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.

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.
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  • Paul Gardner

    Having helped to build an automated book factory that’s capable of producing 20,000 unique, hardcover books per day, I think you’ve presented a great view of a nearly-hidden segment of the industry.

    Two thoughts, one for printers, the other for manufacturers.

    Don’t let the thought of spending multiple-millions of dollars to equip a bindery scare you off. Along with the amazing automated book lines that have been created over the past 3 or 4 years, there are also inexpensive, drop-dead simple ways to begin building such a capability. Substrate companies such as Mohawk, GPA and Convertible Solutions have been creatine ingenious workarounds for those without multi-million-dollar binderies. Simultaneously, equipment companies such as On Demand Machinery, UniBind, and PowisParker have been creating innovative binding methods that require equipment investments starting at just a few thousand dollars.

    Sure, there are cost-efficiencies in the big gear that are unbeatable. But If I’m going to bet the shop on the survival of the printed book, I’d rather develop demand ahead of capacity, so I can sign that third mortgage knowing that I have a delighted, sustainable customer base pushing me along.

    Most of the very-large-scale custom book manufacturing operations that will ever exist, ALREADY exist.

    What the rest of us printers really need are modular systems that can be purchased and leveraged one-piece-at-a-time. Modules that play well, not only with your other equipment, but with all the gear that we already have in our shops. Sure, make it JDF compatible if you want to. But focus on adding value – to any shop – with the very next piece of gear you introduce.

    We don’t need it to go faster – if business is good, we’ll buy another machine. We don’t need it to go bigger – we can build the odd and oversize books by hand.

    Whatever you sell us, make it simple to learn, simple to maintain and simple to use. And we promise we’ll call you when the business grows to the point that we need another one.