Greybeards in the Bindery Drive Need for Automation, Less Operator Skills
In my sales capacity, I get to visit a lot of bindery operations. There is one “common” denominator that arises in conversation: it is the sea change that is happening (or about to happen) in print finishing operations, and that is the age of the most experienced bindery pros. By and large, many are in their 50s and 60s, with an average of 20, 30 or even 40-plus years of service.
They are rapidly reaching retirement age. I was recently in one large in-plant where four experienced operators could possibly retire in the coming months. What a crisis that would create! And when all that knowledge and experience walks out the door, who takes their place? It’s no secret that today’s youth is not high on a career in print, let alone print finishing. They have been conditioned to seek opportunities far from the graphics segment (let alone the bindery).
And the current low unemployment rate is not helping. These factors are driving the rapid evolution of the bindery. Marco Boer, of IT Strategies, has written volumes about digital printing and he recently reflected (in an article) on the lack of qualified skilled offset press operators and how that will help drive production inkjet adoption among printers, due to lower operator skill requirements. This will drive the introduction and adoption of much more automation on both the conventional press, digital press and bindery side. If you’re a printer with a lot of legacy systems sitting on the floor, you will be quite challenged in finding qualified operators as your former lead personnel exit the workforce.
So, there are two main factors transforming system automation. Short runs and lack of experienced help. Bindery vendors must engineer and supply new folders, perfect binders, saddle stitchers, diecutters and more that can “learn” various formats, store them for recall and enable operators to set up or switch jobs very quickly. This “lowers the bar” for recruiting new talent in the bindery, but it’s a necessary step driven by today’s labor market. And new bindery machinery clearly follows these guidelines. In fact, the entire digital print and finishing workflow is now much more a file-driven, push-button environment able to efficiently turn out small (and larger) runs with minimum labor input. Here’s a link to Marco Boer’s thoughts on the lack of labor driving printers to commercial inkjet.
Now … it’s time for the Inkjet Summit! This annual event will be held at The Ponte Vedra Resort in Florida on April 9-11. This will be the second go-round for the IBIS Bindery Systems team (which includes me). Last year, we were the only finishing systems vendor nominated for a “Best” case study award and this year we’re hoping to win the Gold! This is a short, highly-focused event with a high energy level. Vendors get to meet with attendees in informal 20-minute, one-on-one sessions in a relaxed atmosphere. It’s more of a conversation than a sales pitch, in which both potential customer and vendor get to know a lot about each other.
For the lucky ones who will be attending, let’s hope we connect during the event!