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Saddle up & Stitch Right

Nov 1, 1999 12:00 AM


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Why are so many sheetfed commercial printers' bindery operations woefully out-of-date? Well, for one thing, stitching, folding, perfect binding, drilling, etc., isn't very exciting to watch. People naturally prefer to invest in flashier prepress and press equipment. It's also possible some owners are secretly waiting for the appraisers from "Antiques Road Show" to come to town. We can only hope, of course, that anyone hoarding legacy equipment will soon be exchanging witty banter with Regis Philbin on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." Because they certainly won't be overwhelmed by print profits.

In our July issue, we looked at improving overall bindery productivity. (See "Boosting Bindery Productivity," p. 62.) In this article, we'll concentrate on saddlestitchers for midsized shops (5,000 to 13,000 cph). But before you evaluate your stitcher operation, you'll want to get a good handle on what's really happening in your bindery. A 1997 NPES binding and finishing study conducted by Strategies for Management maintains that some bindery bottlenecks are mythical. The study reports that: "Overall, shops are running their printing operations 44 hours per week and their binding and finishing operations 37 hours per week . . . If there were really a bottleneck, we would expect to see bindery with far more hours than printing . . . Where problems exist, there is a void that capital investment rushes in to fill. If this were a significant problem, there would be a general healthiness of suppliers of these products, and a high degree of interest exhibited in industry seminars."

In some cases, what is perceived to be a bindery bottleneck is actually a logistical logjam. For example, suppose you outsource a certain finishing/bindery operation. A shipping glitch slows the return of the completed job. This isn't an equipment bottleneck--it's a management challenge.

How often does your bindery line grind to an unscheduled halt? Three key causes of lost time are equipment failure/breakdowns, makeready and equipment adjustments, and material abnormality. (See "The Big Six Losses," November 1998, p. 70.)

Maintenance. "There are two reasons binding lines stop," claims Bill Lamparter, contributing editor and president, PrintCom (Charlotte, NC). "It could be the stuff you're putting in the machine is garbage--it's been hit by a kamikaze forklift driver or it's not properly trimmed. Plus, when your machine is not well- maintained, you get lots of stops, which kills your productivity."

Jack Rickard, president, Rickard Bindery (Chicago), says maintenance is "a cultural thing. If operators are judged by pieces per hour--good or bad--that culture encourages poor maintenance. If you have a quality culture, it's understood you shut down and get it right." On stitchers, Rickard observes that "all operators hate to change knives, but you shouldn't wait. It takes the strain off the machine, and it's well worth the time."

For a longer cycle between knife change and smoother cutting, some bindery managers suggest a deep cryogenic tempering process. Also, according to Kenn Workman, a cryogenic specialist, All American Cryogenics (Plymouth, IN), knives are cooled to -300 degrees F for a number of hours, using liquid nitrogen. Done properly, cryogenic processing reportedly can transform the microstructure of the knife, making it stronger. Cost of the one-time treatment is based on the weight of the parts as well as the size of the order--at All American, for example, the base rate is $9/lb.

Consultant Mick Robbins (Chagrin Falls, OH) advocates applying single-minute exchange of die (SMED) principles used for improving press makereadies (see "On Your Mark, Get Set, Makeready," April, p. 42 ). SMED, originally developed for the auto industry, classifies all tasks as internal or external. Internal tasks can only be done when equipment is stopped; external tasks can be done while it is running.

Doing a premakeready is one way to cut down on internal tasks. Before the makeready begins, determine if all tools and materials needed to perform the makeready are correct and compatible. If yes, are they staged and easily accessible? Finally, are all tools and materials operating correctly? Videotaping equipment setup and operation can help identify areas for improvement.

"All of the new generation machines are easy to setup--there are virtually no tools," notes Muller Martini's Bill Klansko. "Stitchers now are PLC-controlled, with menu-guided makeready and interactive communication for production status and diagnostics. Taking operators through the set-up procedure step-by-step gets them into the habit of doing makereadies the same way."

Muller Martini's Prima saddlestitcher features AMRYs--an automatic, computerized makeready system that motorizes setting and timing adjustments--makeready adjustments that would otherwise be done manually. Automatic adjustments are made after entry by diskette, from a PC controller or by keypad selection. Repeatable settings allow job parameters to be stored on disk for repeat runs. The next job can be programmed while the current job is running.

A complete makeready, including data entry, is said to be possible in 10 to 15 minutes. At Print 97, a Prima-AMRYS went from a 9 x 12-inch to a 6 x 9-inch book in under five minutes, using a prepared disk.

Good feeding. If you have feeding problems, you will have stitching problems. "Some experts argue that folding and feeding onto the gathering chain is 80 percent of the saddlestitching process," relates Scott E. McParland of Booklet Binding (Broadview, IL). "Some problems that can occur when loading pockets include distorted, curled and torn stock; signatures that aren't tight and crisp when folded; stock that isn't flat, laps that vary and improperly jogged signatures. These will make feeding the product extremely difficult, if not impossible, thus slowing the stitcher down considerably."

Signature image recognition systems aid good feeding. "These systems use a sensor that has been integrated into the interior of a feeder, permitting the optical scanning of incoming signatures," explains Lamparter. "A defined signature section is measured and the value is compared with a predetermined measurement that has been automatically stored in the system at the start of production. Incorrectly positioned or rotated signatures and defective printing as well as signatures with register and fold deviations, will be detected and can be ejected from the production stream."

The Best Osako System 368 from Best Graphics is a recent introduction to the midrange stitcher market. It features a central control console that monitors speed, total counter, trouble display and jam alert.

Rosback recently introduced the Lynx 724 Saddlebinder designed for runs from 500 to 32,00 per day. It features a four-pocket vertical feeder for handling individual or pre-inserted signatures. The stations hold about nine inches of stock and can be loaded on the run.

Heidelberg's Stitchmaster 270 midrange saddlestitcher has an optional feature that allows the system's pockets to be configured either standing up or laying down. The upright configuration accommodates more signatures, reducing the number of loading cycles. Also, it reduces operator fatigue, since operators can determine which configuration is most comfortable on a per-job basis.

A feeder problem with its previous bookletmaker ultimately led Full Service Mailers (Garfield, NJ) to install a nine-pocket Fenimore-Vijuk 920 Sidewinder, which is both a flat sheet collator and a bookletmaker. Full Service is primarily a mailing company, but it has established a niche in short-run booklet work with its two-color press. According to Simon Schneider, director of marketing and sales, the old stitching system's air suction system frequently picked up doubles. The Sidewinder uses a continuous rotary-feed vertical system. Its pocket system enables users to modify stations depending on the size of the job. Pockets can be adjusted to accommodate different thickness of stock or signatures.

The Sidewinder is rated at 5,000 cph--Schneider says Full Service Mailers has been able to run 3,500 to 4,000 pieces an hour. "We wouldn't do 50,000 pieces or 100,000 pieces on it, but it's great for 25,000 and below," says the exec.

At Graph Expo this past October, Vijuk introduced its Purlux 321-T saddlestitching system rated at 10,000 cph and featuring top-loading, bottom feeders said to allow continuous production. The speed of each feeder can be individually selected at ratios of 1:1 or 1:2.

Moving on up | Improved efficiency in the pressroom can really put the pressure on the bindery. Ries Graphics (Butler, WI) found that its Agfa Antares computer-to-plate system created a need for bindery speed. "We were getting plates to the pressroom faster and finding more customers," recalls Don Ries Jr., sales manager. "We started getting more stitching work in--monthlies, periodicals and mailers. We only had one stitcher--it was about 10 years old and the scoring attachment didn't work."

Ries Graphics added a Stitchmaster 270 from Heidelberg. At 9,000 to 11,500 cph, "it runs about twice as fast as the old one," reports Ries. "The Stitchmaster can score covers, so we can eliminate that as an offline operation on certain jobs. We can get into larger runs than before--we can do 100,000 to 500,000. Before, if we got up to 100,000, we'd start to panic."

The Wisconsin printer recently added inkjet and mail table to its stitcher in response to customer demand for faster turnaround. "We'd been sending that out," explains Ries. "But it was a value-added service as well as a chance to help ourselves by eliminating the time the mailhouse was taking. Doing it inline gives us more time in the prep or press area--we're a one-stop shop."

Time-saving accessories. "People are putting compensating counter stackers on the end of stitchers," says Klansko. "A lot of people are also going with streamfeeders and hopper loaders--we see more people taking advantage of that and feeding bundles. But you have to make the investment in the pressroom to produce bundles."

One bindery consultant recalls a very unusual trim removal system--a pitchfork-wielding employee was assigned to harvest a huge mound of paper trimmings. Floor sweeping duties can be eliminated by using automatic systems that carry paper trim from the three-knife trimmer to a waste container via continuous air flow.

Punches are another popular option. "We do a fair amount of calendars--being able to saddlestitch and punch inline is a big savings," notes Ries. The Wisconsin printer is also looking at banding machines, another shrink wrapper and different ways of counting and weighing pieces. "The stitcher is adding the need for more bindery capabilities," laughs Ries.

Make time to train. Too often, training is haphazard. There is a single best way to set the machines up. If you don't clearly teach operators what that way is, they'll do it their way, improvising as necessary. Once ingrained, bad habits are hard to break.

When installing new equipment, don't make the installation technician run the first few jobs and hope your operator was paying close attention. Budget the time for proper training. Also, invite your maintenance people to participate--if they have to fix it, they should know all they can about its operation.

Finally, remember that faster is not necessarily better. "Speed is probably the worst way to judge a stitcher," relates Rickard. "Consistency--reliably pulling signatures out of a pocket and getting them on a saddle--is much more important. We get paid to get good, clean products out the door --customers don't care how fast the machine cycles."

Jack Rickard, president of Rickard Bindery, didn't write the book on saddlestitching, but he did contribute the chapter on this subject in Binding, Finishing and Mailing, The Final Word, written and edited by T.J. Tedesco (GATF Press). Here are some of Rickard's tips: * Avoid having a single sheet of a thin signature sticking out of either the head or foot because it will be crushed when joggers position the product for final head and foot trims. * Expect slow production rates for jobs with light or porous stock, because reduced machine cycle speeds are needed to avoid pulling doubles. * All in-feed tables of saddlestitching trimming sections are not created equal. Those with pull pawls offer better book delivery in the trimming section. Registration into the stops is more accurate, giving you more consistent trims. Plus, good in-feeder sections won't collapse or crush the laps of thin stock. * Reverse laps on a job will cause slow production rates. Try to keep all of your folios the same size and heading in the same direction. Your jogging-end trim margins should be consistently sized and your "off-end" trim margins should be sized within 1/8 inch of each other to ensure adequate production rates. * Unbalanced signatures may require special handling to keep them from falling off the saddle or chain. Experienced saddlestitching professionals usually can compensate for this problem with special machine rigs. * Static can cause problems. Be careful in winter and dry atmospheric conditions.