Col-Tec Multiplex

The sheet thickness a horizontal collator can handle is limited only by how powerful the suction heads are. Around 1,000gsm is the commonly-quoted maximum. At the opposite end of the scale a horizontal machine can take the lightest weight of onion-skin, around 20gsm.

Marking is also just about unknown on a horizontal; and because the raceway is flat, the thickness of the collated set is more likely to be limited by whatever post-collation process follows, than by the collator itself.

Those virtues notwithstanding, horizontals have had a rough time of it over the last 20 years. Vertical collators have become the cheaper, less space-hungry format-of-choice for the majority of standard work and the advent of digital presses, with their ability to print pre-collated sets, has dramatically cut down on the amount of collating required throughout the industry.

According to Col-Tec managing director, Paul Bailey, the only way forward for horizontal collators is to become even more flexible. Printers are really looking for versatile machines, and a horizontal collator is perfectly placed to offer maximum versatility so in turn the printer can give good value to his customer, he says.

Cutting edge
This is the market driver behind Col-Tec’s new machine, the Multiplex, which has been praised as an innovation at the cutting edge of collator development. The machine boasts bins that can not only double-up, but triple-up and even quadruple-up, if necessary.

The concept takes its lead from patented technology, known as Duplex, developed by Bailey’s previous company, the horizontal collator manufacturer Setmaster. With Duplex, you could split the bins to double up your number of stations, he explains. So if you imagine a seven-station A3 collator, you could split those A3 bins to make 14 A4 bins.

The Duplex technology first hit the market in 1983, and transformed Setmaster’s sales. By the late 1990s, the Lymington (UK)-based outfit was employing 60 staff and had an annual turnover of around £4m, largely thanks to the Duplex technology, adds Bailey.

He is hoping that the new Multiplex technology, which he describes as like Duplex, but better, will have a similar galvanising effect on Col-Tec’s balance sheet, and has priced it accordingly: it’s just 10 per cent more expensive than Col-Tec’s standard machine.

The initial Col-Tec machine, launched in 2000, used a belted conveyor rather than the stepped pusher motors that Bailey had specified in his earlier designs. This basic change in technology created the possibility of multiplexing.

The idea is that if we get a customer for whom the majority of collating work is, let’s say, B3, but with a little bit of B4, and a bit of B2 as well, we can give him a Multiplex machine that has a B3 base configuration, Bailey explains.

If he had 12 stations of B3, we could split that down to 24 B4 stations, and even down to 48 B5 stations, while on the other hand we can combine the B3 stations up to B2 size. The Multiplex therefore ends up meeting all those needs.

The process of combining or splitting bins is straightforward and entirely tool-free. The first stage is to either remove or add in to the conveyor the number of flites (small plastic sheet stops that keep the collated sheets in place as the set accumulates) required to make a smaller or larger bin. You just pull them off, or insert them, as required – there’s no screwdriver or spanner needed, said Bailey.

After this, stations must be either divided or combined, this time by clipping in or out the steel plates that hold the stack; again, this is done by hand. The collator recognises the number and position of dividers, and it addresses its suction feed heads accordingly.

Bailey explained: When you take out the divider from an A3 bin to make a single A2 bin, the collator senses this and tells the two suction heads that were working one to each bin, to work in tandem on the same bigger bin. The same thing happens in reverse when dividers are added in – the collator separates out its suction heads, allocating one to as many bins as are configured.

Simple solutions

A potential problem with changing the sheet size is that it could necessitate changing the stroke of the conveyor to the requisite sheet length, but Col-Tec has come up with a simple solution to overcome this. It would be very expensive to make a machine on which you could change the stroke length at will, so instead we keep the fixed stroke and we load the bins differently to work with it, said Bailey.

Say you were printing in A4 and your machine was a B3 base configuration, you’d load the first section in bin one, the second in bin three, the third in bin five and so on. You collate a part-set which comes together as a full set in the jogger. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds, he admitted, but the principle is clear, and once people have got used to it, it’s intuitive and very easy to understand.

Another clever feature on the Multiplex is that the flites are able to knock-up a collated set, keeping all edges aligned. The front flites incorporate a pulsing mechanism that knocks the set into place; when the machine is reconfigured for a smaller sheet size these flites take their place at the back of the set, and again are able to knock the sheet up, but this time on the trailing edge.


There’s also an option for on-collator selective collation – that’s like three sheets from bin one, one sheet from bin two, none from bins three and four, Bailey said – but no option to have each bin controlled by an off-collator database for pack-by-pack differentiation. And by way of productivity-enhancing extras, there are deep-pile feeders that can replace the standard 50/70mm bin-depths with equivalents of up to 500mm or 700mm.

With all its divisions and combinations, figuring out the Multiplex’s specification is difficult. Just how many bins does it have, maximum? We don’t know, Bailey confesses. In theory you can keep on exponentially dividing, but in practice there won’t be a market demand for that. He is aiming the new Multiplex at printers and trade finishers, particularly the latter – we think the flexibility of this will be excellent from their point of view because they get all the awkward jobs.


German MKW’s Rapid machine comes in three separate sizes: B4, B3, and B2. The ‘tandem’ function is effectively a duplexing system, doubling bin numbers. There’s an optional barcode scanner per station for on-collator selective collation, and other options include dot and line gluing, together with a pre-piling system.
Max sheet size 500x700mm (B2 machine)
Max number of stations 32 (B2 machine); 80 (B4 machine)
Max speed 4,500 sets per hour (B2 machine);
5,000 sets per hour (B4 machine)
Stock weight range 14–1,000gsm
Contact Manroland

Paul Bailey’s former company has continued to produce the Duplex technology, and as such it’s the nearest rival to the Col-Tec in terms of sheet size flexibility. However, duplexing only doubles the number of bins, unlike multiplexing, which divides exponentially. There is a full range of ancillaries including a stitch-fold-trim, numbering, corner stitching, folding, inserting and gluing.
Max sheet size 1,600×1,200mm (ultimate model)
Max number of stations 60 (Series 3 B3)
Max speed 3,000 sets per hour
Stock weight range 16–1,000gsm
There’s a range of T&B machines (Sprint for speed, Flex for dual pay-off, and Eco for entry-level). They are more widely equipped with peripherals than the Col-Tec: stitch-fold-trim system with either single-knife foredge or three-knife trimming, numbering and punching. There’s programme control for selective collating. Single-size sheets per run only: no duplexing.
Max sheet size 1,020x720mm
Max number of stations unspecified
Max speed 4,500 sets per hour depending on sheet size
Stock weight range 18–1,000gsm

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