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Saddle up!

Jul 1, 1995 12:00 AM

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A new generation of saddlestitching equipment will help binders meet ever-increasing client delivery demands

"It takes only 12 hours to print Time magazine, yet binders require 24 to 30 hours to bind it," pointed out James Flannery of Time, Inc. as a challenge to the audience of a Research and Engineering Council bindery seminar in 1993. "If we close the book on a Saturday, the earliest we can reach our first readers is Monday morning. As we are in direct competition with CNN, TV networks and other electronic on-line media, such delays no longer are acceptable."

The publishing exec went on to explain that "Time, Inc. suppliers must use 40 bindery lines across all 12 plants, feed 1,100 bindery pockets and control 720 ink-jet nozzles. Collectively, our printers must employ 1,200 people across all shifts to run those 40 bindery lines. Labor-intensive equipment is expensive for both us and our printers. We have no choice but to search for more efficient solutions."

When asked what would be an acceptable duration of time in which to bind his magazines, Flannery answered "six hours." All the engineers and bindery machinery manufacturers on the panel looked at each other in disbelief. Still, this was serious business, since the assertion was being made by a major print buyer.

During a question-and-answer session, Flannery offered his vision for the immediate future:

* Throughput demands will necessitate automation.

* Automation will lower equipment manning by 90 percent.

* High-speed equipment will create fast payback on investments.

* Output quantifications will be tied to automated calibration.

* Waste will be reduced and quality improved.

To some extent, the speaker's comments probably referred to the new generation of drum saddlestitchers first shown at DRUPA 1990. (This breakthrough was covered in an October 1991 issue of AMERICAN PRINTER.) By the end of 1994, 21 of these sophisticated units had been installed or were on order. Since many of these new installations have been covered extensively in the trade press, this article will introduce a new, competitive system just now coming to market that has the potential to fulfill Time's requirements.

Prior to the early 1990s, there wasn't much change in the basic design of saddlestitching equipment since the introduction - by Han Muller at DRUPA 1954 - of the first automatic signature feeder for a saddlestitcher with attached trimmer.

Conventional saddlestitching machines utilize a single, continuous gathering chain. Individual signatures are fed by mechanical feeders, and book parts are inserted into each other at four, six, 24 or more hopper feeding stations along the line. Folded signatures placed - manually or via an automatic loading system - into hopper feeding stations are separated from each other with vacuum suckers that attach at the bindfold.

Once complete, grippers precisely convey signatures into a small-diameter drum, and an adjustable backstop changes the direction of their movement. The signatures then are opened in the center by suction cups or a mechanical gripper device, depending on how the signatures are imposed. Do the signatures have a closed headfold or is the head slit open? The latter version would require a feeding lap, usually imposed on the high folio side.

All major saddlestich equipment vendors have established 18,000 books per hour as the maximum rate that can be accomplished with current technology. However, some industry insiders report specialized saddlestitching equipment that can cycle at higher speeds. Typically, such custom-built equipment is designed to handle only certain sizes and usually works only at such accelerated speeds on products with ideal, never-changing paper properties.

In fact, despite the 18,000-cph saddlestitch machines on the market, the actual productivity yield of these machines often is less than half that figure. Reasons for this drop off include increased use of geographic and demographic inserts with lighter weight stocks and four-page signatures that limit running speed.

To use an insider's term, such lightweight paper can "fly" only so fast through the air, and therefore jeopardizes productivity. Despite these limits, conventional saddlestitch equipment always will be around. The emphasis now is on productivity enhancements via computerization. Binders and vendors are adjusting to market demands for shorter runs, personalized products, lighter paper and special sampling capabilities.

For more than 40 years, Muller Martini built saddlestitchers for nearly every kind of print finishing requirement. Whereas the 1954 model ran at 5,000 saddlestitched products per hour, its new-generation saddlestitchers cycle at 18,000 cph. This represents a more than three-fold productivity increase.

Additionally, using today's automated systems, one-tenth the number of operators is needed to produce the same quantity of books. In other words, the bindery and its vendors have done their share to increase per-person output.

The problem with conventional saddlestitching equipment is not productivity per person. The main thrust for new technology these days is a matter of getting the finished print product to market in the shortest time possible. This requires an approach similar to the production and distribution of newspapers.

Conventional saddlestitching equipment is limited by a mechanical speed of approximately two meters a second. However, there are other factors that limit productivity and speed when it comes to coping with the new demands of delivering large runs of timely magazines overnight.

During the 1994 R & E bindery seminar, Peter Lehmann, Muller Martini's product manager, print finishing division, introduced a new-generation saddlestitcher system for efficient catalog and magazine production: the Ultra Saddle Stitcher.

Lehmann furnished only preliminary information on this new 40,000 cph saddlestitch system, a prototype that went into production at Axel Springer in Darmstadt, Germany just one month prior to his presentation. Nevertheless, the interest among the participants was high.

The Ultra concept is based on a fascinating patented principle, with individual saddles travelling perpendicular to the machine's center line. This ladder principle makes flowline processing at 40,000 copies per hour possible with no stop-and-go movements. It provides ample time for opening the signatures and for the stitching processes. The actual speed of signature movement is only one-third the speed of a conventional saddlestitcher.

At high speeds, loading of signatures into the Ultra becomes critical. Although Muller Martini recommends using its dual-roll PrintRoll system for uninterrupted, high-speed production, the Ultra stitcher also can be fed using conventional bundling technology by means of the multiple feeder concept. Covers and other inserts delivered to the finishing area by outsiders on pallets easily can be fed into the system as well.

The Ultra-Grip single-copy conveyor transports the signatures from feeding stations to the opening stations. The signatures, spine forward, are transferred to any of 12 rotating drums. The opening of the signatures occurs quite slowly and gently. It is this unique, small-radius drum rotary operation and the revolutionary ladder principle that make flowline processing at these speeds possible.

Best of all, because of its unique design, this system allows gluing of cards onto the signatures, application of ink-jet personalized messages and, in the near future, selective binding.

As many as 12 signatures are placed onto individual saddles and directed into a large stitching drum. The stitching process is accomplished by a rotating driver and former mechanism with no stop-and-go movements. The quality of the staples is as good as those produced by conventional stitching heads. After stitching, bound products are transferred from the saddle into the Ultra-Grip system.

If desired, loose cards can be blown into the bound products. Thereafter, the stitched products are directed to a Muller Martini rotary trimmer. A new 40,000-cph, single-copy trimming system was introduced at DRUPA.

If a client wants inserts placed into the finished and trimmed products, this can be accomplished with the 40,000 cph Ultra-Insert. This unit consists of individual carrier pockets traveling perpendicular to the machine's center line, and can be integrated into the system.

The entire stitching assembly is controlled with the Ultra Quality Control System, a sophisticated but easy-to-use computer system for menu-driven interactive communication. It checks products for completeness and continuously monitors the operation of all feeders, as well as the stitching and trimming unit.

This new-generation saddlestitcher is based on the building block principle and, therefore, is modular and flexible. Its layout can grow with customers and future needs. High net production, an excellent feeder concept, easy line access and supervision, short makeready, good guarding and noise protection are some of its quality hallmarks.

The Ultra system was shown at DRUPA. Those who missed it or who want to see this new concept in-line with many other Muller Martini systems can visit Ringier AG later this year. At this installation, Newsveyor multi-stream conveyors will transport shingle streams from the deliveries of Ringier's four gravure presses through an overpass into an adjacent building. That building will house the signature processing center and finishing.

Printed signatures will be delivered from PrintRoll winding stations, as well as bundling machines with automated palletizers. This will give Ringier the flexibility to produce work in rolls or bundles. Several new high-speed selective saddlestitching lines, each with in-line inserting capabilities, will be fed from PrintRoll. Bundles will be produced for outside processing, or used on Ringier's new high-output perfect binding line. The line will have quick makeready features, and an in-line Zenith three-knife book trimmer.

In addition to computer-controlled gathering machines, the PrintRoll-fed Ultra will be the heart of this extensive new post-press processing facility. This showcase facility, scheduled for completion this year, will give Ringier AG the latest technology in electronics and automatic quality control.

At the R&E seminar, Flannery also noted, "In tomorrow's marketplace, those who cease to change will cease to do business." The new technology and investments covered in this article are necessary to maintain a leadership role, and to maintain competitiveness in publication and catalog production well into the 21st century.

WERNER REBSAMEN, Contributing editor and professor at Rochester Institute of Technology School of Printing and Management Sciences, Rochester, NY