The Elephant in the Bindery

Every day my e-mail inbox gets deluged with used bindery equipment listings from a host of used press and finishing equipment dealers, both here and abroad. At the same time, I usually keep a finger on what’s going on with the name-brand bindery systems manufacturers, and I realize what a problem all that used gear presents for them. Used machinery is the proverbial “elephant in the room” that manufacturers don’t want to talk about.

The sheer number of used machines that are floating around due to company closures is large. The dilemma for anyone selling new folders, stitchers, binders (and more) is how to compete with machinery that may be selling for 50 cents on the dollar, or less. This has definitely depressed new machinery sales. But there are ways to still sell new. First, a lot of used machinery is, well, old. This is the age of efficiency in both throughput, and makeready. The latest and greatest bindery systems not only run fast, but are highly automated, and can set-up for short runs in minutes. In short, they’re built for today’s printing environment, not the 1990’s.

So buying a 1996 saddle-stitcher, though appearing to be a bargain, may not be. Older machines simply will not cut it in terms of total productivity when stacked up against new systems. Even though the new stuff may cost a lot more, the overall ROI may still be better than used.

Second, most used equipment is sold “as is.” Does that mean the unit is in tip-top shape and ready-to-run? No. Many used systems may require a complete overhaul and upgrade. And that is typically not a bargain. Some manufacturers will simply not do it, depending upon the age of the machine and its condition. Some systems are so outdated that a re-furbishment is not possible.

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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  • Werner Rebsamen


    How about a bindery professor riding an elephant?

  • Paul Gardner

    Thanks for the perspective Don. Having worked on several equipment acquisition projects over the past couple of years, I’ve seen much of what you describe.

    My take is that used equipment can be a hugely valuable ally to innovators. It can help you to conserve capital while developing new products and new markets.It can allow you to experiment more aggressively – and break things faster – than you might with new gear. And the constraints and limitations of used gear can be a great stimulator of the human imagination.

    But when it comes to manufacturing efficiency, (some) new gear can provide capabilities that simply can’t be matched by even late-model used equipment.