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Examining the State of the Bindery

Industry observers speak out on the progress that has been m­ade
in automating postpress processes.

January 2008 By Erik Cagle
WHILE HARDWARE and software manufacturers have yet to devise a tonic that can cure the hung-over stitcher operator, many aspects of postpress efficiency have been adequately addressed...depending upon whom you ask. Some feel we have made leaps and bounds en route to shortening the after-press process; others believe we’re still being short changed.

We’ve asked a group of industry experts their opinion on the progress made in automating postpress processes. Most agree that some areas have been bolstered, but they don’t agree on which areas.

“I’d say binding, folding and stitching equipment have drastically improved to the point where we have eliminated a lot of the previous so-called bindery stops,” notes Bill Lamparter, president of PrintCom Consulting Group. “The equipment has been improved so that it’s more fault-tolerant. And more fault-tolerant means I can input poorer signatures or poorer sheets into the binding equipment and still get improved throughput. That’s fairly significant.”

Lamparter recalls that the bindery of olden days used to sound quite rhythmic, with frequent stopping. One problem is that too much of that equipment from yesteryear is still in use. According to plant audits, he estimates that 85 percent of all bindery equipment is more than 10 years old.

Theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with using older bindery equipment when its performance does not come into question. But press capacity is an issue. Newer presses can have the capabilities and throughput of two (or more) presses from 10 years ago, Lamparter notes. More throughput with press technology, coupled with incumbent binding and finishing gear, equates an imbalance on the back end. That sends theory out the window.

Dennis Mason, president of Mason Consulting and Lamparter’s partner on a PRIMIR study, “The Market for Print Finishing Technologies,” also notes that technology such as binding and cutting has enjoyed big efficiency upgrades in recent years, with bindery gear becoming less labor-intensive. Mason points out that electronic and mechanical improvements have reduced the degree of jams, misfeeds and incorrectly assembled product.

Unfortunately, the tail end of the production line has a log-jam in need of automating.

‘A Manual Nightmare’

“The process of assembling orders, putting them in boxes, adding items like CD-ROMs and ensuring that everything is in order, remains a manual nightmare,” Mason says. “Machinery is available that can perform some of these functions, but these require a flexible, cell-like manufacturing operation that remains counter-intuitive to many bindery managers. Automating these areas also often requires computer skills and information technology strengths that heretofore have resided in the prepress area at many printing operations, if at all.
 

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