Star product - Smyth F1088 book sewing machine

Barney Cox
Thursday, January 31, 2013

Those needing to stitch really big books won't find many options available, but this machine should fit the bill

Smyth launched the F1088, a semi-automatic thread sewing machine, notable for being able to handle truly massive books – over half a metre square – last year. It is, according to Steve Giddens, managing director of Smyth’s UK reseller Perfect Bindery Solutions, worthy of a small fanfare: "It’s the first new large-format sewing machine to come to market in 40 years."

That gives some idea of one target audience – anyone out there whose existing machine is getting long in the tooth and for which spares and consumables may be becoming hard to come by.

At the other end of the scale, it is also perfect for some of the latest print applications: high-end photobooks. The fact that it sews ensures a high-quality result that lays flat when the book is open – important for any images going across the gutter. For digital work, sewing has another benefit: the book is robust and so there is no danger of the pages falling out, unlike with some glue bindings that struggle to adhere to toner. No-one wants that when you’re dealing with high-value one-off products with a price tag that runs to several hundred quid.

What does it do?
It sews sections together to make book blocks. After the Smyth F1088 has sewn your book, you do need to apply the cover. Typically that will be a casing-in process involving applying end-papers, spine glue and a board cover.

How does it work?
It’s a semi-automatic book thread sewing machine. The user selects the format size and the number of sections, then manually places the sections into the machine. A pedal activates the sewing heads, which automatically carry out the fiddly sewing bit.

What is its USP?
Size. The ability to handle large-format books with a spine to fore-edge depth of 500m and a spine length of 550mm enables the production of some mammoth books. That size means it can comfortably handle the largest of coffee table fine art and photobooks, even if they are A3 landscape format. "Nothing else sews this big," says Giddens. "You can get machines that side sew rather than spine sew, but then the book doesn’t lay flat, which defeats the whole purpose of the exercise for art and photobooks."

How easy is it to use?
"Anyone should be able to make a book on the F1088 after half an hour’s training," says Giddens. The operator opens a section with the spine over the saddle, presses the pedal and the machine stitches that section and gets ready for the next one. Once the required number of sections are completed, the pedal is depressed once more on an empty cycle to activate a lock stitch cycle to join the sections together. The book block is then ready to be covered and the machine ready for the next book.

How fast is it?
It will stitch 15 sections per minute, so the throughput depends on how many sections per book. Section size can be from 4pp through to 32pp and stitching speed is independent of section size. If you are producing a batch of books of the same size you can run on immediately to the next book – a stream of separated books are delivered at the back of the machine.

Changeover from one format to another is also quick, taking just 20 seconds, says Giddens. This rapid change from format to format is a key part of the F1088’s appeal in the short-run market. In fact, according to PBS, a super secretive UK customer is using it to soak up short runs, while keep his faster running but slower to set up kit fed with more appropriate work.

What support is on offer?
All the support you need, which isn’t much, says Giddens. He adds that the only consumable is thread, and it comes with 12 spools of that. Aside from that, the only bits to wear out are the needles and hooks, which are "tried and tested Smyth components". To get up and running you need three-phase power and a source of clean dry air to run the pneumatics.

What is the sales target?
To date, one UK printer has got one, but they are so pleased with it they don’t want anyone to know they’ve got it. There are several other firms close to signing on the dotted line, according to Perfect Bindery Solutions. 



Max signature size
510x550 mm
Min signature size 80x135mm
Max mechanical speed 15cycles/min
Max number of stitches
Stitch length and distance 18mm
Air consumption 200l/min
Air pressure 6 bar
£30,000 (subject to exchange rate)
Perfect Bindery Solutions 01993 840077



The short answer is there are none. Well, nothing directly comparable that offers the ease of use, automation, format and price. You could look at secondhand Muller Martini machines, if price is an issue, but they will be a 40-something-year-old design. PBS also sells the ODM if you want large formats, but that is a side sewer, so the results don’t lay flat, and the equivalent format Super Sewer XXL is a lot pricier at £53,000. Smyth also has another large-format machine, the Magnum, which can handle an even longer 615mm spine, but at £100,000, it will set you back more than three-times the price of the F1088.



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