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Minding the Binding

Oct 1, 2004 12:00 AM


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Roswell Bookbinding (Phoenix), founded in 1960 by Mark and Iris Roswell, reportedly offers the widest variety of bookbinding operations in the entire western half of the U.S. From the conservation of a single library book to a million perfect-bound brochures for a luxury auto manufacturer, Roswell's diverse capabilities serve countless publishers, printers and libraries.

The 50,000-sq.-ft. facility employs 95 to 105 workers in a single-shift operation. According to Mike Roswell, son of the founders, the bindery specializes in high-end books, odd sizes and configurations the competition can't handle. The company's geographic customer base encompasses the western U.S. as well as a handful of accounts on the East Coast.

“We serve a lot of markets — publishing, commercial printing, academic library binding,” explains Roswell. “We do what we categorize as specialty work.” This includes promotional printing for premium real estate developments with million-dollar lots, for example, and $100,000 golf club memberships.

Roswell's capabilities range from conventional 6 × 9-inch and 8 × 11-inch hard cover, perfect-bound soft-cover, art catalog, Smythesewn soft-cover and conventional library binding. Many of these jobs involve unique sewing of cloths, stocks and other items.

Significant capital investment

Roswell has made significant investments in production equipment, most of it modified to accommodate oversize and oblong books. The company operates three perfect binders: a Muller Martini (Hauppauge, NY) Monostar with Zenith three-knife trimmer; a Muller Martini RB5 with Perfecta trimmer; and a Muller Martini Pony 3000 modified to do exceptionally large books. “We can do a 30-inch-wide cover on that machine,” says Roswell.

The bindery's hardcover equipment includes a Kolbus (Rahden, Germany) compact line modified for oblong books, Smythe sewing equipment modified for oversize jobs and three Kolbus case makers. These primary production lines are supported with a variety of ancillary equipment, including Kolbus, Kluge, Kensol and Sheridan foil stampers. Library binding and stamping is performed electronically, with input from a disk and output on a rotating head stamper.

Roswell's sewing capability also is impressive. Two high-speed Aster units have replaced most of the traditional Smythe sewers, but six Smythe sewers modified for oblong books still fill an important niche. Six side sewers of various makes and models, a Moffett (Hayward, WI) sewer and four oversewers round out the machine lineup.

Sometimes all this equipment just isn't enough, explains Roswell. “The biggest Smythe sewer we have is an 18-inch unit, which we have modified for 19 inches. But we have a customer who prints 22-inch limited edition art books full of serigraphs for collectors. The runs are typically 50 to 60 books, each of which sells for thousands of dollars. These oversize books are hand sewn on a frame, the same method as 500 years ago.”

This hand work extends into Roswell's library department, where the company generates a significant portion of its revenues and employs two full-time book conservationists. Says Roswell, “They're still using handset type, single characters, to reproduce the original binding.”

The company has an additional two Ludlows for typesetting in lead, just in case.

Avoiding scuffing and offsetting

Aesthetics is the bindery's biggest issue. “We're dealing with a lot of high ink coverage, which leads to scuffing, offsetting and [correct] bleed [concerns],” states Roswell. “We also have heavy stocks that [must be] folded slowly. Art books have lots of spreads, bleeds, wet ink and heavy ink coverage, and we want it to be as pristine as possible. We have more of these problems because of the sensitivity of the materials. We deal with cosmetic issues all day long.”

The second biggest issue is maintaining productivity. When the company's estimators receive the specifications for a quote, they match the specs to the most suitable machine available. Unfortunately, according to Roswell, the jobs rarely show up as specified.

New industry trends

Changing customer needs have further complicated the quality/productivity balancing act. “Turnaround times are definitely shorter,” says Roswell. “It seems that every job is late getting to us. People hold off to the last minute. Publishers want smaller inventories with shorter turnaround times. But the quality still has to be there, and the price has to be where they need it to bring a book to market.”

But Roswell also cites some positive developments: “We have seen a lot more creativity from the design side. Publishers and designers want to differentiate their book in the marketplace. There's a crop of designers willing to push the envelope.”

Novel colors and unique materials and formats include foldouts, foldups, folddowns and multi-piece cases. “There was a five-year period where everything we did was either black or tan,” says Roswell. “Today, people are really into color and allow us to use our creativity to help with the design and format.”

Creative use of adhesives

Roswell's creativity also extends into binding materials. “Glue failure is the biggest issue that keeps bindery managers awake at night,” explains Roswell. “Advances in adhesive technology have made our lives easier. The results we get from page pull tests are fantastic.”

One such technological advance is polyurethane (PUR) hot-melt adhesives, which reportedly provide higher strength levels and greater flexibility than traditional hot melts. “People are becoming cognizant of PUR,” says Roswell. “We try to sell it every day because it means security. Previously, stitching was the only way to guarantee signatures wouldn't fall apart. With PUR, you can safely say that the paper will fail before the glue does.”

Roswell bookbinding uses PURFECT BIND 34-851A adhesive from National Adhesives (Bridgewater, NJ), which Roswell purchases from Diamondback Industrial, a local distributor. The hot melt is used with the Monostar perfect binder for glossy promotional brochures, textbooks, annual reports and documents for architects, as well as projects for Las Vegas casinos that are printed on coated and cross-grained stocks. “Cross-grain is grain-right for printing, grain-wrong for binding,” explains Roswell. For years we couldn't guarantee the pages would hold together unless they were Smythe sewn. With PUR, we can.”

A new twist on two-shot binding

Some perfect-binding applications don't require the convenience of layflat or the strength of sewing. For soft-cover books in runs of 2,000 or more, Roswell Bookbinding, offers two-shot hot-melt binding on Muller Martini's Monostar. The bindery uses National Adhesives' COOL-BIND 34-1303 pigmented low temperature hot melt. The adhesive provides full functionality at a temperature 100ÞF lower than conventional hot melts.

“We run the first shot of COOL-BIND hot melt at a higher temperature [approximately 300ÞF] to thin out the adhesive, so it penetrates the signatures and holds the pages together better,” explains Jim Menke, Roswell's production manager. “Then the second application is run a little cooler [about 260ÞF]. Its primary function is to hold the cover on. COOL-BIND is working extremely well. We get page pulls of three to four pounds per inch, which is considered quite good. Even the first and last pages seem to hold very well.”

Mike Roswell, son of the company's founders, concurs. “We get better glue penetration and a more even application that makes the spine and the book [itself] more square.”

A staff focused on quality

Roswell Bookbinding owes much of its success to the quality workmanship provided by a dedicated staff. “People who work here know how high our quality level is,” explains Roswell. “Everyone here is skilled, right down to material handling. There's a big difference between producing an 8 × 11-inch single-color tool catalog and a catalog for the Getty museum. The same operator in our plant has to do both of them, and we want both to look like a Mercedes.”