Whatever Happened to ... Polywrapping?
I started my career in postpress selling polywrappers. These are not to be found in your average finishing department. Polywrappers are quite complex machines that are used to provide a polyethylene "package" for lots of different printed media. For "high-end" print magazines such as Architectural Digest, Vogue, the Robb Report, and many others, a polybag provides protection against those ruffians at USPS. For catalogers and direct mailers, additional onserts can be included with the main media, eliminating the need for a separate mailing. Back in the early days of the PC revolution, there were dozens of start-up computer magazines that included a "free" CD every month with lots of new software you could take for a spin.
Lots of polybaggers were sold in the 90’s. Quad/Graphics alone had a fleet of more than 40 machines. A polybagger (like a saddle stitcher, or perfect binder) starts with a gathering section. Unlike binders, at the start of the gathering section is a "main product feeder." This is typically a shuttle-type feeder for heavy products such as books or large catalogs. Once this product is fed, a number of rotary drum feeders will follow so that additional onserts can be fed to make up the collated set.
Addressing stations can be inserted before or after the "package" is wrapped in the wrap section. Addressed and polywrapped products are then handed off to a counter-stacker for stacking and further processing. In the past 20 years, these machines have become very sophisticated. New models can run at speeds of over 20,000 polybags per hour. Servo technology has been applied throughout, making it possible to include many different types of media and even product samples in the polybag. More than a few newspapers adopted polybagging years ago to collate and contain multiple advertising inserts for home delivery.
There are no domestic manufacturers of these machines (as far as I know). SITMA (Italy), CMC (Italy), Buhrs (The Netherlands), and Hugo Beck (Germany) are all EU-based. Over the past 10 years or so, the use of polybagging has fallen off, for a number of reasons. The number of publications has declined (as has the number or printers), and polybagging is an added-cost service which many publications have simply dropped. There is no real growth within the newspaper market, which continues to face its own challenges. The polybagging machinery manufacturers have responded with diversification. They have introduced high-speed paper-wrapping systems, sophisticated envelope inserting machines, high-speed variable size cartoning systems, and more. What these vendors share are long histories of continuous innovation in designing creative packaging machinery.
Although polybaggers may be facing challenges, the polybagging systems manufacturers will rise to the challenge by finding new markets and filling their needs.