Me & my: Duplo iSaddle

Steve Wenlock has saddled up and is about to crack the whip. The managing director of Flexpress recently installed a piece of equipment billed as the first of its kind in the country and, according to its manufacturer, the “most relevant saddle-stitching system for today’s print market”.

Expectations of the Duplo iSaddle are high among the 26 staff at the commercial printer based in Leicester producing litho and digital B2 and wide-format work. The machine went into the 500m2 plant late last year. Flexpress produces banners, flyers, posters and business cards, but 45% of its £1.7m turnover is from books and booklets, so the performance of this latest piece of kit is critical.

“We wanted to speed up the rate at which we could staple and fold booklets,” explains Wenlock whose clients range from blue-chips to smaller local businesses. “Booklets have become an increasing market for us and we wanted to produce them faster to save time elsewhere in the mix. The machine was the first in the country with a modified creasing system.”

The new arrival replaced a Horizon booklet production line and before choosing the iSaddle, Wenlock toyed with purchasing a StitchLiner, also from Horizon. He was keen to finesse saddle folding and stitching from a flat sheet, but the rival from Horizon was a much larger machine. He asked Duplo if it had anything smaller and more appropriate to his needs. It did.

“As luck had it the iSaddle had been launched only a day or two before and it was just what we were after. The StitchLiner is the only machine to compare with the new Duplo and is a fabulous system – I won’t diss the Horizon – but the iSaddle was better for us. It is very, very fast to set up and does A4 landscape booklets as well as portrait-format work, which the StitchLiner can’t,” says Wenlock.

The iSaddle looked ideal, with three-knife trimming to save time on the guillotine and 20 stations instead of the more usual 10 on other machines to ensure bigger booklets and efficient pre-stacking. Meanwhile Duplo made the right noises on service and back-up. Wenlock was taking no chances, however. After all, this was his first experience with a Duplo system. Everything hinged on the demo.

“We looked at a few configurations for booklets but I was really interested in seeing how the machine handled landscape sheets, which tend to swing around quite a bit. We also looked at the speed it changed from one type of job to another, from a tiny booklet to an A4 booklet, or from one material to another in terms of collating – the kind of things we’ll face in its day-to-day operation,” says Wenlock.

If the demo went well, the installation was a doddle. “The beauty of this investment is there was no prepping needed of IT, electrics or the premises to fit the machine,” says Wenlock. “We cleared a bit of space by moving a few pieces of finishing equipment, but once we had done that it was really straightforward. The kit was installed and assembled in a day, training took only half a day and then we were away. Easy.” 

Finesse finish

Now it’s up and running, the iSaddle collates flat sheets with ease. But the big difference between this and most other bookletmakers is sheets are scored and sent over a saddle before being stitched instead of being stitched while flat and then folded. On bulky booklets the latter process can sometimes produce a bulge in the booklet, not good for all that blue-chip gloss.

But the new machine at Flexpress produces a much tighter spine especially on the thicker booklets. “This configuration takes flat sheets, collates, scores and folds them over the stitcher, then lays them flat and trims the edges to leave you with a finished booklet that looks and feels great,” Wenlock says.

The Duplo iSaddle produces A4 landscape-format brochures and books of up to 120pp. The maximum flat sheet size is 356x508mm with a minimum of 105x210mm or 174x254mm for a landscape format. DSC 10-/60i suction towers help maintain accuracy and each tower of 10 bins comes with Air Management System Plus (AMS+) as standard. 

According to Duplo, the iSaddle system offers quick job changeover for less machine downtime, ideal for an industry moving to shorter run lengths and a greater proportion of digitally printed work, while the entire machine can be managed by a single operator.

Flexpress, which produces more than 100,000 booklets a month, is running the Duplo at around 3,000 sheets an hour and, since commissioning the new machine, has doubled the amount of work it is running through it. The 20 stations enable Wenlock’s team to pre-stack booklets while others are being fed into the system to further speed up production.

“The machine does everything we expected it would. The only learning curve has been with the imposition; you have to get all the gutters in the right place for trimming, which means everything has to be central on the sheet. But this is more of a studio and training issue than a finishing problem, and there were no real glitches with this technology.

“We’ve had the odd, minor issue where we’ve had to phone up the service department, such as when one of the sensors needed to be cleaned of dust, but we’ve not had an engineer out for several months. There has been nothing you wouldn’t expect from equipment like this and there have certainly been no nasty surprises. Now it’s up and running we have already done a couple of demos for Duplo.

“The best thing about the machine is how much time we save and its ability to produce landscape booklets when before we had to send them out. This has given us a competitive edge on pricing. The only negative aspect – and one we believe Duplo is addressing – is to do with software. In a perfect world we could use one tower to collate work and the other to make booklets. But we can’t do that yet: the machine is capable, but the option is not there yet on the software. We’ve been told ‘that’s in the pipeline’.”

Super service

If the machine did almost everything Wenlock expected, “the service has without a doubt exceeded our expectations: I’d heard Duplo were good on service, and this has proved true. Being one of their first installations, I’m sure they were especially keen for everything to go well with the iSaddle, but I’m sure that would be the case with any equipment.”

Wenlock would recommend the machine “with no hesitations”.

However, the figures elsewhere are perfectly revealing: “The iSaddle has boosted turnover, getting on for half of which is from books and booklets. In the first three months of this year our turnover from booklets was up 20% on the same quarter last year. We are able to get through more work and have increased capacity.

“But we have also been able to produce a better quality booklet because the sheet registration from sheet to sheet is super – the crease down the spine is so much tighter and flatter.” 


Max sheet size 356x508mm

Min sheet size 120x210mm

Max product thickness 30 sheets of 80gsm (120 page booklet)

Number of collator towers Up to four DSC-10/60i suction towers, each with 10 bins

Speed 4,500 A5 booklets per hour (9,000 with DKT-200 Trimmer)

Options Collating towers, sheet feeder, head and foot trimmer, criss-cross stacker, straight and offset stacker, up to four Hohner flat/loop heads, 6pp cover insert kit, sheet by sheet air kit

Price £115,000-£120,000

Contact Duplo 01932 263900 

Company profile 

Flexpress has been running since 1989 and its 26 staff have a collective experience of more than 500 years. According to managing director Steve Wenlock, “we’ve got most bases covered”, rolling out anything from 250 business cards to thousands of glossy training manuals for blue-chip clients. Average print runs number 3,000 and kit includes Ryobi 785 and 524 GX litho presses, an HP Indigo 5600 and Océ Arizona flatbed UV printer for large-format jobs. Flexpress has a host of finishing kit including guillotines, laminators, perfect binders and, now, the Duplo iSaddle.

Why it was bought...

“Booklets have become a bigger part of our business, so we wanted to increase productivity and bump up the rate at which we carry out staple folding,” says Wenlock. “We also wanted to do A4 landscape booklets as well as portrait-format work, which other kit cannot undertake.”

How it has performed...

“The Duplo iSaddle has made a huge difference to the way booklets are made and handled, and when we went down to see the machine and learned about the service, it gave us 100% confidence. The machine does everything we expected of it and has boosted turnover.”


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