Develop Quickly, Or Else!
Hans Muller, founder of today's Muller Martini and a master bindery engineer died last week at the ripe old age of 96. This got me thinking about where we are today, versus 20 or so years ago. Back in the heyday of high-volume print, the pecking order among bindery manufacturers was fairly well-established. The "heavy-iron" firms in the U.S. had their place, but the renowned German and Swiss firms (like Muller Martini) were rapidly gaining U.S. market share.
But as digital print began to gain traction in the new millennium, a curious thing happened. The mainline manufacturers were slow to match their machines to the new realities of the digital space. The new finishing workspace needed machinery that was well-built, but also affordable. In the offset world, you might pay between $2 million and $15 million to $20 million for the latest sheetfed of offset web press. But until recently, you could get by considerably less than a million for a first-class color digital press.
The digital environment dictated shorter run production without sacrificing quality. And many digital shops lacked the long-term bindery expertise of their larger commercial cousins. What happened next was that Asian manufacturers "stepped up" their smaller binders and other machines. They rapidly adapted lots of their offerings for higher operating speeds, better build quality, and automation designed to allow neophyte operators to produce quality products. More importantly, these machines were priced to fit the ROI's of digital.
Here's an example. Horizon debuted the BQ-470 perfect binder some years ago. This was a four-clamp binder which could operate at 1,000-plus cycles per hour. It was robust, had automation (which evolved over time) and was both productive and priced to fit the new workspace. Result? Hundreds have been sold. I can't walk into most book printers and digital binderies without seeing one or more of them. More importantly, it was priced to maximize its potential in both larger and smaller firms. The "traditional" manufacturers really had nothing comparable in their arsenal.
The lesson? First, the rate of change in print and finishing is faster than it's ever been. Second, manufacturers must move quickly to offer the machinery that's needed at the time. A five-year development cycle means conditions will have changed by the time you get to market, or someone else will already occupy that niche. The lesson? Recognize the opportunity and move fast!