Ibis Smart-Binder

What is saddle-gluing anyway? The UK binder manufacturer Ibis didn’t set out to confound printers’ expectations of a saddlestitcher, but it’s certainly done just that with the launch of its Smart-Binder range – a series of online or offline machines with various capabilities including saddlestitching, adhesive binding or a new binding concept that the company calls saddle-gluing – all in the same unit.

Ibis – the name stands for Integrated Bindery Systems – is relatively unknown to the world’s printers. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of Ibis machines out there. The company was formed in 1999 when then-parent Heidelberg closed down bindery manufacturer Harris, based in Slough. Heidelberg’s then engineering director John Cracknell cherry-picked the best design engineers and moved to High Wycombe to set up Ibis. The Ibis Digi-Stitcher, precursor to the Smart-Binder, was launched by Océ at Drupa 2000 for inline use with its high-speed digital web presses. In 2004, Ibis decided to widen its offering to other digital press manufacturers, most of whom liked the product and added it to their portfolio. The result is a wide installed base of Ibis binders that spans the globe – but as an OEM product the name Ibis itself remains all but unknown.

Which makes it one of the digital sector’s best-kept secrets. The Smart-Binder is that rare thing: a superb concept brought to life with robust, high-quality engineering – and all British to boot. Those who remember the clanking chain and tricky-to-maintain transport systems that graced the Harris binders, fear not: almost nothing of the old engineering designs has been carried forward into the new machines. “These binders are an entirely different concept for a massively changed market sector,” says Cracknell.

The Smart-Binder range currently comprises five models, with a sixth about to be launched. The five existing machines are sequentially numbered (SB-1 through SB-4, with an additional SB-4P) but don’t follow the usual linear path of increased productivity or format size. Instead, they share similar basic specifications, but are possessed of various bind/stitch/saddle-gluing permutations to fit Ibis’s perception of market needs. Thus the SB-4P is a straightforward inline adhesive binder; the SB-4 is a combined saddle-binder, saddlestitcher and perfect binder; the SB-3 carries out saddle-gluing or saddlestitching; and the SB-1 and SB-2 are saddlestitchers only.

So what is saddle-gluing – or Individual Sheet Gluing, as Ibis sometimes refers to it? More or less what it says: gluing, but down a fold. Effectively, the Smart-Binder is fitted with a pneumatically operated glue nozzle mounted in the apex of the saddle. This applies a narrow line of cold glue dots down the fold-line of each sheet, automatically timed to start and stop at the edges; the sheets are brought together into a set, pressed together by a V-shaped clamp, and achieve a strong bond within seconds. It sounds odd, but that’s only because it’s a process that is not widely known, Cracknell maintains.

“Cold-glued books are so much better than stitched books,” he says. “People are wary of the process at first – I think they remember some of the early experiments of gluing on a folder, where the glue would get everywhere. But this is completely different and they’re soon convinced.” Glue-bound books, he adds, lay flatter, achieve a stronger bond than stitched books, are easier to recycle because there’s no wire to filter out, have greater security against page tampering, and – the cherry on the cake – it’s the same consumable cost as stitching (for thin books at least, which Cracknell sets at up to around 32pp).

Unique developments
But saddle-gluing is only one of the Smart-Binder’s unique abilities. Another is its stitch-fold order, which confounded all onlookers when it was first launched in 2000. Where bookletmakers or stitch-fold-trim units put the stitches into a flat sheet and then fold around the stitches, the Ibis binders fold each sheet individually, add a line of glue dots if they’re saddle-binding, collate the set back together again and then (if they’re being stitched) stitch along the fold line. Cracknell believes it’s “the natural way to do it – if you think, once the sheets are folded, they centre themselves naturally on the saddle apex, so it’s easy to stitch along the fold line.” The accepted principle of stitch-then-fold, he says, “is implicitly inferior, which is why you quite often find the stitches a bit off-centre, or skewed”.

Whether Cracknell is right is probably a matter of opinion, but the proof of the Ibis pudding is in the eating: one Japanese digital finishing manufacturer, a lifelong advocate of stitch-then-fold, brought out its own fold-then-stitch bookletmaker at Ipex 2002.

When offline, the Smart-Binder runs from two suction feeders: a deep-pile feed for the internal sheets, and a low-pile feed for the cover, which can also score, and is capable of handling gatefold covers. It can also be programmed to feed inserts into any specified position in the book, under barcode control. The cover feed is a bottom-feed device, meaning it can be loaded on the run, while the deep-pile device can’t be similarly loaded, it holds about 7,000 sheets at a time. The SB-1 has a single-knife trimmer for front-edge trim only; the remaining models use an integrated three-knife trimmer.

Achieving the balance
Makeready on the Smart-Binder is semi-automated. Book thickness is changed on-the-run with no operator intervention (useful in a book-on-demand environment) but much of the rest of the process is manual, via handwheel and digital indicator. It takes 5-10 minutes to make a format size change; Cracknell says the machine is intended for longer runs and, as such, it isn’t designed for frequent format changeovers.

The Smart-Binder is possibly the only piece of digital finishing kit on the market that might achieve the tricky balance between the speed of online operation and the flexibility of offline operation. All the Smart-Binder machines can move between gluing and stitching in under a minute, and each model is available in online or offline versions (the latter fed by third-party sheetfeeders or roll/slit/trim feeders). There’s even a variant that can run both inline and offline, with super-fast changeover between the two modes. And as if it wasn’t enough to combine adhesive binding, saddlestitching and saddle-binding in one unit, the Smart-Binder has its own perforating system – centre-trimming, hole punching or loop stitching can also be done.

While Ibis does sell the Smart-Binder direct, the company remains diligent about checking out its potential direct customers: the ongoing tie-up with the world’s biggest digital press manufacturers means that Ibis will ask any customer blunt questions about whether they intend to buy a digital press at the same time as the prospective binder, “so we can be sure that we’re not being used to beat the press vendor down on price,” says Cracknell. It also means that Ibis isn’t geared to support the binders directly in the field, in the way that a more direct-sales-oriented company might be: “We do offer reactive phone support and occasional site visits,” said Cracknell, “but we would want to satisfy ourselves that any potential direct buyer has the capacity to largely maintain the machine themselves.” To this end, Ibis offers a five-day training course in operating and maintaining the Smart-Binders, “which customers will get the best out of if they have background engineering qualifications,” said Cracknell.

For up-to-date Australasian details on pricing, distribution, phone numbers and other matters relevant to this article, we suggest you contact the relevant companies via their websites.

Contact IBIS Integrated Bindery Systems

Duplo DBM-500
A bookletmaker that can go inline to various Xerox DocuPrints, DocuTechs and Océ machines. It can also interface to a range of Duplo kit, including collating towers and a sheetfeeder for merging or simple offline work. Stitcher only – no adhesive binding.
Max speed 5,000 books per hour (single-up production)
Max size of flat sheet 350x500mm
Min size of flat sheet 210x155mm
Max spine thickness 25 sheets of 80gsm
Price not available
Contact Duplo International

Horizon StitchLiner
Horizon’s Ipex 2002-launched top-of-the-line bookletmaker isn’t quite a Smart-Binder equivalent, in that it doesn’t link directly inline to a digital press, but instead uses a combination of up to six VAC-100 collator towers and a sheetfeeder to merge digital and offset-printed output. Sheets are folded before stitching, like the Smart-Binder. Integral three-knife trimmer, but it’s a saddlestitcher only.
Max speed 5,500 books per hour (single-up production)
Max size of flat sheet 500x350mm
Min size of flat sheet 206x140mm
Max spine thickness 5mm (10mm book thickness)
Price not available
Contact Graphic Arts Equipment

Watkiss Online Document Finishing System
Watkiss’s saddlestitching bookletmaker is, as its name suggests, an online machine (to various Océ sheetfed digital presses, plus the Kodak DigiMaster and NexPress), but can be changed swiftly to offline operation courtesy of a sheetfeeder and an automatic cover feeder (that can also feed in additional sheets). Like the Smart-Binder, there’s an integral barcode reader for document security.

Max speed to match printer speed
Max size of flat sheet 350x482mm
Min size of flat sheet not available
Max spine thickness 25 sheets
Price TBA
Contact Watkiss Automation

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