The End of Big Iron in the Bindery?

I spent a large part of my career in high-volume commercial binderies within firms such as RR Donnelley, Quad/Graphics, World Color, Banta, Brown Printing, and the like. These were truly “big iron” operations where perfect binders and saddlestitchers might stretch over a hundred feet of floor space and easily weigh more than 100,000 pounds. Such machines might take more than a day to makeready, and once started for a particular magazine or catalog job, at times might run for more than a week straight.

The goal for this market was always “faster.” So every year, manufacturers would vie to raise cycling speeds to 15,000 or 20,000 cycles per hour, or more. At one point in the mid-’90s, AM Graphics (now Goss) was hard at work on a 40,000-cph perfect binder.

Some years ago, polybagging machines became capable of 30,000 cph. Publisher’s wanted to reduce the cycle time for long runs, and constantly pushed vendors and printers for more speed.

Well…this drupa may have signaled the end of the speed race.

The super-long print runs that drove these developments have declined over the years. There are still lots of magazines and catalogs, but many thriving magazines target smaller, specialty audiences and are shorter run. This is the trend in the United States, and those multimillion print runs don’t appear to be coming back.

Wandering around the drupa 2012 halls, one could see a fundamental shift in finishing systems to digital applications. The major finishing system vendors have realized that their future is in finishing for the digital print space—and especially digital continuous web.

There’s lots of opportunity. When digital print system were relatively slow and used for lower volumes, the companion collators, booklet makers and perfect binder could be rather small-scale machines. But now that inkjet web machines can truck along at 600 fpm, the finishing component will have to be much more robust and capable of true 24/7 reliable operation.

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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