Robot vs. Craftsman in the Bindery

OK, that title is a bit over the top, but let me digress. I have a friend of mine who is a top sales guy with a major bindery system manufacturer. Now, this is not a person who came out of college and went on to a sales career. No. He started in the bindery, and went through an intensive craft apprenticeship. If you want to know how to fold, punch, drill, diecut or bind something, this is your guy to call.

Back in the day, in order to be a qualified folding machine operator, you went through a four-year apprenticeship. And that was just the beginning. Accurately cutting, folding, stitching and binding large volumes of paper requires a combination of muscle, intuition and the knowledge of a library of complex mechanical adjustments. It’s all part of the many years-long training process. Adjusting a series of fold rollers by a few thousands of an inch requires experience and “touch.”

But, hey! We’re in the digital age now. Those well-trained bindery craftsman are both hard to find and expensive. That is one of the reasons why equipment manufacturers have tried to apply as much automation as possible to their machinery.

By and large, they have been successful. Early attempts involved motorizing some basic machine components. But know, higher-end machines incorporate very sophisticated servo- and stepper-motor adjustments. One folder manufacturer even allows the operator to adjust fold rollers independent of each other, by very small increments. This is critical when your trying to fold an envelope with different thicknesses on each side.

The other aspect of this automation is the “virtual craftsman.” Many of these machines have a built-in library of how-to video or animated instructions that address various folding, cutting or binding problems. And the ability to store and recall the successful makeready settings for a job eliminates countless hours of repeated adjustments.

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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