30 January 2017 Finishing

Quality of product drives interest in hard cover and sewn books

Mechanisation of sewing and casebound book production was more efficient but at a financial cost and reduced flexibility. Digital printing stresses flexibility and the search for stand out quality is driving interest in the possibilities of hard covers and sewn binding.

Very little beats the heft of a case bound book in the consumer’s hand. It feels substantial, a proper book that can last for years rather than a cheap paperback bound only for the charity shop.

Add in sewn sections instead of a line of glue along the spine and then a bespoke cover featuring foil blocking or a specific cloth or leather and present the book inside a slip case and Agatha Christie’s words receive the sort of makeover that television has become adept at. A familiar title becomes important, it gains a status that it did not previously enjoy.

The return of the hardback owes to two directions. The rise of the photobook where slim volumes come encased in board covers, possibly even as flat opening products for high value tomes. Secondly there was the impact of the ebook. As a counter to the absolute ephemeral nature of lines of data on a portable screen, hard back book sales increased as paperback volumes were eaten by the Kindle and its like.

Research found that people might read a book on the portable device and then would buy the hard cover book to put on a shelf like a big game hunter mounts a trophy. Having a copy of Girl On A Train makes a statement about the householder to friends and visitors. The same motive for the tangible lies behind the steep climb in sales for vinyl LPs.

Hard cover books are being used to promote hotels, high end property, holidays, cars and anything that needs to strike an emotional connection with the potential purchaser.

And this goes hand in hand with short run print. Austin Macauley, a publisher which specialises in ‘assisted publishing’, has set up its own in-house print operation with Ricoh press and equipment for both perfect binding or book block production and a Fastbind XT Elite as a casing in machine for very short runs. Ashgate Automation has also supplied the Casematic H46Pro that is needed to make the covers. It adds up to a “complete and affordable package for making high quality hard back books” according to the customer.

A similar set up can be used to produce the hard cover prospectuses, pitch books and catalogues that many still put out to the trade. However, the cost of transportation and the time involved in sending work out can mean it makes sense to have this in house, particularly for short run production.

Fastbind tools are also used for photobook production, though for higher volume production there are alternatives, both for cutting the boards and casing in the pages, where automation is needed. Here machines from Korea and Switzerland come into the reckoning for layflat books.

Pages are glued and pressed back to back so that there is no stitch or spine to disrupt the impact of a full out spread. On the Imaging Solutions Fastbook, this can be a 457mmx457mm image to view. The Fastbook 1000 can cope with 1,000 pages and hour, the Fastbook 600 with 600 pages an hour in a single highly automated device. Books are then delivered in line or by hand to the PerfectPress.

The Mita range of books is intended to lay flat publications. It takes the sheets (ideally preloaded in the Mitafold), applies glue and presses against the next sheet to build the book block. The Mitabook is the fully automated version and partners the Mitacase as unit able to build eight cases a minute and matching these with the blocks. UK installations include Precision Printing with sales handled through Duplo UK.

The Korean built Kisun Digi Binder is the machine selected by Park Communications to produce layflat book blocks. It operates in the same way, applying glue to prefolded sheets up to 260mm to 380mm in folded format and can glue 60 signatures a minute to produce a book block for separate casing in. UK distribution is through Tarrant Machines.

More conventionally PUR binders can create book blocks by replacing the cover with sheet that with side gluing acts as the end papers needed for hard back production. This is how IFS recommends that Horizon’s BQ binders can be used for hardcover book preparation. Some machines, the Smyth for example will apply proper end papers.

However, for a true book sewn sections are necessary. And while the market is led by Smyth, Muller Martini and Meccanotecnica, there are sewing machines emerging from the far east, seen at Drupa, not not as yet distributed in Europe.

The principal has not changed and high volume gathering and sewing lines offer highly automated high speed sewing for academic books and others that will suffer a great deal of wear - cook books for example – are which are expected to have a long life as well as open flat. The constant cracking of a spine will quickly damage a glue bind.

However, these are designed for industrial production and are housed in specialist book printers or trade binding companies. In the last year, Kolbus, which handles the Meccanotecnica machines in the UK, has installed machines at Gomer Press, Skyline Bookbinders and Purfect Finish in Tunbridge Wells. All have been replacements for machines which have reached their sell by date. The flurry of interest kept others out.

But the interest is now focused on machines capable of handling digital print. Smyth has developed a machine for short runs that can either take digitally printed sheets, feed and fold ready for sewing on the FX70 sewer which can be supplied as a handfed standalone unit. There are three versions of this machine beginning with the DX50 able to handle signatures to 510x550mm when manually loaded. The DX70 will take the 720x720mm sheet running at 120 cycles a minute.

The Digitaline offers the next step up, and extends to to combine digital feed and folded sections in a single line working with four- or eight-page sections. Flat sheets, up to 720x720mm format, are folded inline on a buckle folder. Offset printed signatures are added at the optional inserting station before collating to reach the required signature size and a cross fold ahead of the sewing head on the entry level FF240.

The Digitaline Plus adds a second buckle folder so can work with 16pp inserted signatures and second cross fold which can deliver to a conveyor for offline sewing or perfect binding. It has a maximum operating speed of 145 cycles a minute.

The Italian company increased sales 15% in 2016 and says that sales of gathering and sewing machines were responsible for the increase. The interest remains high and Smyth expects to continue to increase sales this year led by interest in the digital sewing products.

UK sales are handled by Perfect Bindery Solutions which has installed a number of the digital machines for short run work and for work which cannot be managed on a conventional machine because the format is too large.

Meccanotecnica focuses more on the higher volume digital print sector. It will participate at the Hunkeler Innovation Days operating its Universe binder from a preprinted reel. It can also operate inline with an inkjet press where the web is sheeted and folded before feeding into the gathering and sewing unit. Gauze and end papering for hard cover production while spine milling for softcover production are supported.

There are two versions of the Universe sewer, one inline with the inkjet press, the other working from printed sheets, scoring, folding and gathering before sewing. The nipping station adjusts according to information locked into the bar code about the book’s thickness. For higher production the Legor Aster straddles digital and offset book production.

In the offset sector, there are a number of Aster machines according to performance and the format of books being produced. Sales of the Italian equipment is through Kolbus UK, where managing director Robert Flather says: “There is increased interest in sewing because there is growth of interest in the quality of a book. This is perhaps driving more people down the sewn route.”

As well as the sewers, Kolbus UK has shipped a number of case making machines. There are still decades old Kolbus machines producing cases and casing in book blocks, but these are scarcely suited to frequent format changes that characterise short run production. However, they are also suited to high volume users in book printing and trade binding rather than to commercial printers handling a growing number of hardcover books.

Muller Martini is active in the hard cover and sewn section binding. Its Ventura sewing machines are suited to high volume operation, integrated in an automated production flow with a single gathering line feeding multiple sewers to reach high throughput speeds.

The company however is developing for shorter runs, adapting its Diamant casing line to cope with run of one hard cover books. Two years ago at the Hunkeler Innovation Days, it introduced the Vareo as a book of one perfect binder that is now shipping commercially. Nothing similar has emerged in sewing as yet, though the company is aware which way the tide is running.

It is still a world away from the demands of five to 25 books every day or a couple of hundred a week. Here the Singer will continue to be the perfect option for many printers and for many years to come.

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Digital sewing

Digital sewing

Sewing technology is coming to terms with short run book production as the move to shorter runs goes hand in hand with demand for high quality.

This involves case binding and sewn section books. Now companies like Smyth are creating machines that suit these requirements.

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Blissett takes Smyth sewer for digital work

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