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CEO of Finishing Resources, Inc

The Finish Line

By Don Piontek

About Don

Don has worked in technical support, sales, engineering, and management during a career in both the commercial offset and digital finishing sectors. He is the North American representative for IBIS Bindery Systems, Ltd. of The United Kingdom.

Bindery Automation Hits a Peak

The bindery has had to become a very creative place as print evolves into an “on demand” service. One of the engineering marvels out there is the “book factory.” Book experts expect that the current mix of 40 percent digital and 60 percent offset book production to flip to 60 percent digital and 40 percent offset within a few years. Obviously, you can’t have a book-of-one press tied to a conventional bindery.

Almost all of the major bindery vendors have risen to this challenge to varying degrees. In-line perfect binders have been around for some time, but one Italian firm has launched a complete “on-demand” soft- and hard-cover bindery module.

This system starts from a digitally printed roll. From it, quantities of one soft- or hard-cover book can be turned out at a rate of up to 600 books per hour. As with most of these systems, a barcode printed on the roll sheets controls the entire operation of the other various components.

Then there’s the U.K. firm that has just installed a complete in-line module for producing either saddlestitched or perfect-bound books. Once again, barcodes on the sheet control the paper path once the printed pages exit the continuous-forms printer. All sheets go through a single buckle folder, but divert gates (after the folder) can send each sheet to either the saddlestitch or perfect-bound modules.

Sheets bound for the perfect binder enter a second buckle folder to signaturize them, then are fed to a stacker that collects the pages and passes them on to the binder. Rated binder speed is 1,500 cycles/hour.

Besides these two systems, there are other full, or partial variations on these production concepts. The key question is, “Does the capital outlay make sense?”

All of these machine modules vary in cost from half a million dollars to a million dollars. They also require a fair amount of workflow “re-engineering” in order to maximize their capabilities.

So the conundrum is, after investing several million dollars for the digital printer, will you also invest a rather large amount to automate the finishing end? Production inkjet printers require lots of impression volume to justify their cost. The same will hold true for this level of bindery automation.

We’ll have to see how large the market is for these systems.

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