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Almost perfect

Apr 1, 2002 12:00 AM

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Publication and catalog printers deal in perfect-binding speeds of about 8,000 or 10,000 cycles per hour (cph) and up. The major high-speed perfect-binder vendors include Heidelberg Web Systems, Inc. (Dover, NH), Müller Martini (Hauppauge, NY) and Kolbus (Mahwah, NJ). Heidelberg's Universal Binder (UB) 2 is rated at 12,000 cph to 20,000 cph. Müller offers five models of its Corona binder at speeds of 12,000 cph to 18,000 cph. The Perfect Binder KM 410.C from Kolbus has a rated speed of 15,000 cph.

Despite these high rated speeds, however, “a company's workflow, the requirements of the job and operator training can all impact net output,” says Greg Norris, manager, marketing communications at Heidelberg Web Systems, Inc. (Dover, NH). “Increasingly common complexities like selective binding, gimmicks and difficult stocks reduce the overall nets.”

Williamson Printing (Dallas) operates one Müller Corona. Bindery manager Bill Schleier says operators are continually challenged to run the machine at the fastest speed possible. He notes that some jobs can be run from start to finish at 16,000 cph, while other “problem” jobs may slow production down to 5,000 books per hour. Difficult jobs have included two-page inserts on translucent, lightweight stock; special sizes, such as short pages interleafed with fullsize pages; and foldout gates in all sizes and shapes.

Williamson is a commercial printer that prints annual reports and showroom car brochures. In addition to five 40-inch Heidelberg CD 102 sheetfed presses, all with eight to 12 colors, the company operates two MAN Roland Rotoman six-unit web presses, one M200 Heidelberg Harris web and one M100 Heidelberg Harris.

Until two years ago, the printer only operated saddlestitchers — all perfect binding was outsourced. Williamson added the perfect binder to retain more control over those jobs, and because it calculated that millions of dollars in bindery work were being farmed out.


The company upgraded to higher-speed pockets to give its perfect binder greater versatility. Williamson also had three types of pockets installed on the Corona: horizontal, vertical and gatefold pockets designed for four-page foldout gates.

Schleier explains that with vertical pockets, the signature stands on its spine, allowing for more signatures to be loaded in and reducing drag when being pulled. Horizontal pockets can increase the friction and chance for marking, but Schleier notes that most vendors' streamfeeders are designed to work in conjunction with them.

Although the ailing economy has brought down advertising volume and page counts at many magazines, printers are reportedly still demanding larger binders with more pockets to accommodate selective binding and gimmicks.

At Brown Printing Co. (Woodstock, IL), operators have tested their mettle against gimmicks ranging from lotion samples and CDs to scratch 'n' sniff inserts and business-reply cards. Brown prints trade and consumer publications at its Woodstock facility (including AMERICAN PRINTER's sister magazine, PFFC). More than 100 titles are printed each year on the plant's five web presses. Six Heidelberg saddlestitchers and seven Heidelberg UB selective binders finish the publications. The plant will soon install a sixth web press and is currently installing two additional UBs to accommodate two new publications it will begin printing in July.

Bindery technical manager Scott Mikrut estimates that 40 percent of Brown's work is currently perfect-bound. Because all titles are national, the binding is completely demographic. Average run length on the perfect binders is 300,000 to 500,000 books; the average number of pages to a book is 140 to 150.

According to Mikrut, operators test the gimmicks before a run and feed them at a point where they would affect the binding process as little as possible. But depending on what has to be done to the machine, the exec says makeready can take anywhere from two to six hours. “In some cases, we can do a normal makeready,” he says, “but other gimmicks nearly go beyond the specs of the pocket or the perfect binder altogether.” Four of the plant's perfect binders have 48 pockets, one has 32 and two older binders have 28 each.


While Brown has not investigated more automated makeready options, all high-speed binders have special features designed to reduce makeready time.

Heidelberg's UB 2 features quick-set calipers, self-adjusting hinge clamps and single-knob screw mounts on the paper tray to simplify makeready. Heidelberg has enhanced the makeready system to allow adjustments to be made on the fly.

Müller's Corona features a Commander Central Control System that reportedly allows for computer-aided motorized makeready in less than 15 minutes.

Williamson Printing's Schleier says his department evaluated speeds and makereadies when researching equipment options. On the Corona, operators program a job while one is running, saving data on book size, spine length and thickness. “When you finish the first job, you simply download your specs, and you've got a big time-savings there,” Schleier observes. The binder sets up automatically from these specifications; the gatherer requires manual (but tool-less) adjustment.

At Williamson, varying run lengths rather than special job requirements drive the need for automated makeready. Runs vary from 2,000 to four million units. “That's where the automated makeready comes in: A lot of times, we have to pull that four-million run off the binder and run the shorter job,” explains Schleier. “If you have the specs of the previous job already downloaded into the computer, it really helps when getting the long-run job back up on the binder later.”


Kolbus America emphasizes the quick-makeready capabilities of its KM 410.C perfect binder, which reportedly combines the speeds needed for catalog and publication finishing with the binding quality required in the book market. The KM 410.C features fully automated format and block hang-out adjustments, and a central input and operating unit with a touchscreen.

United Litho (Ashburn, VA), a $28 million, 200-employee web printer, recently replaced an older Kolbus perfect binder with a new one with 16 pockets. United Litho is unusual in that, although it has been in operation since about 1970, it moved to a brand-new facility and completely re-equipped itself in the past five years. It operates one five-unit Heidelberg M130 web press with a single-roll stand and one eight-unit M130 with a double-roll stand. The printer does mostly saddlestitching; it operates three saddlestitchers, including a Müller Martini nine-pocket Tempo installed about two years ago. The single Kolbus perfect binder was installed a year ago.

United Litho does short-run specialty magazines with run lengths averaging 30,000 (though the run lengths on the 220 titles it prints range from 15,000 to 100,000 impressions).

“Being a fairly short-run shop, we were more interested in makeready time,” says Chris Azbill, vice president of operations. “Compared to our older system, where we had to mechanically adjust pockets, this system allows us to switch from 80 pages to 120 pages on a pocket-control panel that self-adjusts the clamping systems.” Jobs typically run at 8,000 or 9,000 cph.


An increased use of lighter-weight papers and smaller signatures has also slowed down operators' efforts to get jobs through perfect binders.

Observes Kerry Burroughs, division manager for perfect binding at Müller Martini, “Supercalendered paper and newsprint create a problem in the feeding, because they're more like dishrags than pieces of paper.” He adds that high-speed production creates wind conditions, where the lightweight stock will tend to fly off the raceway, as well as static problems where pieces of paper stick together or fold over.

To counter the problem, Müller Martini offers a single-sheet backstop for its feeder pockets.

Particularly in this age of increased selective binding, vendors also offer signature-recognition devices to minimize potential for feeding problems. Heidelberg's RG rotary gatherers, for example, feature photo eyes to detect missing signatures and quick-set calipers to detect doubles.

Kolbus offers another solution as well: Rather than using a rotary design, its ZU 840 gatherer feeds signatures out of the pockets in the same direction that it moves on the raceway. According to president Bob Shafer, this short channel to the raceway means signatures are already accelerating, allowing operators to run machines at a higher rate than with a rotary-style gatherer.

“Gathering causes the most challenges for maximizing output,” says the exec. “The higher the speeds you run, particularly with lightweight papers, the more opportunities there are for misfeeds and jams. By reducing the distance between the pocket and the raceway, and starting signatures in the direction they need to go, we eliminate a lot of the opportunities for failure.”


Finally, despite an economy that is forcing customers — and therefore, printers — to perfect-bind thinner books, printers still must contend with binding different stocks. While two shots of hotmelt can strengthen the spine, some printers are turning instead to polyurethane reactive (PUR) adhesives on some jobs.

PUR is growing in popularity, says Chuck Cline, president of consulting firm Binding Solutions LLC (Stockton, NJ) and former executive at National Starch and Chemical Co. (Bridgewater, NJ), though the growth is still only in niche markets where standard EVA hotmelt adhesives have limitations. Shafer notes bookbinding customers, in particular, are expressing increasing interest in PUR. Cline acknowledges PUR has been used with some edition, or hardcover, binding, partly because of its ability to hold a round spine.

According to Cline, PUR boasts some distinct advantages over hotmelt: First, it has superior heat and cold resistance to hotmelt, maintaining flexibility down to -40ÞF and up to 200ÞF. And as a hydrophilic material, Cline says PUR also bonds better to paper fibers and coatings.

“Once PUR is cured, it's practically indestructible,” explains Schleier of Williamson Printing. “We bind books that are composed of different types of stock, and PUR is a lot better for that, and for gloss and enamel stocks.” Williamson uses PUR at customer request.

Tyrone Adams, sales manager for postpress at MAN Roland (Westmont, IL), says many of the company's midrange Wohlenberg-binder customers have begun asking about PUR. “Everyone likes PUR because it makes a very good-quality book,” he explains. (A book bound with PUR also lays flat when open, he adds.) Standard Finishing Systems (Andover, MA), another distributor of small and midrange perfect binders, is currently working with a customer interested in using PUR as well, according to director of marketing Mark Hunt.

The disadvantages of PUR: “The price per pound is about three times what normal EVA hotmelts are,” relates Cline, though he adds that operators typically only use half as much during application.

PUR also requires special unloading systems because of its moisture sensitivity, he says. According to Cline, to retrofit an existing perfect-binding line, the equipment must have a Teflon or release-coated gluepot; a drum unloader is also required to transfer the PUR from the original 55-gallon container into the gluepot.


To make PUR more cost-effective, Müller Martini has teamed with Nordson Corp. (Westlake, OH), a manufacturer of glue premelters and nozzle extruders, to develop a special extrusion application technology. The adhesive is pumped through a heated hose and extruded onto the bottom of each book, which is held in place by a clamp. Burroughs notes that operators can turn the glue nozzle on and off, and control where the glue is applied. Cline says that the innovation keeps air away from the extruder at all times, which helps prevent excess waste of the PUR.

Müller Martini, which demonstrated the application at Drupa 2000, already has PUR-extrusion-technology installations on Corona binders in Europe. Burroughs says the technology is starting to become popular in the U.S., and can be field-installed on any existing Müller Martini bindery line.

Cline, however, believes it may be difficult for PUR to expand significantly into the high-volume markets because there's little room for increased cost. But the adhesive may have potential for trade binders that regularly bind cross-grain books or Bibles: “It's a perfect product for them, because customers will pay more for their books,” he says.

Regardless of what perfect-binding technologies develop in the future, printers certainly know what they want and aren't afraid to ask for it. “Twenty years ago, you bought a basic binding line and you made it run your product,” says Ron Crabbe, general manager of Hines Bindery Systems (Plainfield, IN), a refurbisher of used binding equipment. “But the day has gone where vendors would say, ‘We have this bindery line,’ and the customer would take it and modify it to suit.”

Defining ‘high speed’ perfect binding

High-speed perfect binding means different things to different people. Catalog and magazine printers deal with perfect-binding equipment that runs at 8,000 or 10,000 cycles per hour (cph) and up, according to vendors. Manufacturers that cater to the smaller to midrange market, however, may define “high-speed” as 5,000 cph and up. At Print 01, Standard Finishing Systems (Andover, MA) introduced the Standard Horizon Computer-Aided Binding System (CABS) 5000, a much heavier-duty machine than its previous models and rated at 5,200 books per hour. Standard run length ranges from 3,000 to 50,000.

“All trade binders and commercial printers are seeing run lengths decline,” contends Mark Hunt, director of marketing for Standard Finishing. “Printers used to tolerate 60-plus minutes for a line changeover. But the economics have changed as run lengths continue to drop. Production time lost to changeover limits a customer's ability to take in more jobs.” The CABS 5000 features automated setup through an icon-based touchscreen.

Midrange product options from Standard Finishing, Vijuk Equipment, Duplo, MAN Roland, Kolbus America, Müller Martini and Heidelberg are discussed in “Perfect binding: Automatic settings aid adhesive operation,” May 2001, p. 36. The article also covers perfect binders for smaller printers. For more on finishing options, look for our article on offline finishing in the May 2002 issue.

The skinny on perfect binding

Most printers say they can perfect-bind a book as thin as ⅛ inch. Bill Schleier, bindery manager at Williamson Printing, a Dallas sheetfed and web printer, identifies a trend for designers asking that really thick books be saddlestitched and that the thin books more suitable for saddlestitching be perfect bound. Operators at Williamson can bind down to almost 1/16 inch, though Schleier says the trade off is “you can't get a nice, square spine on a book that thin.”

Clarke Fine, executive vice president at American Web (Denver), a 20-year-old short- to medium-run publication printer, says while a book can be perfect bound to such thin dimensions, “it gets to be a question of whether that's really logical.” But he acknowledges that the issue of a magazine being perfect bound vs. saddlestitched depends on what the publisher wants it to look like and its “plop” value when dropped on a table, the page count, and whether customers are willing to pay for the separate four-page cover. “Unlike in the previous economy where publishers could sell a premium to advertisers to be on the cover, they can't charge as much nowadays,” Fine observes. “They're economizing by removing that separate four-page cover.”

Magnabind: Mum's the word

Heidelberg Web Systems, Inc. (Dover, NH), in a joint effort with Quad/Graphics and Time magazine, has been working on a technology for the past few years that reportedly combines perfect binding with newspaper-inserter technology for gathering signatures. Though still under development, the “Magnabind” is said to run at a maximum speed of 40,000 books per hour.

We'll have to wait to learn more — a Heidelberg Web spokesperson says the company is doing some testing but declined to elaborate until the product is deemed ready for market.