College kids can be rough on book bindings. I witnessed this firsthand, along with learning to tolerate the pungent fumes from hot-melt adhesive, as an under-graduate student working in a campus library’s binding repair department. Perhaps it was destiny that brought me into this crazy industry because the Elliott Donnelley Library bore the name of a prominent Chicago printing family who gave a lot of money to Lake Forest College, the tiny liberal-arts school I attended. A grandson of Richard Robert (RR) Donnelley, Elliott was a lifelong resident of the highly affluent suburb of Lake Forest, IL, nestled 30 miles north of Chicago. Just east of campus, the family’s stately, gated estate features the shore of Lake Michigan in its backyard.
It was there, in the Donnelley Library, that I experienced books in a different way and learned to appreciate a solid binding job. No matter whether it is printed conventional web-offset or digitally, any book truly is not finished until it is bound. And when it comes to high-volume production, today’s ultra-fast, highly automated sheetfed offset presses have no problem printing tens of thousands of sheets per hour. On the digital front, high-speed inkjet printing will have a significant impact on book manufacturing — “the biggest development in publishing in the past 50 years,” predicted one panelist at Kodak’s “Future of Book Publishing” roundtable in January, held at the New York Public Library. The challenge for printers is identifying the right finishing solution so their customers can realize the benefits of inkjet technology.
The pressing question: Can post-press machines keep up the pace in the manufacturing relay race? Slowing production via the dreaded bindery bottleneck is a problem that offset printers have battled for decades. And with faster digital print technologies, including the new inkjet web presses now available, how does 21st-century printing technology integrate into book manufacturing and publishing—especially with output capacities as high as 70 million pages per month, as is the case with HP’s T300 model? Featuring a 30-inch-wide paper web, it’s capable of printing 200-page books at a clip of 500 per hour. Hewlett-Packard now has more than 20 global installations of full-color inkjet webs (a total of 42 engines), with at least 13 designed for book printing. The production volume of these devices (including direct mail applications) amounted to one billion pages last year, reports InfoTrends.
To finish digitally produced book pages, should printers work with inline units, or should they take the books off-line or near-line to finish them? Each set up has its fans, of course, and its place. Until its purchase of a Xerox iGen 4 digital press, a commercial printer overseas had been using a rather complex inline finishing line. “With the set-up times and skill required to get the machine going, all the benefit of short-run digital was going out the window,” laments the firm’s GM. “I was having to print off 300 copies to get 200 copies finished -- taking a lot of the profit out of shorter run jobs,” he told Graphic Repro of South Africa last month. Late last year the shop switched to a Duplo System 5000 bookletmaker and already is finishing nearly 100,000 books per month. Its configuration consists of two DC-10/60Pro 10-bin suction collator towers, DBM-500 stitch and fold bookletmaker and DBM-500T fore-edge trimmer. The system runs up to 5,000 booklets per hour and features tool-less, fully automatic set-up and changeover between jobs. But that is only one of numerous in-line examples.