Saddle Stitchers — A Stitch In Time
BY ERIK CAGLE
When is a floor model saddle stitcher not a saddle stitcher? When does it become a perfect binder?
Ask Bob Morton, president of Best Graphics, one of the nation's leading bindery product distributors. Best Graphics will be introducing the Best Osako 612 UB 'reverse stitcher' to the U.S. market later this year. The innovative machine will produce books that appear to be perfect bound, despite the fact they are produced on a stitcher.
In essence, it's the look of a perfectly bound book at saddle stitcher cost; but there's more to it than the bottom line. The reverse stitcher is designed for the children's book market, and the durable bind withstands the constant opening and closing. Additionally, stitch legs are not exposed to prying little fingers.
"Instead of stitching from the top down, it goes from the inside out," Morton explains. "The glue strip is laid as it comes into the cover feeder, and then it goes into the former. It looks like a perfectly bound book."
It appears that the venerable saddle stitching machine is striving to reinvent itself. Already a bindery darling, a stitcher offers lower costs and quicker turnaround time for books, catalogs, brochures and direct mail, among others. Still, that won't stop printers from demanding—or manufacturers from researching, retooling and redefining—more attractive stitchers.
Morton notes that the days of catering equipment to grizzled, veteran craftsmen are declining. The job market is still reasonably tight, making qualified labor a premium.
"It's pushing manufacturers to build machines that are easy to operate and can still maintain higher production speeds," Morton remarks. "Machines that don't require a journeyman mentality, of needing 10 years' experience to run at 80 percent production speed."
Best Graphics unveiled its 368 model at DRUPA this past spring. The unit features fully automatic, 15-second chain timing, as well as high and low folio gripper. All controls on the rotary feeders are adjustable while the stitcher is in operation.
Buyers in the market for a new stitcher seek low maintenance combined with high reliability and longevity, according to Tom Hagemann, product manager for ISP Stitching & Bindery Products.
"In today's world of short turnaround printing, the saddle stitching machine needs to be user-friendly and fast, without a lot of setup time and maintenance," Hagemann notes. "The issue is being addressed with stitching machines that are adjusted easily and don't require high lubrication intervals."
ISP has enjoyed much success with its BinderyMate, a compact, 1⁄4˝-capacity wire stitcher that switches from flat to saddle stitching and back again in seconds. The unit was recently upgraded with the new M-2000 stitching head, which boasts reduced operating force and wear-resistant components.
Just for You
John Morganstern, director of product management for Heidelberg Web Systems, points out that productivity and product customization are critical factors that will keep print more competitive with other media. In response, Heidelberg Web Systems is manufacturing bindery systems that deliver higher speeds and quicker makereadies in tandem with more advanced selective binding and ink-jet personalization capabilities.
Versatility is important, Morganstern remarks. "Our customers are demanding full-format systems that can manage selective content and a wide variety of signatures, and we are applying advanced technology to address these needs."
Heidelberg's Pacesetter family of high-volume saddle stitchers grew a little bigger with the DRUPA unveiling of the 870 model, augmenting the previously established 1000. The 870 can finish products ranging from A5 to A3 in one- or two-up formats at up to 15,500 books per hour. The 1000 is aimed at 81⁄2x11˝ and A4 magazines, catalogs, periodicals or publications in one-up format.
Faster makereadies and greater flexibility in controlling the pockets of saddle stitchers are key factors influencing the manufacture of saddle stitchers, according to Steven Calov, product manager of the stitching group at Heidelberg Postpress. Calov says Heidelberg implemented these suggestions in its Stitchmaster ST 400, as customers worked with the company's product designers to create this latest offering.
Customer input helped the Stitchmaster ST 400 "bring saddle stitching to the next generation. Their comments led to the development of a CIP3 interface and movable pockets," Calov reports.
"The CIP3 interface offers greatly reduced makeready times since the computer automatically sets the pockets, infeed, trimmer and compensating stacker from information created in prepress," he says. "It also sets the backstop, sideguides and folio setting without tools. The benefits are tremendous, reducing makeready times, in some cases, from 45 minutes to just two minutes, while allowing a single operator to set up the stitcher from a central control panel."
Bill Klansko, product manager of the print finishing division at Muller Martini USA, notes that customers are seeking machines that boast faster makeready times, improved reliability, self-diagnostic capabilities, improved speed and less needed manpower. "We have and continue to incorporate all of the above into our stitching systems across the product line," he remarks.
Werner Naegeli, president of Muller Martini USA, points out that a shortage of skilled personnel is raising the demand for user-friendly equipment, such as automated loading with integrated stream feeders as bundle loaders, and an operator/machine interface with touchscreen and instruction/help information.
Versatility of Machines
Muller Martini is touting its Prima-S, a 14,000 cph unit that features AMRYS (Automatic Makeready System) that is CIP3 compliant. Upgradable to include selective binding and ink-jet addressing, the Prima-S features movable vertical or flat-pile feeders.
Another vendor, Rosback is offering the 318 Lynx saddle binder, available with four or eight pockets. It automatically collates, saddle stitches and delivers three-knife trims. A heavy duty, modular, ball-bearing system, the Lynx is engineered for easy makeready, operation and changeover.
Automation becomes a bigger factor for printers as runs shorten in an on-demand environment, according to Paul Steinke, marketing director for Duplo USA. The result is less overrun, which helps to reduce waste. More operator alerts are needed on stitchers as well, he notes.
"If stitches run out or a booklet is missed, they can be disposed of in a print overrun," Steinke states. "But in an on-demand environment—particularly in some cases where the books are personalized—it becomes an important issue."
Duplo USA will be unveiling its new System 4000 bookletmaker at Graph Expo next month. The System 4000, first shown worldwide at DRUPA earlier this year, will be displayed in-line with Duplo's new high-speed collating system. This system will demonstrate speeds up to 4,200 booklets per hour.
Maximum rated speed has always been a hot-button topic from both a manufacturer and end-user standpoint. William Duff, president and CEO of Hohner Stitching Products, points out that optimum speed can be achieved only under ideal conditions, such as use of a highly skilled operator and the correct alignment of the planets. Absence of such variables "decrease [the operator's] chances of achieving maximum rated speed long before those signatures ever hit the pockets," Duff states. Plus, as the machine ages, it loses a step, speed-wise. Components will wear and fail sooner when the unit is run at top speed.
What should printers look for in a stitcher, then? Efficiency is the answer, according to Duff.
"Reduce setup times, reduce maintenance intervals and improve technology in the stitching process itself," Duff says. "Product in the wrappers at the end of a shift is where you test the metal, and as equipment manufacturers committed to our customers, we continue to innovate to improve on our portion of the process."
Hohner has recently unveiled its HSS-18 Selective Stitch system, which represents a major change in stitcher head designs. The system, tabbed by Heidelberg as standard equipment on its new ST-400 and SP-870 units, replaces Hohner's Model 70/20, Bostich 18D or G20.
Duff has no doubt that there is a successful future awaiting the efficient and economical saddle stitcher.
"Saddle stitching remains the most econom-ical method of binding, and significant strides have been achieved in improvements in their efficiency and reliability," Duff maintains. "In my opinion, the future bodes well for saddle stitching machines well into the 21st century."
In Finishing Operations
The following was contributed by Donna St. John Berry, manager of marketing for Muller Martini.
As a world market leader in saddle stitching, Muller Martini designs and manufactures more saddle stitchers each year than all of its competitors combined. These include simple-to-operate, entry-level machines; versatile, mid-range stitchers; as well as sophisticated and automated, high-speed publication stitching systems. With these and other products, print finishing has been the focus at Muller Martini for more than 50 years.
Specifically, the company has focused on labor-savings, waste reduction and improved production benefits. There are three areas of the saddle stitcher that can benefit from improved efficiencies: the feeding area, the delivery area and the machine net-output.
Feeding Area: Users can maximize operating efficiency and minimize personnel by optimizing loading with stream feeders. Stream feeders incorporate a higher buffer capacity, as well as reduced jogging and alignment of sections. A positive and controlled deshingling of products mean fewer jam-ups. Fewer jam-ups mean less downtime and increased profits.
Users can also increase labor savings drastically with automated feeding by logs or rolls. Intermediate storage of products coming off the press by logs or rolls means more consistent signature quality, therefore reduced waste and increased profits in the bindery. Another benefit of automated loading is the elimination of repetitive motion injuries.
Delivery Area: Production efficiencies in the delivery area might mean incorporating compensating stackers for improved stack quality, equipment for in-line wrapping and strapping, as well as automatic boxing and palletizing. Products such as books, magazines, brochures and catalogs can be delivered directly from the saddle stitcher ready for shipping without any human intervention.
Equipment Net-Output: Increasing machine net-output is the most direct way to improve efficiencies in the print finishing operation. The two factors determining equipment output are the ability levels of the operators and the automated features of the machine. Operators must be trained to minimize setup time, maximize running speeds and minimize downtime. Fully trained operators can achieve higher running speeds, and faster makeready and changeover. They also employ proper maintenance procedures to reduce downtime and protect equipment investment.
Automated features such as CIP3 integration allow an integrated workflow in the bindery with prepress and press functions. Automatic makeready systems guide the operator through setup quicker and easier. On-the-fly adjustments allow the equipment to keep running while fine adjustments are made. The collection and analysis of data from the saddle stitchers of tomorrow will further increase the control of profits in the bindery.
The time for print finishing operations "throwing" people at the problems in the bindery have past. Today's competitive businesses have invested in the future of their companies by automating the workflow.
Shorter Runs: The Flat Sheet Alternative
The following was contributed by Mark Hunt, director of marketing at Standard Finishing Systems, a division of Standard Duplicating Machines.
Traditionally, commercial printers have produced their saddle stitched product using the time-honored method of printing multiple-up on a large-format press, taking the product off-line for perforating and signature folding, then loading the 8-, 16- or 32-page signatures into their saddle gathering machine, where they are gathered and stitched. The final step: three-side trimming, completed in-line or off-line. This approach works fine for longer run lengths, where you can amortize the cost for longer setup time over tens of thousands of units.
Run lengths continue to decline as marketers look to print fewer (sometimes customized) pieces to avoid high costs of inventory, storage and obsolete literature. Today, printers are wrestling with the challenge of how to profitably produce low-volume (5,000 to 20,000) saddle stitched jobs with the quick turnaround this work often requires.
One widely adopted solution to this challenge is to impose the job multiple-up in four-page flat signatures, then run it on a small-format press (33˝ or smaller). The sheets are cut to flat-sheet, four-page signatures that are loaded into a high-speed vacuum collator equipped with in-line stitching, folding and face-trimming accessories (see accompanying photo on page 74).
More and more printers are realizing significant advantages to the vacuum collator/saddle stitching approach. First, there are fewer off-line bindery steps and reduced material transport between the steps. With flat-sheet collating, you print, cut, load the collator, and the stitching, folding and face trimming are quickly completed in-line. With the traditional method, you print, perforate/fold, then load the signatures into an in-line system that gathers them onto a saddle and stitches them. In-line or off-line three-side trimming completes the process.
Another plus to this method is less spoilage. State-of-the-art collator and bookletmaking accessories designed for heavy-duty use come with digital controls, and stepper motors drive all guides and stops to the proper position for changeovers. This results in first-book-off quality, which is more important on shorter runs. Wasting 100 units setting up a saddle gathering line is insignificant on a run length of 50,000, but that same 100 units is 2 percent of the total job on a 5,000-piece run.
Most importantly, the off-line vacuum collator/saddle stitching system can be set up and changed over between formats in just minutes. This represents considerable labor cost savings compared to changing over saddle gathering and three-knife trimming lines. Changeover speed is critical, because shorter run lengths don't afford the luxury of amortizing setup costs over many units.
The same customers who are driving the business toward shorter run lengths are also pushing for faster delivery. They want next-day or same-day service. Using the cut-collate-stitch-fold-trim method, the printed sheets are ready to ship much faster than with the traditional process. An added bonus is you can offer customers partial delivery of the finished job as soon as the first booklet exits the trimmer. You needn't wait until all sheets are printed and signature folded before you can begin producing the finished, saddle stitched product.