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How Does Your Bindery Grow?

March 2000

Printer, printer . . . How does your bindery grow? Certainly not with cockleshells all in a row—but with the same careful cultivation, operational dedication and savvy business sense that commercial printers are using to grow their prepress and pressroom areas.

But forget all the bells and whistles of prepress and press for a moment. Instead, take a behind-the-scenes look at how three very different commercial printers—two with extensive bindery operations and one with limited finishing services—are growing their overall businesses by investing in their back ends.

Blue Ocean Press
Absolute Automation
You never want to have to print a job over again, cautions Tom Mounce, president and owner of Ft. Lauderdale, FL-based Blue Ocean Press. "Sometimes it could mean the profits from the next five jobs are lost because you blew one job. All the prepress and press work ruined at the cost of a bindery-botched job. With quality equipment in the bindery, there's a much better chance of doing it right the first time."

And considering that his commercial sheetfed business specializes in high-end agency work, where back-end mistakes can be extremely costly, Mounce is growing his full-service bindery by investing in automated equipment. For example, to enhance the efficiency and productivity of his cutting capabilities, he recently purchased a pair of Polar cutters (both feature Autotrim) and a jogger with air removal and scale.

"You can't have the latest equipment in prepress and the pressroom without keeping up with technology in the bindery," he explains. "With automation, you produce more work using fewer people. Plus, you get more production out of a machine because it's automated."

Mounce has equipped his fully automated bindery with three Stahl folders (one with a PAF bundler), a Rollem perfing and scoring machine, a Muller Martini saddle stitcher, a Vacuumatic counter and a Clamco shrinkwrapper. He says cultivating a modern, automated bindery is important for many reasons. First, there's the all-important aspect of ensuring quality—and quality control (QC)—throughout the entire process, especially in the bindery where quality and QC can be compromised if a job is outsourced.

"As a high-end printer, I have to stand by my work—from design to delivery," says Mounce. "In order to do that, I must be able to control the entire process, from start to finish. I don't outsource much work. I do as much as I can in-house, so I can control the workflow and the quality."

With state-of-the-art finishing equipment, Mounce is also able to meet the industry's ever-growing "need for speed." He says with presses running faster, the bindery has to be able to keep up.

"Investing in the bindery is a must," Mounce contends. "It's all about quality. You must have quality in prepress, press and bindery—all aspects of the business. If you invest in the front end, you have to keep up in the back end. You can't afford to have the bindery botch a job."

Opportunity Knocks
Sometimes opportunity knocks. Sometimes that knock is subtle; sometimes it knocks the door down.

The latter is the case with Accu-print, of St. Petersburg, FL, for which the soft knock of interest—in a new, high-tech bindery product—turned into a surprising financial opportunity.

"The drums are beating," says Vice President Ron Hamburg, of the arrival of Accu-print's new Mathias Bauerle miniature folder, which has allowed his firm to enter the pharmaceutical insert niche. "They're announcing the news: 'Look out! Accu-print is in the neighborhood!' "

That neighborhood is Florida's West Coast, and Hamburg believes he's the only printer in the area doing miniature folding. He says he bought the folder a year ago to add to his in-house capabilities, which consisted mostly of saddle stitching. He's now "gleaning" through miniature folding jobs, but, he notes the machine has also brought some unexpected customers knocking at his door.

"Smaller printers are outsourcing their work to us. Several local [franchise] printers are bringing us their regular folding work. They'll drop off fold jobs of 20,000 to 30,000. The machine offers very quick turnaround, and that's what everyone wants these days. Plus, as a short-run color shop, it gives us other opportunities to pick up work from local printers. We're doing a real good business with this machine."

Features such as an electronic double sheet detector (using fiber optics) and computerized automated adjustments provide such efficiency that, according to Hamburg, there's "almost nil" spoilage. And spoilage of any kind is a costly proposition, especially if an entire job is ruined.

"If a printer is going to produce a job that is costly in the front end, why have it torn up in finishing? You work too hard on a job in prepress and on press to have it ruined in the end process," he says, emphasizing that it pays to have good equipment.

For Accu-print, that equipment is a miniature folder—one that continues to bring niche opportunities knocking at his door.

Phoenix Communications
Quality in the Last Phase
Customers are not going to beat a path to your door because of your bindery, says Cary Rosenthal, president and CEO of Phoenix Communications, an Atlanta-based, high-end, sheetfed printing operation in the Master Graphics family. "The bindery is the last major phase of the printing process. It's very important that it has the ability to produce quickly and with quality."

As the last phase in the printing chain, the bindery's delivery of a job becomes critical, Rosenthal explains, emphasizing that this is where the equipment's quality and efficiency are key.

"The industry has already focused on prepress and the pressroom, but now the demands of the marketplace tell us we must get the product through the bindery as quickly and efficiently as possible," he says. "You can't risk having inefficient equipment in the bindery that will make jobs look shabby in the end."

No longer standing in the shadows of high tech, Rosenthal says today's finishing equipment is being designed with the latest in automation. And if printers want to grow their overall businesses, he advises that they keep up with their customers' demands for speed and efficiency by automating and modernizing their binderies.

"With time being constricted and condensed, an efficient, automated bindery is a must for all printers," he says. "With all the bells and whistles of prepress and press, you can't have a bindery hold you up."

To keep up with the speed and efficiency of its prepress and pressroom areas, Phoenix Communications has invested in back-end automation with equipment that includes: Consolidated and Muller Martini saddle stitchers; a Muller Martini perfect binder; a Wire-O binder; an assortment of six MBO and Baum folders; and (the most recent installation) a new Polar cutting system—which Rosenthal says has already shown major improvements in speed (a 200 to 300 percent increase, he enthuses) over traditional guillotine cutters. Plus, there's a new Stahl saddle stitcher and three Stahl folders en route, which will replace some of the older equipment.

By making high-tech bindery investments, Rosenthal is able to keep pace with the speed and efficiency of his prepress and pressroom. For example, Rosenthal cites the Polar cutter's ability to preprogram and recall programs, which he says saves valuable time and money.

But investing in back-end automation also provides savings in such areas as operator labor and safety. Rosenthal points out that the cutter's automatic jogging and auto stacking features keep workers from bending over, and there are a multitude of user-friendly devices and safety features incorporated into the system's design.

While modern, automated equipment might not have customers beating a path to Rosenthal's bindery door, he admits that a job well done—from start to finish—does keep them coming back for more. And that's what growing a bindery is all about.

When Investing, Don't Overlook The Bindery

(Editor's Note: The following Q&A article was conducted with Hans Max, president of MBO America.)

PI: How are current automation advancements affecting the bindery?

HANS MAX: Automation in general addresses printer concerns such as fast turnaround, short-run setup times and labor costs, all of which impact a printer's competitive capabilities. These factors have helped facilitate more computer application to a variety of bindery equipment, including folders.

MBO's extensive market research vis-à-vis automation has resulted in the Perfection folder with the patented, computer-enhanced RAPIDSET makeready system. This MBO exclusive is the only marble-less folding system wherein an operator can select his comfort level as it pertains to his knowledge of folding. For example, it's common today to bring someone into the folding operation who has very little print or binding experience.

With even marginal computer literacy, the beginner level of the RAPIDSET displays full setup instructions and guides the operator as to fold roller settings and the number of papers to place under the calipers for each fold roller.

This aspect can be time-consuming, even for the experienced folder operator. No guesswork results in faster setup and less waste. The more experienced operators find the operator-friendly electronics can result in folding accuracy down to 1/10 mm. Some commercial printers' customers have strict tolerances; not having the technology could cause some to turn work away.

MBO RAPIDSET is preprogrammed with 65 standard folding impositions and has memory capability for 250 additional customized folds; even gatefold production guesswork is eliminated.

This kind of automation is not just for big shops. The ease with which previous jobs can be recalled and reproduced, coupled with reduced setup, increases the ROI. Furthermore, this folding system is engineered for sheet control, from start to finish. When you can control high-speed folding you can dramatically impact productivity!

PI: Aside from the advantages of one-stop shopping, what other benefits does an in-house bindery offer a printer?

MAX: For years now, those printers that have invested in bindery equipment did so for a variety of reasons, including improving profit margins and overall productivity. Printers gain more control over a job by having bindery equipment in-house, which should result in better customer service.

Depending on which bindery equipment is brought in-house, it gives the printer the opportunity to offer services such as laminating, indexing/tabbing, perfect binding, diecutting, ink-jetting, gluing, etc., to help diversify the printer.

PI: What types of finishing equipment provide a printer with the best ROI?

MAX: In a recent industry survey, paper folding is the most popular bindery function among commercial printers and in-plants. Today, folders can not only produce an endless variety of folds, but also can incorporate gluing, perforating, slitting, etc. Folders can be modified with components like a pre-slitter shaft among other parts for the purpose of producing time-perforating and time-slitting creative mailers. Folders can also work in-line with bundling and baling machines for automated pressed, bundled and counted packages in one-, two- and three-up production.

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