Bindery Blog

Thoughts about the graphic arts industry and the world at large.

Bindery Innovation and Automation

Book New Geo of Jobs

My daughter was reading a book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” by Enrico Moretti in her globalization class in college. She sent me an excerpt which reads as follows:

“Every time a company generates jobs in the innovation sector, it also indirectly creates additional jobs in the non-traded sector in the same city.

To see how this multiplier effect works in practice, let me introduce you to a small-business owner named Tim. Tim is a bookbinder in San Francisco. His clients are mostly local residents and local businesses, so he is clearly part of the non-traded sector. He employs eight workers who bind books and do custom printing. His employees are good with their hands and tend to have low levels of education. If you visit his cavernous, neon-lit shop, the first things you notice are several beautiful old-style cutting and binding machines that dominate the floor. Bookbinding appears to be a very labor-intensive craft. The technology used in Tim’s shop has not changed much in the past thirty years.”

Tim’s company is a hand bindery. Making custom bindings has not changed much in the past 100 years. Perhaps the machines have improved somewhat but all of the work is the same as it always has been, going back to books of The Middle Ages. I would venture to guess that the technology used in Tim’ shop is the very same technology that was used 50 to 75 years ago.

This is quite understandable. But what if we are talking about a trade bindery? Can a trade bindery survive under such a business model? The answer is no. When a printer gets in a sizeable run of books that require a type of binding he does not currently offer, he goes out and buys the equipment. A trade bindery will tend to use what he has, which is often less that up to date equipment.

An owner of trade bindery recently sold his business to one of his customers and his accounts to another bindery. When I had visited his shop in 2000, I saw he was using manual, table top spiral binding equipment. I pointed out to him that the five girls binding the books were chatting and not really getting good production. He already had an automatic paper punching machine so all he needed was the binder. I offered him our Sterling Coilmaster plastic coil binding machine, which could bind up to 700 books per hour and equal or surpass the production. I sent him the video, which he did not look at and followed up with him for a period of five years, trying to convince him to automate. At times he professed that he was cheap and told us that when he was ready, he would call.

After he closed his doors, one of his customers, a publisher, called me explaining that his bindery had gone out of business and needed to bind over 100,000 books per year. He was looking to purchase equipment and was willing to purchase a paper punch an automatic plastic spiral binding machine. This was something the bindery was never willing to do—even though he had much more work. Not only did he bind this particular customer’s books by hand, he bound all of his other customers’ books that way.

When he sold his business, the bindery who bought his accounts was flabbergasted that he was still doing coil by hand. This bindery has up to date paper punching and coil binding equipment which he had purchased from our company.

Is it any wonder why one bindery is thriving and the other is out of business? This is a trend I have been seeing for a decade, and it shows little sign of changing.

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To PUR or not to PUR

DB PUR and PUR Plus

At the next Print show, Spiel Associates will be debuting two new PUR Perfect Binders: The Sterling® Digibinder PUR and PUR Plus. This adds to our line of The Digibinder®, The Digibinder Plus, and The Digibinder Super, which we will also be debuting.

For those of you who do not know the difference between PUR and traditional perfect binding, the short answer is not much. Everything is the same except for the glue: Ordinary perfect binding machines use ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) adhesives, while PUR binders use polyurethane reactive (PUR) adhesive.

In the past, we have had remarkable success in binding any stock on our EVA Digibinders. Our customers have bound oil infused stock, stock with wax based ink, UV coated and aqueous coated stock. What we have had problems with mostly is very thick stock, such as 100 Lb. cover stock, when used as body copy. No perfect binders can bind this stock. So if you are using stock like this or very fancy photo stock, then you have no choice but to use a PUR Perfect Binder.

Yet our customers, more and more, have been requesting PUR machines. Some have said that their customers break the spine and the pages fall out—No kidding? My response is like the old joke: A man walks into a doctor’s office and says; “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” The doctor replies; “Then don’t do that.” Where in the world can people think that they can break the binding of the book without the book falling apart?

While PUR is not indestructible, it is 50% - 70% stronger than ordinary EVA binding. It can bind stock even if the grain is in the wrong direction. It is much kinder to extreme temperatures. On the hot side, PUR has a 350°F peel failure, as compared with 165°F to 200°F for EVA glue. On the cold side, EVA can crack at 30°F PUR begins to crack at -20°F. I do suppose that considering climate change, PUR books will last much longer.

PUR uses a thinner glue application than EVA (10 to 12ml vs. 25 to 35ml per EVA). Less glue makes the binding more flexible, which allows the book to lay flat.

The downside to using PUR is that when the glue is exposed to moisture, it goes bad. PUR sucks moisture out of the air during the curing process. This takes a good 24 hours. You cannot reuse PUR glue and it goes bad after a few hours when sitting in an open glue pot. This spoilage is common and unavoidable. It is best to avoid open glue pots for this reason and for the labor intensive clean up at the shift’s end. Some manufacturers use a system that sprays a blanket of nitrogen over the glue pot area so as to keep the glue away from air. Still, cleaning up the glue pot can take up to 30 minutes. If a nitrogen system is not used, the glue can only be exposed to air for a few hours, then the pot must be cleaned, new glue put in, and melted. Also, the Teflon coating on the glue pots do not last for the life of the machine and must be recoated about every three years.

The Sterling Digibinder PUR and PUR Plus, uses a nozzle system with a closed tank. The glue is not exposed to air. The glue sprays out of the nozzle for each cycle. The machines can be run all day. There is a five minute clean up at the shifts end and at its beginning. But the glue in the tank may be continually used until it’s gone.

We have found that the nozzle system with a sealer glue tank is the most effective, economical, and user friendly system.

Books are still going strong. Let’s rejoice in the fact that despite recent technological advances, the majority of Americans are still reading books in print. According to Pew Research Center, as of 2016, 65% of Americans read a print book in the last year, which was more than double the share that read an e-book (28%) and more than four times the share that consumed content via audio book (14%).

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Book Manufacturer Speeds Up Their Wire Binding Tenfold

JL Darling Testimonial Web

J.L. Darling has manufactured Rite in the Rain® notepads since 1916 in The Great Northwest. The founder, Jerry Darling created a market for notepads that could withstand rain and other poor weather conditions. Even if their notepads get wet, the ink does not run. They invented a proprietary, patented, archival quality substrate that will last a lifetime under normal use. JL Darling prefers wire because double loop wire binding offers a full 360 degree rotation for pages bound into a book.

Prior to the mid-nineties, they bound their Wire-O books on table top equipment. They then purchased, from Spiel Associates, a used Lhermite® automatic paper punch and a used Sickinger wire binding machine. They added a semi-automatic Rilecart® wire binder a few years later to keep up with their capacity, and then purchased a Sterling Punchmaster® automatic paper punch to replace their Lhermite.

Punching their paper is no easy feat. Due to the durability of the paper, they cannot punch as big a lift of sheets as they could with ordinary paper. They also sharpen their dies more frequently than other paper punching machine users.

While they produce different size books, their most popular size is 3” X 5”, perfect for an electrical linesman or an EMT to tuck in their breast pocket. Also, they have a “header” which has a sombrero hole acting as a peg hanger. The header size was 3” x 2”.

With their Rilecart wire binder, they bound, flipped covers, and boxed an average of 250 books per hour with two operators.

Throughout the years, demand for their product grew. Their capacity did not and they were forced to run multiple shifts to bind the books that they needed to ship. During that time I had tried to help them automate their wire binding. Aside from the cost of over $200,000 for an automatic wire binding machine, we had the problem of book size. While The Rilecart B-599 wire binder could be modified to handle the book size, there was no way it could handle the header size of 2” X 3”.

In 2014 Spiel introduced The Sterling® Wiremaster Pro. The selling price was half of what The Rilecart B599 was. This piqued their interest. . Furthermore, the machine needed no modification to handle their book size, but we still had a pesky 2” X 3” header to contend with. Their R & D Director, John Mattingly and I kicked around some ideas and we came up with the following: Make the header 3” X 3.75” and put a score in the middle. After the books were bound, the header was folded in half for easy hanging. We shot a demo video for them, which you could see here.

After purchasing the Sterling Wiremaster Pro, the fun began. At first they were binding, cover flipping, and boxing 2,700 books per hour. After riding the learning curve, they increased their production to 3,000 books per hour, which is the maximum cycling speed of the machine. They use three operators.

J.L. Darling books can be written upon in the rain, and their production now is right as rain.

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What Are You Up To?

Car Dashboard

Some time ago my brother sold a table top paper punching machine to one of his customers. The manufacturer claimed on the brochure that the machine could punch “up to 55 sheets or 110 pages of 20 pound (80 gsm) paper. The number of sheets depends on the paper weight and punch pattern used.” After doing some digging, welearned that the only punch pattern that could punch 55 sheets was three round holes. The customer was miffed, but should he have been?

When I started working here, and began to write brochures, the most important two words I learned was: “Up to.”

All manufacturers put maximum cycling speed on their brochures. This does NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT, PAPER. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? But it is not. Speaking of paper, print is 59% more engaging for users than online articles.

What other basis can a manufacturer claim? When was the last time you drove your car at 120 miles per hour? You can, but you don’t. You can probably even drive faster than 120 miles per hour, but not here in New York. Half the time I am happy with 30 miles per hour.

I spoke with the manager of a printer for a state government recently. He complained that I and my competitor weren’t being straight with him vis a vie our brochures. The Sterling Digipunch’s maximum cycle speed is 72 strokes per minute. With a maximum lift size of 17 sheets, that equals 73,440 sheets per hour. On our brochure of The Sterling Digipunch paper punching machine, we claim that you can punch up to 72,000 sheets per hour, my competitor claimed slightly higher. I used 72,000 because it’s a nice round (however meaningless) number, like 120 miles per hour. He asked if he would be able to punch this fast and I said no. When he asked why, I told him that different patterns will result in different output.

A paper punching machine has a maximum cycle speed, but that’s not the metric you should solely use. With a three hole die, as above, you can punch more sheets per lift than with a spiral die, or even worse, a GBC die. The Sterling Digipunch can punch between 3 and 17 sheets per lift. While you may be able to punch 17 sheets with a 3 hole die, you would never be able to do so with a wire-o die. Also, are covers intermixed, tabs, acetate?

Other metrics when judging the speed of an automatic paper punch is set up and paper handling time. Does the machine set up automatically with a computer or is the set up manual? With the Sterling Digipunch you can load five reams of paper in the feeder and accept five reams of paper in the stacker. One of my competitors sells a machine that can hold five reams of paper in the feeder but only three reams in the stacker. Then the stacker has to be offloaded, reset, the other two reams need to be punched and the stacker is offloaded and then the process starts all over again. What will that do to your output?

This gets much trickier with machines that require paper or books to be fed by an operator. When a customer asks me how fast our spiral binding machines are is I ask him how fast are your sneakers? Is the printer using a skilled operator or a temp? We have a video on YouTube entitled; “Plastic Spiral Binding Machine Binds 600 Books Per Hour.” We used a 4 X 6 art pad with 10mm plastic coil for this demo and bound 10 books in 60 seconds. So the machine CAN bind up to 600 books per hour. When we went to an 8.5 X 11” with a 10mm we were only able to bind nine books in 64 seconds, 500 books per hour. When we went to a 25mm book, we were only able to bind the equivalent of 333 books per hour.

When I speak with a customer I tell him to ignore the brochure and tell me about the job and his staff. Sometimes I will tell the customer he can expect 300 books per hour, sometimes, 400 books per hour, and sometimes even 500 books per hour.

I would never tell a customer he can bind 600 books per hour and I would never recommend driving 120 miles per hour, unless you are Vin Diesel.

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What the heck happened to Spiral Binding?

Bad Spiral Book

Back when I started in this industry, spiral binding meant wire spiral binding. Today spiral binding means plastic coil binding. Why? Take a look at the picture above.

Wire spiral bound books damage very easily, not as much as a book bound on a double loop wire binding machine, but bad enough. Remember Rand McNally road atlases? They are still in business but I assume many of you are using GPS instead. They bound their books with spiral wire purposefully. Why? They would get destroyed and people would have to buy new ones. A recent visit to their web site has confirmed that they have switched over to plastic coil.

Back in them there days; plastic coil was not very popular. The only way to bind the books was to bind them by hand, starting off the first three loops manually, spinning them in with a roller machine, and then cutting and crimping using pliers. Usually an operator could do about 100 books per hour. If it was a thick book, it could be as little as 20. Take a look at the first few seconds of this video.

Wire spiral binding machines by comparison could yield about 300 books per hour. You would hang a book on pins and the wire spun through the book and was then crimped. Easy peasy, right? The only problem was the books looked cheap and was not good for school books or kids books. I had two girls so when they brought home a “Hello Kitty” book, it was always bound with plastic coil. Also, many states refused to allow books with spiral wire to be sold to schools because the spirals could be ripped from the book and be turned into a weapon.

Up until about five years ago, Sickinger and Freundlich Gomez built semi-automatic spiral binders. In fact, I still have a mint Sickinger PS517 Spiral Binder in stock. You can see a picture here. Bielomatik and Womaco still build automatic spiral binders that also punch in-line.

The only companies that still bind their books with spiral wire are manufacturers that bind many books and try to sell them as inexpensively as possible. After all, when was the last time you saw a wire spiral bound book?

This is the first in a series on the history of plastic coil binding. Stay tuned for the invention of automatic plastic coil binders, even though it is not printed on paper and that Print is 59% more engaging for users than online articles.

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