Bound to Last
The wheel is one of the greatest inventions of mankind. Centuries old, its shape and function have changed little. Better technologies have come along-wood, steel, rubber,&031;-making the wheel increasingly more useful but still resembling the chiseled rock seen in a BC comic strip.
Though not quite as old, a similar transition is affecting the book manufacturing industry. Today, binderies face the challenge of finding new ways to improve older technologies and equipment to make them run more efficiently without adding to the bottom line. Adhesives, binding materials and equipment have all evolved to keep up with new paper products and customer demand, but books are still manufactured with spines and covers; methods used for decades.
"As far as new technologies that have arisen in the binding world, there hasn't been anything new that says we're going to bind books this way from now [on]," says Matthew Reindl of Reindl Bindery. He also reports that some of the new coatings and stocks used by book manufacturers have made it necessary to employ new adhesives. "We've gone to a lot of pressure sensitive adhesives, which we've been using for about five years. They have the ability to stay tacky and have a better flexibility than what we've used in the past."
A longer lasting hold
In addition to supplying binderies with adhesives that support the evolution of paper stock, suppliers also look at ways to make books last longer, which couldn't be more critical than for those binderies that serve the library market. Libraries pressure their binderies to produce books that are extremely durable so that the Encyclopedia Britannica collection will hold up over many years and the cover of a Curious George children's book will still be intact when it's checked out for the hundredth time.
"In library binding the goal is definitely quality. Our overriding sense is to make a book for the ages, and we're trying to get them to material that was satisfactory, but we were looking for something that offered a bit more stretch and strength. Specifically for rounding and backing," says Rob Mauritz, vice president of sales for LBS. "What we found was a material that would place nylon in the fill direction so that you would have nylon going in one direction and a cotton blend in the other. When we round-and-back the spine of the book the material stretches and does not split.
"Our customers really wanted something that worked better with the equipment," Mauritz adds. "The equipment goes back and forth along the spine about four times and the strength holds the character of the spine."
Bridgeport National Bindery, another convert to the Nylon Stretch material, previously used a stretch lining that was also woven but didn't have either the strength or the stretch. "It was okay; it was fair and it was the best thing on the market," says Jim Larsen, Bridgeport's president. "Our customer base is varied and that is one of the difficulties [we find] in furnishing product. We are first and foremost a library binder, but we have diversified into producing hard cover bindings for the print-on-demand book market.
"[Nylon Stretch] works well for that product and for the library market. We also rebind classroom texts, and this product shines in that segment of the our business as well."
Altering the technology that makes a better, stronger book can easily be done without an overhaul of the entire operation. Replacing bindery equipment, however, is seldom done on a whim, although some book makers will install new equipment on a cost analysis basis. The key, of course, is saving money in the long run while improving efficiency or quality. "If a new piece of equipment can help us and the cost ratio is good, then we'll do it," says Wert. "There are people [within the industry] who look at new machines all the time."
Currently in the prototype stages are systems that help the on-demand and short-run market produce books with zero make-ready, effectively manufacturing books more quickly and with a smaller production staff.
"A quicker turnaround is what the market is demanding," says Larsen, "and we need to do it more efficiently than we currently do to hold our cost down. Equipment in the longer-run market is already available to do what I'm asking, but for the on-demand market, the equipment is on the drawing board and not a reality.
"We are doing all these [short-run] procedures on a range of equipment from library binding equipment to older edition equipment," Larsen adds. "It works but not as efficiently as it needs to in the long term."
Reducing Return Ratio
Bilomatik, SRS Short Run Solutions and Mekatronics are all developing equipment that apply longer run technology to the shorter run and on-demand market, Larsen says. The ability to reduce the amount of returns is the money-saving feature driving their development.
"Up to 40 percent of the books that are published are never sold," says Bill English, vice president of sales for Bilomatik. "The business model is there to [produce] more short-run manufacturing. For runs of more than a thousand, traditional methods are indicated. But for short runs under 1,000, this is a better technology."
Bilomatik anticipates installing an on-demand bookbinding system in the United States this year. The Bookmaster 360 can manufacture 360 books an hour in different sizes, either from a digital press or by taking shredded signatures and binding those together. English says the opportunity to introduce a system for efficient short runs came about with the advent of digital printing and the advances that technology has made in recent years.
"When Xerox brought out the DocuTech, that's when the printing got really good. It's just been in the past few years that there really is enough of the front end equipment to compete with offset. Book manufacturers couldn't look at digital printing before now."
English adds that in a few years, a digitally printed page will look just as good as an offset page and at a competitive price, proving that updates can be made to older technologies without reinventing the wheel.