Is Mechanical Binding the Last Short-Run Frontier?

There’s been many advances in adhesive and wire-stitch (saddle) binding over the past 10 years. As the digital print world grows ever larger, vendors have had to shift their solutions from fast, large-volume output, to fast, product-of-one output.

But how about mechanical binding? This finishing method remains the most practical for a large variety of products. Manuals, maps, notebooks, textbooks, reports and reference materials all benefit from the complete “lay open” quality of mechanical binding. Added to that is the ability to easily include tabbed pages for sectioning.

All mechanical bindings require either punching or drilling holes in the book set as the first step. The punches are typically a part the binding machine.

The three main types of mechanical binding are:

Comb Binding—uses a special plastic spine with either 19 rings (for U.S. letter size) or 21 rings (for A4) with holes punched into the paper. Spine sizes range from 3/16˝ up to 2˝, which will bind up to 425 pages.

Coil Binding—a helical plastic coil is threaded into punched holes along the spine.

Wire-O—also known as double-loop wire and ring wire (among others), this process uses a C-shaped wire spine into which the double wire is inserted into the punched holes and then closed by a wire closer. Wire-O is perhaps the most durable of these binding methods, with even high page count books able to open a complete 360°. It’s also the most expensive of the methods.

So, what’s been happening in the mechanical binding world in response to the digital revolution? Well, like every other finishing segment, customers don’t want to get stuck with outdated content, so they want to order on smaller quantities, as needed. This means reducing the number of steps required.

Typically, paper punching and binding had been two separate processes, performed on two different machines. But this has changed with the introduction newer, larger machines. These systems combine the collating, tab inserting, punching and binding operations into one process.

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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