Finishing still needs the human touch

Des King
Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Perhaps I haven't always been as attentive as I should in pondering the intricacies of saddlestitching. That all changed the other week, when I idly smoothed open an A5 promotional mailer and my left forefinger encountered the sharp end of an unclinched staple, thereby necessitating some remedial stitching of an altogether different nature.

Not the most positive start to a line of enquiry maybe, but they do say experience is best gained first hand. The injury also coincided with the arrival of a news release about the Horizon StitchLiner from Graphic Arts Equipment. Who better then GAE to help me negotiate my way around ‘Staples Corner’ and bring my knowledge base up to speed?

Irrespective of whichever make of equipment stitched the booklet that ripped open my finger, the good news is that an accident like this rarely happens, as far I can tell. Never in my experience, said Wayne Rumbold, joint managing director of Swindon-based litho printer Rumbold & Holland, whose StitchLiner has processed more than 1.3m booklets since being installed this time last year. Nor did it with the Muller Bravo Twin we were running previously.

Saddlestitching is a relatively straightforward process, albeit one that has been refined over the years as the optimal binding solution for low pagination books and brochures over relatively short runs. A key feature of the StitchLiner is that it has eliminated a time-consuming secondary function by integrating folding inline; also guillotining on certain job specifications. The system takes single leaves from the press; organises them into sections that are scored and plough-folded then passed along the saddle, where the stitching head forms and fires a wire staple through the spine into a clincher to be folded over on to itself on the inside.

And there’s the point. Smart though any detection kit might be in spotting a dropped stitch, what it can’t do is see through paper. A bit of broken wire in the clincher will make enough of a racket to prompt the minder to stop the machine, says Rumbold. On the other hand, however, an unclinched staple has the potential to slip through the radar.

Actually, it’s a testament to the technology that it doesn’t happen more often. It’s a rarity for the staple leg to be pointing up the other way; normally the operator would spot that, said GAE technical products manager Alan Harrison. It’s second nature to check your work because nine times out of 10, the buck stops with you.

In the latter respect, however, that’s a big ask. Booklets are delivered to the saddle, stitched and moved on at more than 1.5 per second, so spotting a rogue staple is only ever going to be more by luck than judgement. Plus, part of the StitchLiner’s appeal is that its horseshoe configuration facilitates a one-man operation, with the accompanying benefit of streamlining overall staffing level costs.

Let it be clear that there’s no criticism here of a thoroughly proficient machine that has quite rightly captured a substantial slice of market share. This is just an obser-vation that however well developed the generic process, and however well positioned any of the available systems deploying it might be towards balancing the cost versus time equation in achieving fitness for purpose, the old adage still holds true: you’re not always bound to be able to judge a book by its cover.

Des King is a Printing World contributor with an eye on the finishing line. Email him at: the


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