelberg Web Systems lineup. The Pacesetter 870 handles products in one- or two-up formats at 15,000 cph. It features horizontal or vertical hoppers, selective inserting and inkjetting, and automatic quality control, which detects missing or double signatures, drops, hangers and jams.

The Pacesetter 1000 saddlestitches one-up applications, including magazines and catalogs, at rated speeds of up to 20,000 cph. Finished book sizes range from 6 × 9 inches up to 9 × 12.38 inches. It accommodates standard collating, stitching and trimming, as well as advanced selective binding and inkjet personalization.

The typical bindery run length at Dingley Press is about 350,000. Print run lengths are longer; binding is usually completed in two or three chunks during the course of two weeks. Work on the saddlestitchers is processed at about 12,500 cph. Approximately 30 jobs per week run on all of the stitchers combined.

Dingley Press has the capability to do third- and fourth-station printing, dot whacking and other customization, but those applications aren't strongly pursued on the sales front. The exec says this is due partially to the level of expertise in the bindery, but it is also just part of the company's “simplistic, straightforward” approach to the bindery. “We're not interested in reinventing the wheel,” he states.

Braley says that the Heidelberg stitchers are easy to set up and operate, thanks to benchmarks that come with the machine-timing marks, and dials with measurements that instruct users where to make settings and how to run the machinery. The exec notes that a previous plant expansion to accommodate a new press required hiring 20 people in the pressroom, and 100 in the bindery. “Any edge you can get from equipment manufacturers for automation and ease of setup — those are the things you need,” he says.

According to Braley, the saddlestitchers purchased 15 years ago have experienced only a 10 percent reduction in productivity; also, millions of books are produced before signs of heavy wear on the trimmers or other major components of the line are visible.

Dingley Press is about to undergo yet another expansion — it plans to triple the size of its 60,000-sq.-ft. plant with a 120,000-sq.-ft. addition during the next year. The printer will be installing two rebuilt eight-unit web presses, bringing the press count to five; another Pacesetter 1000; and a Heidelberg Universal Binder, which will replace its only other, aging binder.


McCain Bindery Systems' Model 3000 and Tandem saddlestitching systems have the reputation for being heavy-duty workhorses. “They're durable machines over the long run; they take the day-to-day pounding very well,” says Tom Ramsey, finishing department manager of R.R. Donnelley's Spartanburg, SC, facility, which operates seven Model 300 units and six Tandems.

The Model 3000 is a one-up system that runs at a rated speed of 15,000 cph. It features vertical signature feeders, a built-in book-inspection system, and a modular design that allows for additional feeders or other options. The Tandem, which was developed in conjunction with R.R. Donnelley, features a U-shaped design capable of saddlestitching two products simultaneously at a combined speed of 27,000 cph. It accommodates finished trim sizes from 6 × 8 inches up to 9.75 × 11.5 inches. Options such as automatic signature loaders and inline inserters are available.

The Spartanburg facility installed the 13 McCain lines when it relocated in 1995. Ramsey says R.R. Donnelley put in as much automation as it could at the time, both on the equipment and in the facility. Each saddlestitcher has multiple inkjet stations, blow-in card feeders and demographic capabilities. “We anticipated the market trends moving toward demographic binding, and we made the move to ensure we met and exceeded customers' expectations,” he recalls. “As a result, R.R. Donnelly is helping customers with target marketing, as well as postage savings.”

The plant was outfitted with C&D palletizers, automated guided vehicles and a 12,000-position automated storage and retrieval system. “We are probably one of the most automated binderies in the world,” Ramsey says. Of 650 plant employees, 240 work in the finishing department.

The Spartanburg facility prints catalogs and a few weekly magazines. The typical run length on catalog jobs is around two million; the magazine average is approximately 350,000 to 400,000 impressions. The plant serves about 30 customers; during any given week, five or six of those clients' projects are in production.

Despite the relatively long runs, particularly for catalog work, Ramsey says that fast makeready is a priority for the Spartanburg division. “Speed is one issue of throughput. But if we're putting all the gimmicks and gadgets on the system that won't allow the job to reach maximum rated speed, then you have to look at shorter makereadies and faster ramp-up time to hit the maximum speed that the particular job will allow you to run,” he says. “The time the machine is out of production is critical to our throughput numbers.”

Part and parcel of that issue is the need for the pockets to accept lower-quality stock and “not choke up as much,” says Ramsey. “Suppliers are starting to recognize that with automation comes those issues.”


R.R. Donnelley's Lynchburg, VA, facility relies on seven Müller Martini Tempo saddlestitchers to finish its catalog work, which has run lengths from 500,000 up to eight million. “The Tempos are running almost all the time — it's the most efficient equipment we have in the department,” says finishing department manager Chris Brown.

According to Brown, the Tempos were specifically purchased for their complex binding capabilities: “We do inkjet personalization daily,” he says. “There is always a request to do something unique with the placement of the inkjet, just to make it different — it becomes a marketing tool for our customers.”

The Lynchburg facility is regularly asked to do front- and back-cover inkjetting, inkjetting on the order form and inkjet between signatures — not to mention the demand for adhesive stickers to be attached to front covers and loose cards within the book. “The Tempo allows users to do a lot of those different things, and do them well,” Brown says.

According to Brown, the Tempos also accommodate a wide range of product size. “The difference between the number of pages from the thick to the thin version is larger on the Tempos than on competitors' equipment,” he says.

The 20,000-cph Tempo is designed for magazine and catalog production; it can finish books measuring 13 × 9.875 inches. Its computer-driven control system reportedly enables sophisticated product customization. Müller Martini also manufactures the two-up, 14,000-cph Prima and the 16,000-cph Optima. The Prima Automated MakeReadY System (AMRYS) controls settings from its PC controller. Users can preprogram an incoming job while one is running on the stitcher. The recently upgraded Optima features a new, electronically controlled stitching unit and a swing-action trimmer. Setup and changeover are reportedly faster and easier.

Fast makeready is important, says Brown. The plant increased the automation on its Tempos, adding stream feeders and conveyors. But, Brown warns automation can initially add to makeready time: “There is physically more equipment to set up when you change book sizes. It's part of the learning curve.”

The finishing department has since recovered that “lost” time and is reportedly impressing clients with its capabilities. “I have been in this business for 20-plus years, and I have yet to take a customer on a plant tour who doesn't say, ‘This is an amazing operation.’”