The Next Generation Book-of-One
There's been tremendous progress in developing the inventory-less "book-of-one" technology over the past few years. Despite the gloom-and-doom forecasts of the demise of the printed book, sales have proved otherwise. E-books sales have "plateaued" and even declined over the past few years, and study after study confirms the benefits of the printed page over the glow of the screen. Even Amazon has recently opened a physical brick-and-mortar bookstore (how about that!).
The digitally-printed, short-run book model has proved its worth, allowing instant reorders of smaller quantities to keep bookshelves topped up. But the actual production (binding) of soft-cover books has been largely performed by smaller four- and five-clamp perfect binders with cycling speeds in the 600 to 1,800 books per hour range.
The larger perfect binders (4,000 cycles+ and 18-20 clamps or more) have not been really designed for true "book-of-one" production. Yes, their makereadies are superfast due to machine and motion controls, but producing mixed format sizes within the same machine at high speeds is a technical challenge. You must deal with different book page counts (book block thicknesses) as well as physical changes in the book block dimensions. This means adjusting each binder clamp "on-the-fly," as well as the various milling and gluing tools. On the cover side, you're adjusting cover "nip," as well as register on the book block.
Lastly, you now may have dozens (if not hundreds) of different final trim sizes. So the three-knife trimmer must be able to make position adjustments of the knives every cycle, as well as thickness changes. At running speeds of 5,000 cycles/hr., dozens of machine settings must react in about three-quarters of a second. Bits and pieces of this automation were grafted onto conventional binders back in the early 2000s.
But now the time has come for high-throughput binders to become true "book-of-one" systems. And this is what you will see at drupa. One of the world's leading binder manufacturers will introduce a binder which can truly produce soft-cover books that vary in format size and thickness — one from the other, at high speed. No doubt other manufacturers will have their own major book-of-one innovations to show off. One question that remains to be answered is what the machine throughput will actually be when the binder is tasked with so many setting changes while running. My opinion is that we'll only discover the answer when one of these systems actually gets into production. I'm looking forward to finding out!