Making Books That Last
Hardcover book production seemed to be under serious threat not too many years ago. The rise of the internet and e-readers seemed to foretell a new era in which physical books would be considered quaint antiques. Lucky for us, the forecasters were wrong. Book readership and sales are doing fairly well. But like the rest of the printosphere, the number of book printers and binderies has shrunk. The after effect is fewer suppliers of bookbinding systems.
There is good news however. The remaining vendors have greatly improved their systems. So much so that new machines incorporate several bookbinding steps into a single system, and run at much higher speeds. Nowhere has this revolution had more impact than in book sewing. Smyth sewing of folded signatures dates back to 1868. To this day it remains the most durable bookbinding method. Individual folded signatures are sewn with threads going through each page several times and the threads tied off. Then the collected sewn signatures are sewn together with thread (creating a book block). The book block is additionally strengthened by using a backing with adhesive on the spine.
A sewn book is the epitome of binding quality. Library books, yearbooks and some photo books will be sewn because they are “lifetime” products, and warranted as such. But as digital printing continues to be adopted by book printers, finishing systems must adapt. The current world leader in book sewing systems is Italy’s Meccanotecnica. Meccanotecnica’s solution for both sheetfed and continuous web digital print is the Universe system. Universe can work from a pre-printed digitally-printed roll, or from sheets using an integrated sheet pile feeder.
In both instances, each sheet is individually scored and folded at high-speed. They are then collected to make a signature. A camera system is used to verify sheet sequence. Each signature is transferred to the sewing saddle and sewn together to create a book block. A unique feature allows adding additional signature feeders to combine both digital and offset signatures and sheets in creating a hybrid book block. This is a practice that is widely used in yearbook production due to the higher cost of digital printing. “Generic” offset-printed school information can be combined with student-personalized content.
Meccanotecnica has also employed the multi-function approach with its INLINE book production system. INLINE can cover a range of book finishing requirements by functioning both as a soft-cover perfect binder and a hardcover book preparation machine that can apply endpapers, back lining, and block nipping.
The key to success in today’s book production environment is production flexibility. Book printers need to offer new and innovative combinations of offset and digital products as customer needs change. And they can change quickly. To it’s credit, Meccanotecnica seems to have had its ear to the ground as its core markets evolve.