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Apr 1, 1999 12:00 AM

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The changes and the requirements to stay competitive are coming so fast that it is almost impossible to keep up. In addition, the tools and systems used are becoming so sophisticated that it is difficult to judge their appropriateness for a particular manufacturing environment.

Trade shows make us aware of general trends, but oftentimes areas of specialization are not covered in depth. This problem has been recognized by suppliers to the trade. Training centers are popping up everywhere, the latest of which is Heidelberg's 12-story Print Media Academy to be completed in the year 2000. The firm expects 10,000 visitors a year to use the facility.

Heidelberg joins Muller Martini, which established a training center more than five years ago in Felben, Switzerland. In 1996, Muller Martini, in conjunction with Book Technology Group (BTG), conducted its first two-day bookbinding forum. Since then, weekly in-depth training takes place at the facility in all major languages.

In the meantime, Muller Martini Finishing Systems opened a second training center in Zofingen to address the needs of publication printers and the newspaper industry. BTG, founded just four years ago, consists of partners who are active suppliers in book manufacturing machinery and systems. Included in the group are Muller Martini, VBF, Hoerauf and Profinish. A good showcase of BTG synergy is in the new R.R. Donnelley book manufacturing facility in Roanoke, VA.

At Donnelley, signatures are fed into the 100 book-a-minute hardcover binding line via PrintRoll. The books are gathered and adhesive bounded on a Muller Martini Corona binder, which uses a deep-notch binding system. After binding, endpapers are applied.

Bookblocks are trimmed on high-speed Zenith three-knife trimmers, then guided toward the two VBF hardcover binding lines. The system features pre-programmed makeready with motorized/computerized adjustments and on-the-run fine adjustments. One operator controls conveyor speed or re-directs the trimmed bookblocks as needed. Best of all, pre-programmed jobs can be called by title. Long runs can be interrupted to do urgent jobs and reprints.

At its second international meeting, BTG emphasized hardcover book production. The complete production line, set up at the Muller Martini Bookbinding Academy, started with a Star Plus 30 binder. The gathered signatures can be stacked with the Universo Stacker Delivery for off-line sewing. Sewn bookblocks can be fed into the system with an automatic book-block feeder. Endpapers are attached "on the fly" by a special in-line feeder.

Bookblocks are then glued either with PVA or hotmelt and can be capped with reinforcing cloth to meet textbook specifications.

Books to be adhesive bound are gathered, receive endpapers and are then fed into the Star Plus 30 binder. Bookblocks are milled using a fibre-rougher milling device, a tool designed to handle difficult-to-bind papers. The bookblocks receive either a one- or two-shot adhesive and are capped with a special reinforcing material.

The bookbinding line also featured the Micropark, a bookblock resevoir located beyond the binder. This device absorbs and releases production during frequent, but very short stops. The Profinish Micropark buffer zone also can be used as an additional drying/cooling station without the need to add floorspace.

Actual hardcover binding takes place in the VBF BL 500 Plus. This book line is capable of binding 55 books a minute. The BTG Forum participants saw the bookblocks rounded and backed or left flat if so specified. Gauze, headband and lining materials then are placed over the spine. Thereafter, the bookblock is joined with the pre-manufactured cover. After pressing, finished hardcover-bound books are directed into a VBF Bookstacker BLSD 600.

A new prototype book jacketing machine from Profinish was previewed by forum participants. Operating off-line, the unit was designed with features suggested by an American book manufacturing expert. For example, if laminated book jackets are fed from the top of a pile, they may curl and jam the machine. On some models, operators must stop the line to insert a new pile. Endpapers also tend to stick together.

In the Profinish book jacketing machine book jackets are fed from the bottom in a continuous motion. A patented device locks onto the coverboards, which extend slightly. The device separates the boards from the bookblock on both sides. If any endpapers do partially adhere, they are peeled off the boards. The Jack Plus book jacketing machine reportedly cycles at 60 books a minute.

As our world moves forever toward electronic media, the book industry must be able to compete with other media. This requires sophisticated equipment with fast changeover capabilities to produce short runs in the most efficient way possible.

Small quantities, sometimes only one unit, represent new markets for the book industry that will require new ways of processing and new workflows. The book manufacturer's main task will be to reliably evaluate the buyers' reactions in order to serve the book market with modern, suitable technology.