Move To Automation

by Caroline Miller

Steve LandheerWhen Steve Landheer's customers speak, he listens. The owner of Great Lakes Bindery-based in Grand Rapids, MI-- knew that in order to remain in the trade bindery business, he had to find a way to meet his customers' increasing demand for faster turnaround.

For the past 20 years, Great Lakes Bindery has specialized in mechanical bookbinding. Landheer's father decided to focus on mechanical binding after a major client agreed to exclusively use Great Lakes Bindery for its mechanical binding work as long as Great Lakes invested in the necessary equipment.

And not much has changed in the mechanical book binding process since Great Lakes began binding books 23 years ago, according to Landheer. "Mechanical book binding is an extremely labor intensive craft; there is nothing quick about it."

While much has remained the same in the mechanical book binding process, customer expectations have expanded. Today's focus on faster jobs forced Landheer to find a quicker and easier method to mechanically bind books. So five years ago Landheer began looking into automating his 15,000-square-foot trade bindery.

"We knew that we needed to improve our turnaround times because our customers were demanding it," he states. Still, deciding to automate his shop was not just an effort to better meet client demands. It was a way to increase Great Lakes Bindery's productivity and address the shop's growing skilled labor shortage problem.

"Employment has been tough though the last several years. It is very difficult to find and keep skilled labor. It's even more difficult for trade binderies because we are such labor-intensive operations," Landheer explains.

To solve his dilemma, Landheer turned to Long Island City, NY based Spiel Associates. Great Lakes installed a Sterling Coilmaster II automatic coil former and inserter, as well as a Rilecart B-599 automatic wire binder, as part of a $250,000 shop upgrade.

"The Rilecart really fit our needs, and does it without spending $800,000 for a machine. The binder has really done well for us." A double-loop wire binder, the B-599 automatically binds books at speeds of 4,000 books per hour depending on size. It automatically binds books with wire diameters from 1/4" to 1".

"With this machine, I'm doing twice the amount of work with the same number of employees," Landheer says.

And the story of improved efficiency has been much the same for Great Lakes' Sterling Coilmaster former and inserter. It uses spools of plastic filament in various gauges. It forms the coil around different size mandrels and ejects them onto the infeed conveyor. The coil then drops into a motorized chute and is fed directly into the book, where it is cut and crimped automatically.

We no longer have to wait to order coil material. We get a lot of surprise jobs that come through the door, so we're no longer at the mercy of someone else. Our productivity has definitely increased," he adds.

"You control your coils much better if you are making them yourself, obviously, and the quality is much better. We can start producing the day the job comes in; we don't have to wait three days to get the coils from someone else. It's really been a big factor in improving our turnaround time," Landheer remarks.

It's just this increased efficiency that Landheer believes will further fuel the popularity of mechanical book binding, despite the current price premiums. "Mechanical binding is pricey as compared to saddle stitching or perfect binding. Cost is a major factor, as well as turnaround. But you don't get the same flexibility with saddle stitching or perfect binding that you do with mechanical binding.

"If we can get the prices down and improve turnaround, mechanical binding will become more competitive and will grow even more. A lot of people would rather have their books mechanically bound-but they don't want to spend the money."

The future remains bright for Great Lakes Bindery. Landheer says that he does not fear the loss of trade binderies, despite the move by many printers to move more and more bindery functions in-house.

"We're always going to be around. Some of our customers have installed their own bindery capabilities, but they don't have anywhere near the capabilities that we offer."
-- Steve Landheer

"We're always going to be around. Some of our customers have installed their own bindery capabilities, but they don't have near anywhere near the capabilities that we offer. We probably have the largest capacity of any bindery in this region·· if not the state of Michigan. Even with some of our customers adding their own bindery departments, we still do a lot of their overflow work. Printers can't afford to do what we do ·they just can't afford to buy all the equipment," he claims.

And as automation continues to find its way into the bindery industry, it will also find its way into Great Lakes Bindery, assures Landheer. "I'm always keeping my eyes open for greater automation in order to complete."

Spiel Associates