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May 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Muller Martini’s SigmaLine is a modular system for producing books on demand. Users can opt for a complete line (an entirely inline system that prints, folds, stitches, trims, collates and binds) or partial configurations that may include a high-speed, roll-fed printer with a perfect binder, cooling tower and trimmer.

The idea behind the SigmaLine concept is to deliver a high volume of books on demand without skimping on quality. "We’re bringing high-end commercial quality finishing to the digital market," says Andy Fetherman, manager of Muller Martini’s OnDemand Solutions Division (Hauppauge, NY). "We’re targeting those who need a higher production system to supplement their offset book production as well as digital manufacturers who want top quality for competing in the offset world."

Similar to ordering from a Chinese menu, buyers have a variety of choices when it comes to building their own SigmaLine configurations. They can opt for roll-fed devices from Delphax, Océ, Nipson, Xerox and IBM (discussions are currently underway with Kodak Versamark) to go with Muller’s partial SigmaLine configuration. This fully automated system has three key components: SigmaBinder perfect binder rated at 1,000 fully variable-sized cph; SigmaTower for cooling books and curing adhesive; and SigmaTrimmer three-knife trimmer rated at 1,500 fully variable-sized cph.

There’s a host of partners for everything that goes in between the printer and binder such as unwinders and sheeter collators from Hunkeler and Lasermax Roll Systems and, if required, an MBO folder with Palimides stacker.

"SigmaLine has a lot of built-in modularity," notes Fetherman. "You can buy a near-line version of the SigmaBinder and at a later date integrate the SigmaTrimmer and then afterwards the rest of the SigmaLine components."

One Muller Martini customer with a Xerox DP 1050 and several Océ 7650s currently has the SigmaBinder in a near-line configuration. "They want one binder for multiple print lines, so they have SigmaBinder near-line for now," says Fetherman. "But they have ideas of putting it in-line. We’re starting with small installations and growing them. It’s working well."

Measuring station boosts flexibility
SigmaBinder’s measuring station plays a key role in the system’s overall performance and flexibility. To set the binder for a particular job in a near-line configuration, the operator places the book block face down in the measuring station, triggering a sensor. "The measuring station takes in the book block, compresses it and, using lasers, measures the compressed thickness as well as its length and width," explains Fetherman. "These three dimensions are then used to set all of the length, width and thickness variables throughout the SigmaBinder. You can seamlessly go from one book to the next regardless of size."

Used in-line, the measuring system serves as a verification station. "This is where you verify the cover’s right to the book block and that the dimensions given by the upstream equipment are correct," says Fetherman. "If the cover does not match or the dimensions are incorrect, the book block and/or the cover is ejected. The book block and cover are still good and you can find out what’s wrong."

Even if the printer is down for maintenance, users can hand feed book blocks from another line. "We know we must maximize machine uptime so users can exceed their ROI requirements. We also know there’s a bit of a controversy between in-line vs. near-line. But off-line, meaning there’s no connectivity to other equipment, doesn’t exist for us," says Fetherman. "Our measuring station allows the SigmaBinder to operate in a near-line configuration, even when the machine is installed in-line."

What’s next
Muller debuted SigmaLine at Drupa 2004 and it has continued to evolve. "We’re doing a controlled launch, cherry-picking installation sites and customers as we finalize things for the full launch in 2006" says Fetherman. New developments include a drum cover feeding option that allows the operator to match the book block to the cover before either one goes in the SigmaBinder. Fetherman says Muller is currently working on more cover intelligence as well as technology that will further boost the SigmaLine’s productivity.

The complete SigmaLine does have its first installation in the US, which is doing live production of both perfect bound and saddlestitched books. (The customer has requested anonymity.)

Print, fold, stitch, trim, collate & bind: how it works
Here’s a quick overview of the entire Sigma line:

Systemwide | Prepress data is processed continually on the digital press. The web is printed on both sides, sheeted in-line, folded and finished using an integrated perfect binder or saddlestitcher. Job data from prepress is used for fully automatic makeready on the entire line.

SigmaControl | The SigmaLine is configured with an integrated, end-to-end line control system with JDF interface. It combines and coordinates all functions of the manufacturing process, including job reporting and management information.

SigmaPress | SigmaPress—High-speed continuous-feed options include Delphax, Océ, IBM, Nipson and Xerox presses. Automatic web tensioning facilitates printing system integration. For offline configurations, it’s also possible to process digitally preprinted rolls from printing systems without web tensioning.

SigmaFolder | Printed products from the SigmaFolder are sent to the perfect binder or saddlestitcher. The SigmaFolder produces folded signatures—delivering four- or eight-page signatures to the saddlestitcher, and eight-, 12- or 16-page signatures to the perfect binder. SigmaControl automatically handles any necessary format adjustments.

SigmaStitcher | The SigmaStitcher is a saddlestitcher that is equipped with an infeed for flow-through folding as well as an accumulating station for timed gathering and separation of the products. It operates in-line at a speed of up to 6,000 stitched products per hour. A selective stitching mechanism lets the stitcher process different thicknesses from book to book.

SigmaCollator | The SigmaCollator gathers the folded signatures and delivers the accumulated sets to the SigmaBinder for finishing. The perfect binder adjusts itself for product size automatically and ensures consistent, continuous operation. The system handles individually variable book thicknesses and formats.

SigmaBinder | The fully automatic SigmaBinder produces perfect bound books at a speed of up to 1,000 fully variable-sized copies per hour. Hotmelt is used for separate spine and side gluing. Product thickness can individually vary from 3 to 40 mm.

SigmaTower | The SigmaTower is a compact cooling tower, which is interlinked with the SigmaBinder. It ensures proper cooling of the of the books and curing of the adhesive.

SigmaTrimmer | The fully automatic SigmaTrimmer trims books of different sizes and thicknesses even if they vary from copy to copy. Three independently driven knife elements, enable it to trim of books up to 19⁄16 inch in thickness.

Katherine O’Brien is the editor of American Printer. Contact her at