Bindery automation has long since ceased to be an oxymoron, but the back end of the process hasn’t seen quite the same digital revolution as in the prepress and press arenas. Touch pads and automated setup features have become commonplace, but operators are not sitting around looking at computer screens all day, as one trade binder owner put it. The fundamental nature of the work hasn’t changed all that dramatically.

Faster makereadies and more efficient material handling have been the primary focus of efforts to automate binding and finishing operations. Cutting and folding probably are the two areas that have received the most attention. In interviews for this story, automatic banding/bundling machines were one of the specific advances the industry executives zeroed in on as big productivity boosters.

“We have been on a mission to add automatic banding machines to all our folders so we don’t need a take-off person and we eliminate exposure to repetitive motion injuries,” notes Robert Murphy, chairman and CEO of Japs-Olson in St. Louis Park, MN. The $120 million printer of direct mail and general commercial work has in-house postpress capabilities to support its web and sheetfed presses.

“It used to be a miserable job in the bindery to get accurate counts and bundles,” adds Jack Rickard, president of Rickard Bindery in Chicago. “One of our operators used to be able to only handle 5,000 pieces an hour with manual bundling. Since we bought an automatic banding machine, we can run at 15,000 pieces an hour.” The trade binder has extensive folding capabilities (60+ machines), saddle stitchers, gluers, etc, in its 80,000-square-foot plant.

“A lot of the improvements have come from the peripheral equipment you can buy for a folder,” agrees John Walecha, vice president and part owner of Olympic Bindery. “For example, we’ve gotten into map folding in the last couple years and, at first, we didn’t have a special packer for the maps. We were able to run maybe 2,000 pieces an hour. Now that we’ve bought a pressing unit that flattens the maps out and makes them easier to put in the packing sleeve, we’ve been able to more than double our production rates.

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