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Saddle Stitching Machines -- Saddling the Right Machine

January 2003
By Caroline Miller

When it comes to saddle stitching, every printer or trade finisher has a different set of needs. Some are looking for increased speed; for others, it is ease of operation or fast make-ready capabilities. And there are those in need of a stitcher that can integrate easily into a larger in-line system. Vendors of production saddle stitchers are responding to all of those needs thanks to a new generation of technology.

"We've just seen a quantum leap in technology," says Chris Azbill, vice president at United Litho, a short-run publication printer that recently installed a Muller Martini Tempo saddle stitcher.

When United Litho went shopping for a stitcher, speed was the primary factor in its decision, according to Azbill. The Asburn, VA-based operation was facing increasing pressure from its clients to shorten schedules.

The 185-employee company, which is part of the Sheridan Group, specializes in association and special-interest magazines. Their average run length is 30,000 to 50,000 copies, and the typical magazine is 64 pages with significant advertising and four-color throughout. Previously, United operated two 20-year-old stitchers.

"We are somewhat unusual in that our jobs feature pretty consistent makeup. Our clients weren't really looking for all of the bells and whistles," states Azbill. But, like everyone else, they were clamoring for faster turnaround times. United Litho also knew that it required in-line mailing capabilities, so the new stitcher needed to integrate into that system seamlessly.

"We were looking for a configuration that offered high speeds and significant quality improvements," he says. "What most impressed us about the stitcher are the stream feeders. We bundle everything coming off the presses, so we were looking for the capability to bundle load," he reveals.

In the end, United Litho opted for an overall in-line system that consists of a QTI controller, a MachTronic paper labeler, Domino Amjet ink-jetting, an Arpac shrink-wrapping machine.

Another capability that was important to Azbill was the optical signature recognition feature on the saddle stitcher. "It is not impossible to make a bad book, but it almost requires human intervention to do it," remarks Azbill, who notes how the new stitcher has made a positive impact on United Litho's operations.

For example, the new generation of saddle stitchers run significantly faster. "We are running faster with one machine than we were with our two previous machines. In-line mailing also saves us a tremendous amount of time. It literally hits the binder and is out the door the same day. We've cut three to four days out of the schedule," claims Azbill.

Speed was also a factor in Omaha Print's decision to purchase a 10-pocket Heidelberg ST 400 shaftless drive saddle stitcher with cover feeder, ink-jet capability, auto stacker and auto preset capabilities throughout the finishing line, according to Gary Smith, Omaha Print COO.

Its purchase is part of an ongoing equipment upgrade to improve the Omaha, NE-based company's capabilities and efficiencies, while lowering operating costs. Omaha's motto is: Get there. Faster. So, getting its bindery up to speed was of particular importance if the $15 million operation was going to fulfill that motto.

Makeready Saves Time

The makeready presets on the machines is what drew Smith's interest. "The preset makeready feature reduces time significantly. Makeready is primarily accomplished with data input at the console to set-up the entire gathering, stitching, trimming and stacking line. Settings are saved for repeat work," he reports. "The pockets are very flexible to run different configurations. We run at the maximum rated speed of 14,000 bph frequently to reduce production costs and to shorten the production cycle time."

Omaha's stitcher operators were also soon up to speed on the machine due in part to the improvements that have been made to the control panels.

"They've adapted to the new system quickly to support an immediate return on investment. The new stitcher enables us to grow in the market with short- and long-run catalog and magazine production. And the quick makeready features allow for partial quantities to be produced at various intervals without escalating our costs," reveals Smith.

For short-run publication printer Cummings Printing, in Hooksett, NH, a 10 percent annual growth rate required it to update its bindery in order to keep up with customer demand.

The company installed a Best Osako 10-cover pocket folder feeder from Best Graphics.

"We were looking for a faster machine," notes Jack Cummings, president. "Our clients are requiring increasingly larger page counts. The most important capability we were looking for in a saddle stitcher was ease of use by the operator. We wanted something that didn't require a big learning curve for our operators," he adds.

While most printers seek high speeds, Concord Litho, in Concord, NH, was looking to build a better bindery. Until recently, Concord had always outsourced its finishing work.

But, the book printer had a change of heart, deciding that it wanted more control over the finishing end of its business. With a client list that includes Disney and Readers Digest, it recently purchased a custom-built McCain saddle stitcher.

Durability is Key

For Erik Flint, Concord bindery manager, durability was the overriding requirement in his purchase. Concord needed a two-up double digest book capability with a separate two-up trimmer.

"We were able to get the exact machine we needed," explains Flint. "Quick makereadies aren't really a concern for us. "Our runs are up to 5 million, so ease of setup is not an issue," says Flint.

But durability and runnability were. "We need to be able to run it 24 hours a day, six or seven days a week with no real maintenance problems," notes Flint. Overall, after evaluating all of the machines currently on the market, Flint is impressed with the features and capabilities the McCain stitcher now offers.

"Finishing has come a long way in the last five years," he concludes. "The technology that is available in finishing today is the stuff that—20 years ago—you just dreamed about."

Bootleg Parts Cause Headaches

Many maintenance personnel already know that the mixing of original equipment parts with less expensive copy parts can lead to problems which are far more expensive than the savings realized on parts purchases. While appearing to look the same, in most cases, the copy parts are not.

Bootleg parts are often designed to fit in original equipment stitching heads (slightly smaller) while at the same time genuine factory replacements parts will not fit in imitation heads.

The materials used in bootleg parts are often times inferior, as is the hardness of the part. The bottom line: bootleg after-market parts are, in most cases, not manufactured to the same specifications and tolerance of original equipment parts.

Since the stitching operation is one of the two final production operations, the customer's choice of stitching heads and subsequent maintenance procedures should be carefully based on a few key factors—the machine's rated speed, thickness capacity, proven reliability, the availability of quality replacement parts, wire consumption, training requirements, spare parts inventories required, warranties and technical support.

The long-term effects can be very costly, especially when considering maintenance, downtime, increased parts purchased and the loss of any warranties. Always specify genuine replacement parts, regardless of the original manufacturer.

—William Duff, president and CEO, Hohner Stitching Products


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