"An Overview of What's New in the Binding and Finishing Industry"

[Column #29, 5/97]

I am severely cyberphobic. Oh sure, I have a computer set up in my office (for looks mostly)-my MIS person rigged it so that all I have to do is turn on the monitor and one keystroke gives me a screen with all the information I need to know. To me, that's amazing. That is why it is ironic that I am writing this article (so take it with a grain of salt). But, like almost any other industry professional today, I simply could not address the latest technology at the bindery without talking about computers.

Two of the biggest problems we are currently dealing with are shorter runs and increasingly difficult deadlines. Using quicker make-ready procedures seems to be one way binders can meet the demands of the marketplace. Therefore, it is no surprise that the latest technology at the bindery provides electronic make-readies. Computers have slashed the time required for this process to less than half what it used to be-and the results are more accurate. This technology has also provided a platform for the operator that is virtually error-proof by taking the person through a step-by-step sequence that eliminates potential mistakes and flags problems. This is particularly important because it is increasingly difficult to get skilled binder operators. In addition, electronic make-readies reduce down time because operators coming in for a new shift no longer want or need to redo make-readies because they are not happy with the original. They can jump right in, know exactly what the status of the job is, and continue on with it exactly as it was left. Computers provide efficiency and consistency.

Several binding and finishing machines are available with electronic make-ready; the most common of these are saddle stitching and perfect binding.

To find out more about these products, I contacted Muller Martini and Kolbus America. Muller has a program called AMRYS (Automatic make-ready System) for the midrange PRIMA Saddle Stitcher. The AMRYS system provides motorized adjustments for size settings and timing. At a keyboard, the operator can either input the information into the computer located at the machine or on a disk at a remote PC. All the feeders can be adjusted simultaneously or individually and the computer allows for unlimited storage capacity and the ability to store repeat jobs on disk for even faster repeat setup. Adjustments can be made anytime during the run. Bill Milkofsky, Muller Martini Marketing Manager, summarizes the system, "With AMRYS, job parameters are entered in advance by simple commands. This can be done at the machine or on a separate PC where the information is stored on diskette. No special computer skills are needed. The settings are completely reproducible for repeat orders. You can even break into long runs for rush jobs."

One of our customers that acquired this machine about six months ago shared some observations. Overall, their feelings were positive. Undoubtedly, this technology is an asset to their operation; like anything new, however, there has been a learning curve for everyone involved. The operators had to overcome their fear of the computer and then they had to learn how to operate it. That alone has taken nearly six months, and they estimate it will take another six months before they are using the machine's features to their capacity. They summed up their feelings by saying, "It's great because you just hit a button and everything goes....As far as overall running, we're still having problems, but we're getting there." He emphasized that waste has declined and make-ready times are amazingly short.

In addition, Muller offers a CORONA perfect binder and a ZENITH three-knife trimmer with motorized make ready. They utilize what Muller refers to as a commander that adjusts the machines completely with the use of a touch screen. This technology was first introduced about two years ago and the first U.S. installations are in process.

Kolbus America offers two perfect binding lines with what they refer to as their Co-pilot system. The name refers to quick and simple communication between the operator and the machine. In the words of Sam Troiano, Kolbus Marketing and Advertising Manager, "The Co-pilot system addresses industry demands for shortest make-readies, and becomes the operators best techy friend." The perfect binding system offers motorized format and hangout adjustment, user-friendly features, and short make-ready times. It accommodates hot melt, cold, and PUR glue. I attended an open house at Perfect Binding Corporation in Indianapolis one year ago (shortly after they acquired a new Kolbus perfect binder) and they were very happy with it. We recently contacted Gary Combs of Perfect Binding who said, "It is a very reliable and dependable piece of equipment." He was very positive and told us that they have had few problems. Their biggest challenge has been changing the mindsets and habits of their operators to accommodate the new technology. Kolbus also offers the Co-pilot system on two three-knife trimmers, a hard cover book production line, and a palletizer.

So far, a Kolbus three-knife trimmer is Bindagraphics most extensive investment with electronic make-ready. Before that, our biggest technological advancement came with ink jet imaging and mailing services. I had to laugh when one of our largest equipment suppliers pointed out, "...trade binderies usually bring up the rear when it comes to acquiring new technology." I am terrified to dump millions of dollars into equipment I'm not even sure if our operators can run! The trimmer seemed like a safe place to get our feet wet. (And besides, who wants to be the first to try something that will surely have problems in the beginning? Let's face it-we work in a small industry and the number of machines that are produced is not great. There are going to be lemons.) I have watched John Darpino, our three-knife trimmer operator, over the past few months and have talked to him along the way. By his own admission, he was frightened at first. His hands were shaking like a leaf the first time they touched the keyboard! John had no previous computer experience and he understood the gravity of this investment. I really empathized with him. In the past three months, he has completely mastered the machine and uses it with confidence. He estimates that make-ready time has gone from an average of one hour to as little as 12 minutes. In addition, the cutting precision is excellent and the speed of the machine allows us to run large volumes of material quickly.

These machines are not without their limitations. Software glitches occasionally come up and certain adjustments that were possible on noncomputerized machines (pushing the limits size-wise, for example) are no longer available because the computer will not deviate from set parameters. I have been told that these limitations can be bypassed on certain models. Also, although these manufacturers tout the ability to interrupt runs easily and quickly with a computer disk, we all know it's not that simple. The actual setup, for any given job, including changeover and material handling, is time consuming even without the make-ready. In addition, storing setup information to disk is not always useful because the repeat job must be identical to the previous job for the setup to work properly. It does help, however, when an operator needs to break into a run for a rush job and then return to whatever they were working on.

I tried to dig around and find out what's on the horizon in new technology. Everyone was pretty closed mouth-hoarding their secrets for grandiose introductions at upcoming trade shows. I'm sure whatever it is, it will continue to amaze me.

It is obvious that someday we will all have this technology. Those who do not will be the dinosaurs that eventually die off. For right now, I'm content to get my feet wet-one toe at a time.

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