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SADDLE STITCHERS -- It's a Buyer's Market

April 2001
BY ERIK CAGLE


Freedom of choice, from a consumer standpoint, is a double-edged sword when your pool of choices is a veritable ocean.

Anyone in the graphic arts industry knows what it means to have an unlimited array of manufacturers. It's the old deer-in-the-headlights syndrome—there are far too many choices and simply not enough time in the day to do sufficient homework that would yield an educated choice.

At the end of the day during Graph Expo, printers riding the shuttle from the exhibition hall back to the hotel frequently wonder aloud, "You know, I looked at so many systems today—and I still don't know which one is right for me."

Doesn't sound much like freedom, does it?

Obviously, a quality machine is a quality machine and tends to stand out among the rest. But it helps your sanity if the array of manufacturer choices is a modest, but not low, figure. This certainly applies to the market for mid-range and high-end saddle stitchers. There are just enough, and not too many, choices available for those printers and trade binders seeking such a machine to fulfill their needs.

Establishing a criteria for what encompasses a quality unit is the first step. Secondly, the key is discerning what capabilities fit your needs, and what are just needless bells and whistles. Thirdly, while this particular binder may be the perfect solution for your needs, does it meet with previously established cost parameters?

Two Telling Trends
Price and unit speed are two of the most relevant factors to consider while shopping for a new stitcher, according to Ron Bowman, vice president sales and marketing for Rosback.

"If the printer's work is runs of 30,000 to 50,000, he can well-afford and need the saddle binder that cycles at 9,000 to 12,000 books per hour," Bowman stresses. "On the other hand, if his runs are 3,000 to 30,000, a stitcher that cycles at 5,000 books per hour will suffice. Also, it doesn't seem prudent to buy a 12,000 per hour machine that runs the work in a few hours and then sits for a week or two unused."

Rosback's newest offering is the 318 Lynx SaddleBinder, a 5,000 copies per hour (cph) unit with stitcher, three-knife trimmer and either four or eight vertical stations. The unit is also offered in a CD model for smaller booklets. Bowman notes that Rosback's offerings are more economical than the larger, faster units and a better value for customers whose work fits into his company's speed and price formats.

Rosback users have the option of adding a four-station Lynx feeder as their business grows. Some options include the Stack Feeder, which mounts over the trimmer infeed table for loading booklets requiring only three-knife trimming. Other options are total and batch counter, Hohner stitcher heads, third and fourth stitcher heads, and in-line auto punch.

The flexibility of the saddle stitching equipment is a paramount element to consider, notes John Morgenstern, director of product management/product planning for Heidelberg Web Systems. That flexibility includes handling a wide variety of sizes, the ability to process multiple types of forms (cards, unbalanced forms, vacuums), as well as ink-jet printing and selective capabilities.

Heidelberg supports the high-end market (units in the 14,000 to 20,000 cph range) with its Pacesetter 870. The inserter/stitcher/trimmer can handle a wide variety of stitching applications.

"I certainly think that a saddle stitcher's ability to do ink-jet and selective binding makes it attractive to our particular market," states Morgenstern, who notes that Heidelberg Web Systems is currently exploring labor-saving enhancements.

"We've had a reputation of building extremely durable and versatile equipment that has established a standard for productivity in the United States, and we'll continue to manufacture to that standard."

The ideal stitcher possesses a number of attributes, according to Bob Morton, president of Best Graphics. They include the ease of setup, ease of adjustments during production (preferably on-the-fly), and the ability to accurately feed and score covers at high production speeds. He counts the Best Osako 368 AS (Auto Set) in that regard.

The 368 AS offers the user some unique automation features, contends Morton. The stitcher head positioning and chain timing can be moved in 15 seconds, either through a pre-programmed module or by manually inputting the signature size, which is then automatically set. This procedure alone eliminates most manual steps and reduces each make-ready by up to 15 minutes. Consequently, it also allows greater flexibility to produce long- and short-run production, or the ability to break into a long run to quickly produce a short-run rush job with minimal makeready impact.

"It's important to have automation features because it's difficult in the current labor market to get people—period," he says. Morton also points out that the 368 AS boasts quality-control devices such as signature scanners that ensure all signatures are nestled together. Wire monitors check all stitches and signature pocket scanners prevent them from going in upside down—all measures that reduce waste.

Overall construction is a vital element in choosing a stitcher, adds Stuart Moore, product finishing manager for Heidelberg Canada. Local support and parts availability also should not be overlooked, he states.

Heidelberg USA's new Stitchmaster line boasts many standard features that are options on other manufacturer's models, according to Moore. He feels these standards offer the customer more flexibility and increase production, with less maintenance and downtime. Among the special features are cascade feeding, which reduces waste with every start and stop of the machine, and vertical pockets, which help to reduce manpower, central lubrication and greatly eliminate the risk of marking.

Among the features that can make a stitcher shine, Moore notes, are missing stitch sensor, variable side caliper inspection point, long signature detection and trimmer quality control (square book detection) to ensure the quality from book to book.

Being able to gauge what type of work you need to do—not just presently, but projecting in the long term—can go a long way toward helping find the appropriate saddle stitcher, stresses Felix Stirnimann, division manager, print finishing operations, for Muller Martini. Product size, number of sections to be stitched and run lengths are important elements to consider, and it's wise to look ahead toward capabilities such as ink-jet addressing, he advises.

"If you have a big variation of sizes, like trade binderies—because they can't control the type of work they get—you want to have a very flexible machine," Stirnimann says. "We have fast-makeready machines that can handle a broad range of products."

Muller Martini reports that it manufactures more saddle stitchers each year than the rest of its competitors combined. The company offers a variety of units capable of different outputs, from the 8,000 cph Minuteman and 9,000 cph Presto to the 12,000 cph Bravo, 14,000 cph Prima and 20,000 cph Tempo System.


Labor Issues, Makeready Are Vital

BY PAUL KUCHTA

The major component of any hourly rate, or per thousand rates for a saddle stitcher, is labor. More efficiency as related to manning is the number one issue for this profit center.

Makeready efficiencies are also significant; obviously, the less time spent on makeready, the more cost-competitive the job will be. Makeready accuracy should also be considered—the more accurate the initial makeready, the faster the machine will be at a consistent production speed.

Quality control features are critical in assuring that the end user of the saddle stitched product will receive only good product.

Variable side caliper inspection point, long signature detection and trimmer quality control (square book detection) are indispensable, particularly in light of today's tight labor market and the inexperienced help that is often used. Adjustment of critical processes without interruption of production is a major benefit.

Smart features are even better: for example, the ST270's and 300's ability to monitor average product thickness over the run and adjust automatically to accommodate changes in paper caliper typical in web stock.

Waste reduction features such as the sequential start and stop of a saddle stitcher should be considered a must. The reduction of books to be uncollated due to makeready start and stops is significant, lowering production costs by eliminating labor and time pulling sigs apart.

Another feature for consideration is image recognition at the pocket, which almost eliminates the possibility of unskilled labor loading a wrong signature and catches any mixed signatures from prior processes.

Finally, down stream inhibit (DSI), as a waste reduction tool, is recommended. DSI monitors each pocket to verify a signature has made it onto the chain. Should the system detect a feed fault, subsequent pockets will not feed onto an already bad book-block.

In short, technology can, and is, compensating for the workforce woes that all printers and binders face. The added capital expense is easily compensated by today's compressed production schedules and a reduction in the most expensive component of any saddle stitch job—labor.

Paul Kuchta is North Central postpress sales manager for Heidelberg USA.
 

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