Automation is Vital to Finishing Success

Bindery and finishing have long been characterized as the bottlenecks in the print production process. That is as misguided as saying that prepress is the “black hole” that devours profit margins. Neither characterization is accurate unless a printing operation allows it to be.

With bindery and finishing, automation has allowed for more efficiency and speed and new capabilities have been developed to handle the changes and requirements for today’s print output. We asked several bindery and finishing vendors for their take on developments in the “back of the shop.” Their answers have been edited for space.

QP: “Has bindery automation kept pace with pressroom automation?”

“Bindery automation has definitely kept pace with pressroom automation,” says Michael Bossard, integrated marketing manager for Spiral Binding. “The main factors continue to be identifying the production bottlenecks on the floor and then finding an automated solution matched to volume and budget.”

“From our viewpoint, bindery automation is on par with pressroom automation as they are sequential processes,” says Werner King, vice president of US Operations for MBO. “Naturally, the finishing process tends to take more time, but we consistently push the envelope to make the process more efficient for the operator and for the print finisher. Our most recent technological advancements have been geared towards ease of use, improved makeready times via automation, higher communication between units via data management, and configuration adaptability to meet any job.”

John Jacobson of On Demand Machinery (ODM) does not entirely agree. “The bindery is always behind the press in automation,” he says. “It always seems that all the money is spent in the press area, with little consideration spent on the binding end. The irony of this approach is the value that a bindery operation adds to a product. In the case of a photo book, for instance: What are 15 pages of digital printing worth? Now, bind and add a hard cover and what is it worth?”

“Yes and no,” says David Spiel, co-owner of Spiel Associates. “Bindery has always been a mechanical process and will forever remain so. Software that has sped up the pressroom still far outpaces such automation in bindery. That said, newer touchscreen computers have sped up the set-up process in the bindery. Often an operator can set the computer, press start, and walk away. This is generally found on newer punching machines, creasing machines, and laminators. For mechanical binding and perfect binding, the process still requires the loading of a book.”

Standard Finishing Systems’ director of marketing Don Dubuque also sees progress in bindery automation. “In recent years bindery equipment has really made dramatic leaps in terms of innovation, highlighted by the move towards advanced automation. With the trend of shorter print runs, automation has become increasingly important to customers as they need to be able to changeover from job to job as quickly as possible in order to keep costs under control.

“Print finishing manufacturers have stepped up their game in terms of introducing products that are highly automated to address the changing needs of the marketplace,” he says. “A key to success when automating a product is to make the interface user friendly and easy to use; faster setups equate to more profits on each job.

“The ability to store a job in memory and recall it instantly is also important, particularly when it is a more complicated job that may be run on a regular basis,” adds Dubuque. “Another benefit of products that have intelligent automation built in is the ability to more easily train a new operator. Another trend we continue to see is the move towards JDF workflow integration. Fully integrated JDF-driven workflows, from creation to finishing, can deliver real cost savings.”

“Press automation has allowed a printed product to go from file to printed sheet much more efficiently,” says Rollem International’s Western sales manager Doug Sherwood. “In the case of Web-to-print, a print job can be produced simply from a downloaded file to a website that goes directly to the digital press. To continue the process, the bindery must incur the same automation to be able to take the printed sheet to finished product with the same efficiency.”

QP: How are bindery/finishing capabilities adapting to meet the increased interest in direct mail marketing?

“We are seeing some increased interest, not just in traditional direct mail marketing, but also in more eye-catching mailers such as pop-up mailers which are trending in the UK,” says MBO’s King. “Every marketer wants their product to stand out from the crowd, so we have made sure to include a pop-up mailing solution at PRINT 13 in order to bring exposure to such a product.”

“A very popular application we are now seeing is in the photo book space where customers are looking for personalized perfect bound photo books,” says Standard Finishing’s Dubuque. “This is a nice fit for many of today’s highly automated perfect binders. Another example can be seen in the saddle-stitching area. Solutions are now available that can produce variable sheet-count booklets using barcode scanning or mark reading technology. With this type of technology, personalized booklets or magazines can be produced with different messages for different customers from booklet-to-booklet.”

ODM’s Jacobson agrees about personalized photo books. “The one-off book market concept—digital library, printing, and binding one book at a time on demand—has been around for many years,” he says. “Doing a personalized book is the mainstay of photo books, so I would say that this market is still advancing.”

“Personalized marketing and the ability of variable data has really opened the doors for new and creative products,” says Rollem’s Sherwood. “Personalized marketing pieces are targeted to specific groups of people, so it is important when completing a product that jobs can be finished and put in mail sort or track order. For example, a product now can be cut, glued, taped, and folded as well as collated and/or sorted in one process.”

Adds Rollem’s Mid-Atlantic sales manager Allen Hammer: “As far as the print world is concerned, personalized marketing is direct mail. Computers and digital presses have allowed businesses the opportunity to present information that is pertinent to that particular consumer, but it must get to the consumer in the most efficient manner possible. By offering in-line solutions, by combining functions to eliminate ‘stops’ and ‘touches’, by delivering finished products in perfect mail-sort order, I’d say the bindery equipment manufacturers have been vital in the explosive growth of the direct mail market.”

QP: Are you seeing an increased interest in more sophisticated or specialty bindery/finishing capabilities?

“This is an interesting question,” says MBO’s King. “As the product increases in complexity, the machine must still be easy to set up and operate, while also efficiently producing a wide range of products, from the most basic to the most complex. At the end of the day, the finishing solution needs to increase the efficiency and profit earning potential for the print finisher.”

“All of the advances we are seeing are in short-run set up,” says Spiel. “The days of the journeyman in the bindery are long gone. We are selling more and more machines that can be run by unskilled employees after 10 minutes of training. That’s where our customers’ interests lie.”

“More and more the postpress finishing equipment is evolving from being less ‘knobs, dials, and switches’ to having control panel touchpads,” adds Spiral Binding’s Bossard. “This trend will definitely continue, and the touchpad’s user interfaces will control more and more. Just speculation, but we’re probably not too far off from seeing the control panels with the ability to connect to our mobile devices via downloadable apps.”

“Standard Finishing Systems is seeing an increased interest in sophisticated or state-of-the art technology and binding equipment in order to reap the greatest benefits of the short-run market we are now living in,” says Standard’s Dubuque. “Profit leaders in the industry realize that investing in equipment that delivers intelligent automation helps lead to greater profitability through quicker setups and changeovers, which have become increasingly important as job lengths have continued to decline. One example is the need for in-line verification, inspection, and integrity analysis, as this continues to become more and more important to our customers. Folding also is an area where we have seen increased interest, particularly from printers that have invested in the newer technology that allows folders to be changed over from job to job so quickly.”

“In-plant printers and commercial printers are realizing that the need for customizing high value products for their customers has never been more important,” says Rollem’s Sherwood. “The biggest hurdle for these companies is the ability to produce these products efficiently and in a cost effective manner.”

“Digital presses have allowed folks to be more creative with the products they want to produce,” adds Rollem’s Hammer. “Without finishing capabilities, these creative ideas don’t get seen by their intended markets. Over the last several years, the bulk of the customers that we are talking to have very application-specific needs—whether in-line, near-line, or off-line, whether with Rollem equipment alone, or with other partner manufacturers.”