The Little Company That Could
Many, many years ago there was a children’s book titled “The Little Engine That Could.” It was about a little steam engine that normally switched cars in the yard, but one day was called upon to pull a long freight train over a mountain that the “other” freight engines had refused. Wonderfully, the little engine pulled it off and gained the respect of all of the “big” engines on the main line.
Somewhat like the little engine, IBIS Bindery Systems Ltd. was founded in the U.K. in 1999 by a small group of bindery systems engineers. They were the first firm to design a saddle stitching system that was specifically designed to process digitally printed sheets printed on continuous toner or inkjet printers. The company remains quite small today, but despite lacking a big marketing budget, or a large sales force, it has been remarkably successful.
The firm’s main product is the Smart-binder, a high-speed industrial-strength saddle stitcher for personalized variable page-count booklets (up to two hundred pages) which have been digitally printed. Booklets can either be wire-stitched, or cold-glued via a patented process. Unlike other systems, the Smart-binder was not a “legacy” machine that was adapted from conventional saddle-stitcher technology. It was designed from the start to accept sheets from digital printers, and it collects, precisely folds and stitches these in a unique way.
One of the key features of the machine is its booklet integrity control system. The Smart-binder’s software includes multiple sheet check points and a continuous log file. The robustness of the software opened the way for the machine to be used in “mission critical” booklet applications. Today, there are twenty-four Smart-binders producing school test booklets, as well as health care, finance, and even one machine running surgical instrument instruction booklets which are opened in the operating room. Talk about pressure! In all, IBIS has installed over 150 Smart-binders world-wide.
Another key to the company’s success was the short communication chain. A customer’s phone tree included all of the key operating people at IBIS. One could reach the “right “person to solve an issue quickly, and IBIS earned a reputation for providing excellent post-sale support.
Eighteen years after its founding, IBIS sells and services world-wide, with the U.S. providing about half of it’s Smart-binder sales. The company also partners with major digital print vendors to provide end-to-end print and finishing solutions for customers. Full disclosure; I have an interest here since I’ve been the IBIS North American rep. for the last 12 years. But the lesson is that you don’t have to be “big” to succeed against the odds. You need unique technology that adds value for the customer and a dedicated team that stands behind it. There’s still plenty of room for good engineering in print finishing.