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Muscle Bound Bindery -- Strength and Flexibility

October 2005
For Mike Welsch, strength and flexibility are the keys to building a successful postpress business. The Muscle Bound Bindery president credits the durability of his products for building the reputation his Minneapolis-based bindery enjoys. Strength and flexibility also characterize Muscle Bound's growth from an extension of a publishing house to one of the leading case binding and Otabind producers in the country.

From left, Muscle Bounders Jeff Deutsch, plant supervisor; Mike Ertle, plant manager; Jerry Hanson, former president; and Mike Welsch, president.
Muscle Bound Bindery was founded by Jerry Hanson in 1967 as the hardcover book binding arm of Lerner Publishing. The company quickly outgrew the 900 square feet it occupied on the fourth floor of a Lerner warehouse. Even after several expansions within that warehouse, the facility remained cramped as the company added new services and maintained a steady pace of growth.

"Running a bindery on the fourth floor of a building has its challenges," notes Jerry Hanson, who retired from the business in 2004. "It didn't take long for us to wear out the freight elevators." Hanson says delivery trucks barely had room to unload, and would block two lanes of a four-lane street as they backed to the bindery's elevators.

Feed the Meter

"Our customers knew they'd have an appointment with the meter maid every time they brought a job to the bindery."

It didn't take long for Muscle Bound to earn a reputation among school publishers and libraries for its bindings. The buzz began when Muscle Bound started placing a colophon of a clenched fist raised over an open book on its books' back covers. The colophon was encircled by the phrase "Muscle Bound for Long Wear." The Muscle Bound logo has become widely recognized among publishers and librarians as a reassuring symbol that their books are bound with the strength to survive these environments.

"Children are rough with everything they touch, and books are no exception," says Welsch. "Schools and libraries are environments where books receive heavy and extended usage. Also, many children's books tend to be short, easy reads. The advantage of side sewing is that it lends a great deal of strength to even the thinnest hardcover books."

In 1983, the company moved operations to a 45,000-square-foot facility just west of downtown Minneapolis. Along with the move came some new equipment, including a Muller Martini perfect binder and a Kolbus case binding line. For the next several years, Muscle Bound enjoyed a steady pace of growth as the company honed its quality and efficiency.

In the early 1980s, a publishing company in Finland noticed that many of the softcover school books it was producing were falling apart. The problem had two sources: The harsh Finnish climate was causing cold cracking of the binding adhesive, and the school kids were bending their books to get them to lay flat.

The solution to this one-two punch was Otabind, a binding method the publishing company co-developed with equipment manufacturer Muller Martini. In the Otabind system, the book is attached to the cover via the first and last pages of the book block using coldset glues. This allows the spine to float free of the cover, and the coldset glues allow the book to lay flat.

Former Muscle Bound president Jerry Hanson learned of the Otabind system and saw a natural fit with Muscle Bound's existing markets. In 1989, Muscle Bound became the second company in the U.S. to license the Otabind method. To handle the addition of an Otabind-equipped binding line, the bindery expanded its facility to 70,000 square feet.

Since the day Otabind was brought to Muscle Bound more than 15 years ago, the company has not deviated from the patented technique.

"While some Otabind providers have experimented with different adhesives, we still use cold-based glues for our Otabind books," says Welsch. "Coldset adhesives offer superior pliability, which results in a lay-flat product. This makes Otabind an attractive alternative to mechanical binding for applications such as music books, cookbooks and manuals."

Mix of Binding Choices

Muscle Bound continues to be one of the leading producers of Otabind books in the country. It now has one Muller Martini binder dedicated to Otabind book production. Another Muller Martini binding line, added in 1995, can be set up to run either Otabind or standard perfect binding depending on the in-house production mix. The company's latest binding line, a Muller Martini Corona that was purchased in 2001, rounds out Muscle Bound's four adhesive binding lines.

The flexibility of these binding lines allows Muscle Bound to put a lot of capacity behind any of its three main production services: case binding, perfect binding and Otabind. Additional capabilities include signature folding, film laminating, drilling and shrink wrapping, which allows for complete book production under one roof.

Of the shop's ability to move from one binding style to another seamlessly, Welsch credits his workforce. "We're fortunate to have an experienced and dedicated employee base. That continuity is key in today's environment of quick-turnaround customer demands."

Welsch joined Muscle Bound in 1993 as its production coordinator. He had earned a degree in graphic communications with a focus on prepress, but said he couldn't pass up the opportunity to work with a well-respected company.

"Although my formal training was in a different side of the business, I was eager to learn from an industry leader," Welsch points out. "Working side-by-side with Jerry Hanson has been a great learning experience. Jerry's wealth of knowledge and experience in the book binding industry runs deep and I look forward to continuing Muscle Bound's strong reputation."

Welsch has seen the world of postpress evolve quite a bit over the last 12 years. However, he feels that the strength and flexibility that helped build Muscle Bound into a successful postpress partner will continue to serve the company well in the future.

"Building an environment of mutual trust with customers has been critical to our success," he says. "Our range of capabilities lets us offer customers a pretty aggressive production schedule. That's a must in today's environment, where almost all jobs are 'hot' by the time they reach our hands."

Welsch notes the importance of open communication with customers to ensure there are no surprises when a project reaches the Muscle Bound shop floor. "It also helps to have such detail-oriented estimators and production coordinators. Surprises are eliminated when they're caught before production begins."

According to Welsch, Muscle Bound helps customers plan their projects by offering layout advice, planning tips and other helpful information. "Run lengths and turnaround demands continue to get shorter. That makes solid planning more valuable than ever. Regardless of what type of layout or other pre-planning advice they need, we encourage customers to ask questions early and often. That can save them a great deal of time and frustration—and that's what we're here to do."

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