Me & my... Watkiss PowerSquare TM 200

As the old adage goes, 'If you want something doing, do it yourself.' This was certainly the logic employed by the Communications Workers Union (CWU) when it decided to purchase a Watkiss PowerSquare TM 200 stitcher, folder and trimmer to complement its in-house printing department.

The investment, designed to allow the union to produce all of its own booklets in-plant, was also motivated by the more specific adage, ‘If you want something doing more cost-effectively, do it yourself.’

The CWU represents members in postal, telecoms, administrative and financial companies, including the Royal Mail Group, BT, O2, Virgin Media, Orange, ComputaCenter and Santander and, in these times of austerity, it has a responsibility to keep costs down for its members. A printing department replete with Nashutec MP4001, MP201SPF and MP5001 presses, a Ricoh Pro C900 digital press and Pro 1357EX, and a Nashutec MP9001 black-and-white copier, was certainly doing its bit. But the department’s old Vario 4 SLM DFS, with a bookmaster trim and spine master, was letting the side down when it came to producing booklets any larger than 20 A3 pages.

"Before, we would send out some of our conference agendas to be printed and bound, but we can do loads more now; we’re not limited by the size we can bind," says CWU print manager Debby Akerman, citing the cost of outsourcing, including VAT and transport costs, as the main motivation for replacing the Vario 4 SLM DFS with the Watkiss PowerSquare TM 200 in February this year.

Bringing larger book-binding operations in-house came with the added benefit of a much faster and easy to use machine.

"It’s definitely an upgrade on the machine we had before," says Akerman. "The old machine always seemed to be jammed with lights flicking on and off. If you had a jam you had to literally trace
back which tray it came from and try to restart it."

The new machine, by comparison, hardly ever jams, she says. She ascribes this to its much more sophisticated technology. The old binder separated the number of pages needed for the inside of each booklet by dropping them from trays to be stitched, folded and trimmed. This would often cause kinks in the paper, according to Akerman, which in turn led to time-consuming jams.

Air-assisted suction feed
The Watkiss PowerSquare improves upon this system by employing an air-assisted suction feed to separate the number of pages required for one booklet’s inside pages, lifting them up and then drawing them smoothly into the machine.

The feed-in system is also a dramatic improvement on the last machine in terms of the number of pages that can be lined up in preparation, says Akerman.

"The tray that you put the substrate in is like a little trolley," she says, "You can stack significantly more pages here than before. For instance, we did a job this week with 150 booklets and all of the materials for them could go in the stacker at once. But, before, you could only put in a very small amount and, consequently, you had to keep refilling the machine."

Of course jams still occur from time to time, but the PowerSquare radically improves on its predecessor when things go wrong, says Akerman.

"It’s really easy to use," she explains. "If anything goes wrong, a red light comes on and you press help and it goes through every part of the machine to identify exactly where the problem is. Then you just use the user manual to work out what the error message means and how to solve the problem."

Akerman feels the three days of training she and her co-worker Cliff James received in situ left them well equipped to resolve any maintenance issues on their own. In fact they are so well prepared that Akerman and James have only ever had to call Watkiss’ helpline twice: once when they had typed in the wrong settings and so quickly realised, a few moments after placing the call, that they could resolve the problem themselves after all, and another time to check the date the machine had been installed, for this article.

"I think we feel like we’ve had it longer than we have because we’re so used to using it," says Akerman. "It’s just part of the furniture now."

It’s not surprising that Akerman can’t remember exactly when the PowerSquare was installed – while a lot of machines suffer from teething problems in the first few weeks, the installation of the PowerSquare went entirely without drama, she says.

"It was very easy to install as we’re on the ground floor," she reveals. "Watkiss measured how big the boxes would be to come in and it was just one out, one in, all in the same day."

The one factor that could have made installation more difficult is the PowerSquare’s size.

"I work in a very large room so it’s not a problem that it’s a huge machine," she explains. "But it could be a problem for other companies considering going in-house with their print. Even if you look at the specifications, you don’t realise how large it is until you actually see one in the flesh."

If Akerman’s experience is anything to go by, however, Watkiss does its utmost to ensure that prospective customers know exactly what they are getting before they buy. Organised through their consultant, Karlson UK, Akerman and James visited the factory in Bedfordshire to see the PowerSquare and its components being made. It was this hands-on demonstration of the machine’s construction and operation, and the valued advice of Karlson, which helps the CWU’s printing department source all of their machines, that clinched the deal for the organisation.

 "We didn’t really look at any other models, as we were happy with what we’d been shown in the first place," says Akerman. "Watkiss seemed really helpful so we were happy that we would be given a good level of support."

Impressive demonstration
The demonstrations Akerman and James were given at the Bedfordshire plant have also given them the confidence to recommend the machine to those considering it for more demanding applications.

"We don’t do mega-glossy brochures, as we’re trying to save money, and we only do A3 and A4 booklets," says Akerman. "But when we went to the factory we were shown how the machine could cope with really heavy glossy paper and the quality was really good. The guy was doing tiny booklets and huge ones of all different shapes, so I have no doubt that it performs as well for more demanding jobs."

Akerman is therefore happy to recommend the PowerSquare to both commercial and in-house operations. She says that, while simple and user friendly enough for an in-house printing department at a union or local council, the PowerSquare is certainly up to the demands of a commercial workload. Watkiss reports around a 50/50 split between the two different applications in the UK.

Although impressive-looking high-quality booklets are not the name of the game for the CWU’s printing department, the machine’s SquareBack book-binding capabilities are a nice added extra when it comes to the look of the finished products, says Akerman. The feature creates square, perfect-bound spines, which can look neater on some booklets, she says, but, when the SquareBack finishing feature is turned off, there is no noticeable improvement in quality compared with the PowerSquare’s predecessor.

The machine’s main contribution to the CWU, then, is saving the union a significant amount of money. The organisation estimates that bringing binding of larger conference agendas, as well as their annual pay rate handbook, in-house has saved it £10,000 since February. The printing department is also hoping to take on more work in the future as a result of acquiring the PowerSquare.

"In the past, some of our departments purposely haven’t requested large booklets because of the cost of it going out externally," says Akerman. "Now we’re hoping we can help move the organisation forward, as people start to understand what we are now able to do for them."

And so, in the light of added capabilities that cater even more effectively for the organisation’s printing needs, perhaps the CWU’s maxim might be: ‘If you want to make considerable savings and expand the range of printed materials your organisation can produce... do it yourself’.


Min stock sizes


Max stock sizes

Stock range
70-250gsm dependant on paper type and quality

Min book thickness
Two sheets (when folded makes an eight-page booklet)

Max book thickness
10mm (approx 200 pages 80gsm)

Max fore-edge trim

Min trimmed book size

approx £85,000

Watkiss 01767 685700

Company profile
The Communication Workers Union is the biggest union for the communications industry in the UK, representing members in postal, telecoms, mobile, administrative and financial companies. The union keeps its printing costs down by producing the majority of its booklets, including conference agendas, in-house on a range of printing, copying and binding machines.

Why I bought it…
While able to bind books of 20 A3 pages or fewer, the union’s Vario 4 SLM DFS could not cater for CWU’s larger conference booklets, which had to be outsourced to be printed and bound. The organisation realised that it could make significant savings by bringing all booklet-making in-house.

How it has performed…
Debby Akerman, print manager at CWU, says that the machine has performed with absolutely no hitches since its installation in February this year. "We’ve had absolutely no problems with it," she says, "I can’t fault it."


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