Hardcover Book Production Coming Up Short
Back in the day, hardcover book binding was truly a craft. One had to be a certified book binder to even work in a hardcover bindery.
My friend, Professor Emeritus Werner Rebsamen (formerly) of RIT, has seen it all. He has had a long and glorious career in every phase of hard cover production.
In the ’50s, the race began to automate the process, with time-honored firms such as Kolbus, Smyth, and Muller Martini vying to produce complete, automated systems that could turn out 50 to 60 hardcover books per minute—an astounding figure for the times.
I can recall sitting through detailed engineering presentations from Berryville Graphics, one of the top hardcover plants of that time. Automation was of prime importance.
Over time, these new book lines got better and better, with quick setup via servos and computers, and quality that even a master book binder would envy. The goal was to produce high-volume, high-quality hardcover books with the minimal labor component.
But...times change. Now we are in the “book-of-one” phase. And those large machines, as automated as they are, are not ideal candidates for production runs of a few books or less. They still require crews of three or more people, and manufacturers prefer that the user “gang” book sizes together for these runs.
The new production model is a smaller work cell requiring only a single operator. While these modules will never be capable of turning out a few thousand books per hour, they can do a few hundred. The separate steps of building a case, casing-in the book block, and pressing and joint forming may be accomplished by four, three or even two separate machines. These units are manufactured by both domestic and foreign vendors, and require little floor space, little operator training, and little power.
These new systems been very successful in gaining a significant share of the market as production shifts to a more “on demand” model. Don’t get me wrong, you can’t produce a “Harry Potter” or “Twilight” run of several million books on these machines. But, the opportunities for book binding machine vendors lie with the most efficient technology for the ultra-short-run book.