Mechanical Binding Reacts to Changes in the Market

Question & Answer
Mechanical Binding Reacts to Changes in the Market


Fall, 2011

The demand for short runs and quick turnarounds has impacted every type of binding process, from saddlestitching to perfect binding to mechanical binding. For this Q&A, The Binding Edge contacted mechanical binding experts Gateway Bookbinding Systems, Ltd., Spiral Binding Company and Spiel Associates for their perspectives on how the on demand market has changed mechanical binding and the ways their companies have reacted to meet the needs of customers and end users.

How has on demand printing changed the market for mechanical binding?
“On demand is basically synonymous with short run,” said Anna Massey, sales and marketing manager for Gateway Bookbinding Systems. “The days of a book run being a half million copies are no more – or most certainly few and far between. To react, mechanical binding needs to be able to handle two books to 200 books quickly, efficiently and cost effectively.”

In an interesting trend that speeds the finishing process by reducing diversification, punch patterns are being standardized and paper houses have started to supply pre-punched paper. “We have seen some standardization for specifications within this level of the market,” explained Massey. However, David Spiel, president of Spiel Associates, noted that buying pre-punched paper can be problematic when covers, tabs or odd-sized sheets need to be intermixed with pre-punched body copy. “Often, punching dies will not match the pitch of the pre-punched paper. Even worse, the paper size of the pre-punched sheets may not match the paper size of sheets that you punch yourself, throwing off the pitch and making coil insertion difficult.”

Matt Roth, vice president at Spiral Binding Company, noted, “As a manufacturer of binding supplies, one of the biggest changes to the marketplace we have seen is that the customer base has shifted from large binderies to smaller print shops.” With customers demanding fast turnarounds and requiring smaller print runs, printers are bringing binding capabilities in-house rather than sending uncomplicated jobs to binding partners. With new digital print shops opening almost daily, Massey also has seen the customer base increase for smaller equipment manufacturers, and the trend shows no sign of stopping.

What changes in either equipment or wire/plastic coil will we see in the future?
“The trend is definitely for equipment to be smaller, easier-to-use, faster and less expensive,” stated Roth. “The most common request we get is for more automation, but binders also want quick set-ups because many of the jobs are short-run.” Spiral Binding Company’s line of James Burn/Lhermite equipment is well-positioned to meet those market needs. Massey concurred with the need for automation, “The on demand printer wants a level of automation that is simplified for ease-of-use to maximize productivity.” Automation also reduces the amount of operator training and intervention that is needed, reducing labor costs.

“The customer is concerned with three things: speed, automation and labor reduction,” said Spiel. “We’ve reacted by introducing machinery designed for speedy, short run mechanical binding, while keeping the need for labor reduction in mind.” Spiel’s Sterling Coilmaster Jr. binds books with either round or oval punch holes automatically, doing the work of six manual binders with operators.

Roth also noted that binderies and printers are looking for a smaller equipment footprint. Massey agreed: “On the equipment side, historically the customer had the choice of either extremely automated high-volume equipment or simple countertop setups. The demand for smaller countertop machines has increased steadily, and in today’s market, the challenge is to build equipment that is fully or semi-automated, but capable of handling the shorter run.” Gateway has built equipment specifically for the digital print market, including the Koilmatic Auto Inserter, a simplified, fully electric version of the company’s more industrial PBS 3000 QS Auto Inserter for trade binderies.

Gateway Bookbinding also is a supplier of plastic coil, and the shift to on-demand book production has signaled a change in the way product is ordered. “The concept of packing coil in 100s is not new, but that option has become important to the on demand customer, Massey stated. “Minimizing inventory while maximizing availability is the goal.”

Mechanical binding has traditionally been seen as a practical way to bind, rather than an ‘attractive’ option. What can be done to change the perception of spiral coil in terms of design appearance?
“We’d have to disagree with the statement that PLASTIKOIL isn’t an attractive option! With 45 different colors to choose from – along with the option of custom color matching – plastic spiral is a strong, durable binding choice,” said Massey. She continued, “Mechanical binding is selected by the customer for a reason – whether it’s ease of use, durability, application or distribution method – so the customer schoosing mechanical binding view it as their best option and not just as an inexpensive way to bind.”

Roth also defended the appearance and decorative options available with mechanical binding. “It is easier than you think to create custom binding items to make a presentation more attractive. In 2011, Spiral Binding Company purchased a new high-speed pad printer, which allows us to produce more detailed artwork that can be printed right on binding combs and covers.”

Spiel noted that mechanical binding isn’t just plastic coil – double loop wire can enhance end-product appearance as well. “When a plastic coil book is opened, the left page is one half of a pitch lower than the right page,” he explained. “Double loop wire allows the left and right pages to line up, which is especially important when binding books like ledgers or maps. However, plastic coil is much more durable and very kid-friendly, so children’s books that are mechanically bound are most often bound with plastic.”

What is the biggest challenge during production for those using mechanical binding equipment?
The on demand customer may still view mechanical binding as a tedious task,” explained Massey. “Today’s equipment, however, really does provide very viable solutions. The paper punching process seems to be a stumbling block for many, but there are good, affordable machines on the market that should be considered.” Gateway recommends a .2475″ pitch oval hole pattern as the best choice. According to Massey, the hole spacing fits nicely with the common 8.5″ or 11″ binding edge without the need to pull pins or trim books.

Massey went on to note another stumbling block for operators – ease of use. “The staff of today’s digital print shops often wears many hats – they are customer service reps, purchasing managers, estimators, print production and bindery operators all rolled into one. They don’t operate one machine day in and day out, so today’s equipment has to be user-friendly and easy-to-operate.”

“Like it or not, the market has changed for all binding to demand shorter runs with quick turnaround,” Spiel concluded. Those creating and selling mechanical binding equipment and supplies must react to the shifts in the market by increasing the level of automation available, continuing to champion the pleasing appearance of mechanically-bound products and remaining aware of the trends that will impact both the print customer and end user.

Thank you to Matt Roth, Spiral Binding Company (; Anna Massey, Gateway Bookbinding Systems (; and David Spiel, Spiel Associates (