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The digital bindery: Fact or fiction?

Aug 1, 2009 12:00 AM

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I recall a Peanuts cartoon where Lucy is jumping rope and asks Charlie Brown, “How do you like my new hi-fi jump rope?” Charlie Brown then muses, “How can a jump rope be hi-fi?”

Which brings us to the digital bindery. Are we kidding ourselves when a piece of bindery equipment is described as digital? How do you incorporate digital technology into a mechanical process? It seems that almost every manufacturer has tagged its machines with “digital” names. Is this truth or treachery?

Consider the setup, not the process

Spiel Associates is no different. About five years ago we introduced a new perfect binder to the market, The Sterling Digibinder. It seemed logical. All the setup is either automatic or entered on a digital keypad, but what makes it digital? The clamp closes on the book block, which runs over a roughing and notching blade, is glued and then nipped. This is the same as any perfect binder. The difference is in setup — not the process.

Bookbinding still is a mechanical process, as it has been since the first codex was sewn together. As long as the goal is to have someone hold a book in their hand, the bindery process must remain mechanical just as the act of reading a book is mechanical.

When we introduced our newest plastic coil machine, there wasn't a keypad. So we called it The Sterling Coilmaster Jr. It has a much faster setup than its big brother, The Sterling Coilmaster, but it's not digital. Even though the machine is designed for the digital market, we did not feel that we could incorporate “digi” into the name of the machine.

When Spiel Associates introduced the Sterling Digipunch at Graph Expo 2008, we were certain that it was aptly named. A digital touchscreen guides the setup for all paper sizes, speed, the amount of sheets punched per cycle, as well as the die configuration. The touch screen warns the operator when the punching die needs to be lubricated or when it needs to be sharpened. Similar to the “help” link on computer programs, operating tips are incorporated into the program. Yet a lift of paper is stabbed, it travels to the register table, is jogged, punched, and ejected into the delivery hopper, just like any non-digital punch. So are we stretching the truth or is this a digital machine?

Skilled technicians, journeymen, in-house mechanics are rapidly becoming distant memories. Printers want and need machines to be more user friendly. That's what the digital bindery means to me. Can you set the job up digitally? It's the pre-process being described rather than the process itself.

More than just a digital clock

When shopping for bindery equipment, be wary of the digital names. It's easy to fall in love with a machine thinking it's digital. Find out what makes it digital. Does it speed setup or does the machine just sport a digital counter. Is the machine able to self-diagnose or does it just include a digital clock? In other words, “What makes this machine digital?”

Otherwise you find yourself skipping with a digital jump rope.

David Spiel is a partner in Spiel Associates (Long Island City, NY). Contact him via