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COLLATORS -- Freedom of (Much) Choice

September 2003
By Erik Cagle


A dozen manufacturers were asked to list the primary differentiators that set apart multiple brands of collating equipment. It may come as no surprise to learn that virtually no one mentioned the price factor.

It seems there are numerous attributes that factor into choosing a collator that is the right fit for a particular printer or trade finisher. The depth of choices on the market only underscores the importance of looking past the price tag, as there is a collator for every need.

Versatility is a key ingredient for serving the evolving needs of clients, according to Tony Cockerham of Buhrs Americas. Feeder varieties merit attention.

"One should pay great attention to the types of feed hoppers available and their ability to run the different types of product that may be required by the client," he says. "Is the product to be collated single sheets, multiple pages, stitched books, perfect-bound books? What are the thickness requirements? Is the orientation of the product fold or bound edge in the right or same orientation? Can the feed hoppers be changed or interchanged to accommodate? Can the system be controlled by a line controller for selective or intelligent collations customized for demographical collations? Do the feed hoppers have quality checks such as miss-feed or double-feed detection?"

The Buhrs 4000 platform is feeder interchangeable via rolling feed hoppers from one position to the other, providing flexibility in accommodating customer requirements. The system accommodates various hoppers, including rotary, shuttle and friction feeders.

Expandability and performance are critical factors in determining the right collator, according to Jay Katz, vice president and general manager for Prosystem USA.

"The customer should be able to add modular, in-line finishing devices such as bookletmakers, high-pile stackers or batcher/stackers as their business grows," Katz points out. "The collator should be able to perform the work it was purchased for consistently, without errors, at or near the top mechanical speed. The higher the net speed, the more production and income a machine will generate."

Prosystem's Maxima now has an easy-to-operate touchscreen computer control system. The system affords control of most major machine functions from one central location. Information including help screens, production and maintenance history can be accessed.

Ease of setup is a major consideration, notes Dennis James, manager of press planning and management for A.B.Dick. Variables such as the need for tools to change sizes and the time needed to switch between standard sizes impact the bottom line.

"Labor is the majority of the expense of the job," James says. "If it takes a lot of time or tools to make adjustments for stock changeovers, it limits the ability to be flexible in the kinds of jobs run. It also limits the amount of profits the job will yield."

A.B.Dick's latest offering is the Watkiss Auto SpineMaster. The system provides stitched spines that have the appearance of a perfect-bound product. It produces 1,400 easy-to-handle booklets per hour and is adjustable for different book thicknesses up to 1⁄4˝ thick.

In addition to automation, ease of setup and selective collating, collators that can accommodate the widest variety of material, from lightweight paper to heavy chipboard, are highly sought after, according to Hans Max, president and CEO of MBO America.

MBO offers the Theisen & Bonitz line of collators. The new T&B Flex collator features two operation models, with collating, stitching, folding and trimming functions on the right side of the machine and collating only on the left side. The collators feature excellent sheet separation, touchscreen control, missed sheet detectors at each station, double sheet detectors, automatic missed sheet repeat and automatic run on/off. The T&B 304 stitch, fold and trim model offers a face trim and is equipped with head and foot trim knives.

Ergonomic issues can come into play when deciding between a short-run vertical collator or a deep-pile horizontal model, according to Donald Schroeder, vice president of sales for C.P. Bourg. Volume/applications generally dictate the variety of collator needed.

"Horizontal models are almost always floor designed, deep-pile models and vacuum/suction fed," Schroeder says. "These designs are more versatile, feed a wider variety of stocks in terms of weights and substrates, and most feature ergonomic-friendly designs for loading materials. Vertical collators limit quantity per bin, 2˝ versus 33˝, and material must be lifted by operators who fatigue easily when collating heavy coated stocks."

The BST-d+ vertical vacuum belt-fed collator system from C.P. Bourg features touchscreen controls, making all functions of the collator user-friendly and easy to operate. The unit is bi-directional to accommodate feeding stock in either direction and into different finishing attachments—stitcher, stitcher/folder/trimmer, or jogger and/or stacker. It's modular up to five towers or 50 bins.

The ability to handle single sheets and signatures, plus specialty items like NCR, tabs and envelopes, is a desirable characteristic, according to David Spiel, co-owner of Spiel Associates.

"One should also determine whether it is top load-bottom feed, meaning that it can be fed continuously without having to stop the machine," Spiel says. "No matter how fast a collator runs, stopping to reload will severely affect net output."

Collates Variety of Stock

The Sterling gatherer/collator can handle a wide variety of jobs. It can collate sheets as thin as onion skin and as thick as 1⁄4˝ pads to the tune of 6,000 sets per hour. The unit is ideal for collating tabs, envelopes, greeting cards and other materials that can be fit into the pockets. The machine can be reloaded without stopping.

With run lengths on the decline and skilled operators not as plentiful, machines with quick, easy and accurate setups are essential, adds Don Dubuque, marketing manager for Standard Finishing Systems.

"The operator-machine interface is also important," he adds. "Look for simple, but powerful, intelligent programming, ideally with an icon-based touchscreen that will guide you through setups and make it easy to cross-train operators. Few companies today have the luxury of dedicated operators for particular equipment."

The Horizon SpeedVAC 10-station vertical suction collator features a rotary feed system. The unit feeds a broad range of stocks up to 9,700 sets per hour. Offset or digitally printed, flat sheet signatures can then be fed into the new Standard Horizon StitchLiner to produce saddle stitched books with full bleed trimming at speeds up to 11,000 two-up booklets per hour.

A collator that is technically accessible to lesser experienced employees was echoed by Jose Alvarez, marketing coordinator for Duplo USA. "Unskilled workers with minimal training are capable of operating the equipment and printers are able to purchase them at affordable costs, thus increasing profitability," he says.

"In today's competitive market, printers must be equipped with collating solutions that will allow them fast turnaround without compromising productivity."

The Duplo DC-10/60 produces up to 10,000 collated sets per hour. The unit features a vertical design and can handle a variety of paper types, sheet sizes and weights. Setup and changeover are accomplished automatically, without manual adjustments.

Integration can sometimes be a problem with collating systems when a printer needs to run a job off-line, says Oliver Matas, marketing manager for Longford Equipment. "Many collating systems are designed to run as a complete system. Problems arise when the customer requires to add a component or to run a small section of the line in an off-line application. Longford collators are made from individual feeders, thus allowing the system to easily expand and for the feeders to be used in an off-line function without significant changeover time required."

Longford Equipment recently released "America's First Bi-Directional Collation System" with shrinkwrapper and custom stacker. The machine was built in tandem with Frederic Printing, a Consolidated Graphics company.

David Withers, advertising manager at MBM Corp., believes a collator that is fast, easy to use and versatile will contribute greatly to a company's bottom line. "In many businesses, more than one person will use the collator at one time or another, so having a machine that is user-friendly is important," he says. "Look for collators with simple control panels that ensure ease-of-operation and indicator lights to guide you through automatic procedures. A good collator should be versatile enough to work efficiently with copiers, laser printers, digital duplicators and offset presses."

The MBM Maxxum 10 produces about 3,600 sets per hour. It is available as six-, 10- and 20-bin vertical collators and can handle bond, NCR, card, coated and folded sheets in sizes 5x8˝ to 113⁄4x17˝.

The functionality of the control panel is also an important aspect of the collating system, points out Mark Pellman, marketing manager for Baum. "Some collating products only provide indicator lights that either blink or are flashing, or stay on solid when indicating an operational error or feature. Each type of lighting means something else, but the operator has to get the operator's manual to determine what the light means.

"Determine how complicated the inserting modes and alternating bin modes are to set up. Determine how many individual adjustments are required when changing jobs on the collator. The more adjustments simply means the more chances for additional changes and more setup time."

The new QuickAir vacuum feed collating system from Baum is offered in eight-, 16- and 24-bin configurations and handles a variety of stock, including coated, art and NCR paper. It includes a multi-language control panel, on-screen diagnostics and 5˝ cover bin capacity.

Versatility, expandability, ease of operation and dependability are keys to ensuring high productivity and fast return on investment, according to Cliff Thompson, manager of marketing communications for Streamfeeder. "We design our Universal collator systems with a customer's current and potential projects in mind," he explains.

The Universal systems feature FeedNet Advanced Collator Communications (ACC). FeedNet ACC has a built-in expansion that can be field upgraded via modem. The system can be adapted as needs change over time.

Among other manufacturers, Global Print Finishing is showcasing the new DigiVAC and DigiVAC Plus. The units boast non-stop production, operating at a consistent pace without stopping for bin reloading. A patented suction feed system takes sheets from the bottom of the stack, allowing bins to be reloaded while the system is running.

Fusion Concepts offers collating systems with two to 32 feeding stations that assemble single or batch-counted product sets with minimal operator assistance. The ZG collator series automates assembly of hard-to-feed sequenced products and uses servo motor and PLC control technologies.

Pigna America offers the S59 collator for collation tabs, envelopes and greeting cards. It is available in six to 48 stations on six station modules. The S88 collator has in-line capacity expandable to 30 stations.

The FSI Packaging System from Prim Hall Enterprises delivers address-specific, polywrapped packages of up to 120 different preprints, with a top speed of 15,000 per hour. The collator control offers a high degree of flexibility for setup, operation and management reporting. Systems can include collator, hopper loaders, diverts, refeed, stackers, strappers, label appliers, label verifiers and palletizer.

The Rosback Co. offers the Setmaster vacuum-top-feed horizontal collator. It handles a wide variety of substrates. Also featured are no-tool setup and continuous loading, missing- and double-sheet protection. Variable speed has a maximum of 3,600 per hour.
 

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