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A new breed of floor-model folders

Jan 1, 2002 12:00 AM

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There's good folding news and bad folding news. First, the bad news: Paper is still unpredictable. Even famed psychic Madam Cleo couldn't tell you exactly how humidity, inks and sheet-weight variances will impact a specific substrate. Skilled folder operators also remain on the endangered species list.

Now the good news: Although floor-model folders still require some manual adjustments, postpress automation has made huge strides. Makeready times have decreased significantly while operating speeds have increased. And even the lowly folder is poised to enter the computer-integrated manufacturing era — job data entered in prepress are shared automatically with CIP4-compliant folders.


Prior to the introduction of zero-makeready buckle plates at Drupa in 1986, changing folding configurations was an arduous chore. The heavy plates had to be removed — a two-person job — to set the swing deflector in place. On new folders, however, the paper stop serves as a sheet deflector, eliminating the need to remove plates. Operators can open and close the buckle plate quickly when switching from single to accordion or letter folds. (See “Folder facts” on p. 32.)

Folder makereadies can be further streamlined by motorizing the paper stops, enabling operators to make adjustments digitally from a control panel. The operator simply selects the type of fold, sets the side guide, types in the sheet length and pushes a button. Data can be downloaded to a PC and sent to additional folders.

Vendors offering a motorized buckle-plate option include Heidelberg (Kennesaw, GA); MBO America (Westampton, NJ); GBR Systems Corp. (Chester, CT), the U.S. subsidiary of Mathias Bäuerle GmbH; and Vijuk Equipment Inc. (Elmhurst, IL). Also, at Print 01 this past fall, Standard Finishing Systems (Andover, MA) announced the motorized Horizon AFC-504AKT folder. Buckle folders range from $50,000 to $100,000, depending on configuration and automation requirements.


Motorized buckle plates represent a significant investment, but their efficiency is undeniable. GBR Systems' Mathias Bäuerle CAS 52-B SetMATIC folder, for example, is said to reduce setup times by 90 percent or more. Makeready for complex folds that may take 30 minutes or longer to set up manually reportedly can be accomplished in minutes.

Stacey Porto, marketing supervisor for GBR Systems, explains that the folder uses computer calculations to automatically set the fold plates, alignment rails, delivery rollers and roller gaps. “These settings and adjustments are no longer made manually but via a central operator control panel,” says Porto. “Scrolling through icons on the control panel, the operator selects the fold type for the fold units, enters the sheet length, and presses the setup button. In response, the fold plates and other key settings such as roller gaps automatically move into position. Once the operator chooses from up to 60 custom-fold jobs stored in the memory, the settings move into correct position automatically — fold plates, fold speed, sheet gap, shingling of sheets, suction length, counting functions, double sheet, paper travel control and alignment rails.”

Heeter Printing Co. (Southpointe, PA), a midsize commercial printer, currently has five Heidelberg Stahl folders — the newest, installed about a year ago, is a 30-inch model with motorized buckle plates. “We're seeing at least a 50 percent reduction in makeready time, and the folder itself runs at least 10 percent faster than our older folders,” reports Scott Heeter, vice president of sales.

The folder is part of an equipment upgrade that includes a new press and cutter workflow system. Heeter explains the printer's goal is to have “the most well-integrated print production facility, from prepress to bindery. In prepress, once data are sent to our CTP system, we take the CIP3 information and send it to our press consoles so they're pre-inked and ready to roll, and now we're transferring those data to [our cutter and folder].”

CIP data, combined with the Stahl folder's Windows NT-based Compufold software, determine the folding program and transmit it to the folder. Upon loading the program, the folder operator has all values for automatic presetting.

“Compufold has a catalog of different types of folds on different types of stocks,” explains Heeter. “The operator can either select one of those programs and modify it or accept it as is before transferring those data to the folder. The folder then makes the necessary adjustments to the buckle plates and also gives the operator instructions on other required adjustments.” While some manual adjustments are still required, Heeter says about 75 percent of the setup process is automated.

A vertical stacking unit further boosts the folder's productivity. “We're able to run multiple-up jobs with less labor,” relates Heeter. Jobs that previously required two people — an operator and a delivery helper — can now be handled solely by the operator.


Innovation isn't limited to new equipment — as senior associate editor Samantha Oller reported this past March, there's more than one way to automate a folder. Global Systems (Dallas), a supplier of bindery automation systems, introduced Global Fold in the summer of 1999. The product, which consists of a motor and movement assemblies, a PC and software, automatically sets plates and the feeder via an interactive touchscreen, and can automate most folders manufactured after 1980. It presents a 3-D, full-color simulation of the folder; the operator touches different parts of the folder to adjust settings. Cost for the system is said to be around $20,000. (See “Folders: smarter, faster, friendlier,” March 2001, p. 34.)

In addition to faster setups, today's folders also offer better quality control. Heidelberg's Stahl folder, for example, offers continuous sheet monitoring from the feeder to delivery via the DCT 2000 controller. To prevent paper jams, optical sensors measure sheets at the folding infeed unit and exit, as well as the delivery infeed. These “smart” sensors can calculate and display production speed, setup times, down time, waste factors, batch counts and item counts. This information also can be sent directly to a management information system.


While some printers are content to stick with simple parallel folding, others are boldly venturing into inline finishing and direct-mail applications by adding scoring, perforating, slitting, gluing and inkjetting equipment to their folders. (See “What's new with glue,” June 2001, p. 42, and “Inkjet options,” October 2001, p.49.)

“Self-mailers may be the answer for boosting direct-mailing results,” says Tom Hanson, technical advisor at specialty folder vendor KEPES Inc. (Kenosha, WI). “It's not new technology — timed cutting, perfing, remoistenable, line and fugitive gluing, inkjetting and plow folding can all be done inline.” Hanson says a typical application might feature a credit card or other product attached inline, with the final fold glued in place and then the outside of the mailer inkjet-addressed.

While the new generation of folders are enabling some printers to tackle jobs previously outsourced to trade binderies, some work still requires good old-fashioned know-how. “Aqueous coating brings the expert back in to the picture,” says Jim DeNino, president of Empire Bookbinding (Long Island City, NY). “Folding rollers don't hold the sheet as well since the coating makes it slippery. These jobs tend to run at slower production speeds.”

Founded in 1973, Empire Bookbinding offers perfect binding, saddlestitching and cutting in addition to folding services. Folding applications include gatefolds and two- and three-up work with cutouts. The trade binder has eight MBO folders, including two new MBO 32A Perfection folders equipped with six fold plates per section and stand-up stackers.

“We were working with a lot of cover stock that needed to be scored prior to folding,” recalls DeNino. “This added another operation [to the job] and increased costs to the point where we were losing jobs. A normal folding machine has a single slitter shaft after the folding rollers where you can put your scores, perforations, etc. This machine [32A] has double slitter shafts after the rollers and another before the rollers. So there are three opportunities to score or perf, as opposed to the regular machine.”

The exec adds that the stackers play a key role in the folder's productivity. “We might want the [product in groups of] 10s and 25s,” he says. “When you're running a machine at 20,000 pph, you can't expect an operator to be at the end of it, counting out 10s.”


Although more printers may be competing with trade binderies for direct-mail work, label printers and trade binderies have carved out a miniature and pharmaceutical-folding niche. Some printers are reluctant to invest in a small sheet-size folder that will be run infrequently; others are wary of the strict Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulations that govern pharmaceutical work.

Those who print pharmaceutical inserts must meet rigid quality control requirements as well as the challenge of squeezing a lot of information on a small sheet of paper. Outserts refer to pieces affixed to the outside of a package or other container; inserts are placed on the inside.

Keller Crescent (Indianapolis), a package-component specialist, recently installed a Vijuk G&K SVA/43 outsert-folding system.

Dan Luedke, Keller Crescent's general manager, says the new machine will help the printer serve customers' requests for larger sheets.

“The continuous round pile feeder allows us to run larger sheets than other feeders, which gives us more copy space,” adds Bob Cooksey, folder supervisor.

Although Keller Crescent owns several other G&K folders, this is its first 12-plate unit. The new folder can make additional parallel folds, increasing signature capacity from nine to 13 panels in the first station. An MV-97 combo-style outsert unit enables production of both ribbon-style and right-turn angle outserts on the same machine.

A nine-head water-scoring system reduces the possibility of leaflets cracking along the fold line. “The pieces are folded thinner,” explains Cooksey, “and even without glue, they don't spring open. We can get more pieces in the tray, and they lay flatter.”

As one bindery expert laments, despite the advancement of postpress equipment automation, we'll never be able to computerize paper. Some manual adjustments will probably always be required — even as CIP4 matures. But in this era of declining run lengths and dwindling pool of skilled bindery employees, few binderies or printers are waxing nostalgic for the good old days.

Folder facts

High-end folders can reach a maximum workflow speed of 9,000 inches per minute — the equivalent to 60,000 sheets per hour. Automating a folder's delivery with a bander or bundler keeps the machine moving at top speed, since there's no need to wait for a pokey human being to collect the output.

Issues to consider when buying a folder include folding imposition, sheet size, paper thickness and stock. Most commercial printers need to fold a 28 × 40-inch sheet; trade binderies have broader requirements. Rickard Bindery (Chicago), for example, has more than 60 folders ranging from miniature to map-sized.

For a refresher course on buckle, knife and combination folders, see “Folder basics” at

More folder news

At Print 01, Rollem (Orange, CA) demonstrated its TR Die-Score system performing two-directional perforating, scoring, trimming, gluing and folding of a two-up mail piece in one pass.

Also at Print, Graphic Machinery & Systems (GMS) (San Rafael, CA) expanded its line of Microglue applicator valves with the IGV “smart” valve. The self-contained valve eliminates the need for a separate controller and encoder. Only a pressurized glue supply and standard wall-outlet power are required.

Heidelberg's (Kennesaw, GA) recent folder-related introductions include the ACC.24 digital controller, which can simultaneously control two gatefold buckle plates or two spot-gluing guns. Other options include two single-section perforation heads, one gatefold buckle plate and one spot-gluing gun, or one gatefold buckle plate and one single-section perforation head.

Tech-ni-Fold Ltd.'s (Leicester, England) Tri-Creaser is a rotary creasing device said to eliminate fiber cracking on materials ranging from 150 gsm to 350 gsm. The device uses a specially formulated creasing agent that reportedly stretches fibers. It is compatible with Heidelberg, Stahl, MBO, Herzog & Heymann, Shoei, Horizon A F C, Rollem and GUK folders. For more information, see

The website was created by John Jennings (Benfleet, England), an 18-year bindery veteran. Jennings offers general tips, explains how certain folds are made and debates the merits of various folders.