A 'World's First' for 'World's Oldest' Bookbinder
Acme Bookbinding's newest worker can't get injured on the job when doing back-breaking work. The reason: It's a robot.
One of the most labor-intensive and expensive tasks in our industry is the chore of cutting cover materials for hardcover bindings.
Generally, cutting cover materials is not a problem for large edition bindings. Kolbus and Crawley have furnished the industry with equipment where cover materials cut from rolls are de-curled, and are either sheeted or cut to size, with remarkable efficiency. Still, lifting a 54" roll of covering material, and mounting it into a cloth cutting machine, is hard, back-breaking work.
These days, with larger edition runs increasingly an exception, book manufacturers must adopt new technologies to cope with extremely short runs and on-demand tasks. This means they have to change such heavy rolls more often, and if that's not handled in a professional manner, pay workman's compensation.
Back problems are a binder's worst nightmare. Time lost due to back problems and claims is expensive. The solution is automation; not to work harder, but to work smarter.
Acme Bookbinding, located in Charlestown, Mass., near Boston, traces its roots as a Library Binder to 1821. Long before on-demand was in demand, Acme understood the need develop technology to bind one book at a time, in a cost efficient manner.
In 1975, owner Bud Parisi transferred his majority ownership to oldest son Paul, a Harvard economics graduate. John Parisi, Bud's other son, joined the company in 1980, after graduation from Bentley College; today he's Acme's plant manager.
In 1984, Paul decided to expand into edition bookbinding. He soon built a well respected, world-class hardcover and paperback book production facility. A recent visit to Acme's edition, on-demand, and library binding operations confirmed the reasons for their remarkable success in a tough and competitive business environment.
Their 'secret': modern, computerized, up-to-date machinery, which allows fast-change-over and, best of all, produces superior quality products. Short runs represent no special challenge to Acme, as they bind up to 3,000 individual books every day.
These books have different titles, dimensions (height, width, bulk), different colors, and different binding material. Their on-hand technology is ideal for small-edition runs of one to several hundred copies.
As such, Acme is perhaps the best equipped facility to handle virtually every job, from a 100,000-edition run to a small-edition run, or even individual books.
Some of Acme's recent investments in leading-edge equipment include automated book sewing; a new Kolbus perfect binder capable of producing hotmelt, PUR, or cold-emulsion adhesive bindings; Horauf casemaking and a Muller Martini VBF BL500 hardcover line.
An expert in economics, Paul Parisi quickly recognized a valuable new tool for his binding establishment: the all new EZ-Cut cover material cutting robot. As stated earlier, the back-breaking job of cutting cover materials efficiently required a solution.
The EZ-Cut answer came from Jack Bendror, president of Mekatronics Inc., a machinery supplier in Port Washington, N.Y. Bendror invented many machines used daily in library binderies and, now, in on-demand binding establishments.
A careful study of the materials used in library and in on-demand hard cover binding revealed that, on average, binders keep an inventory of six to 10 different sizes, in 20 to 24 different colors.
Because cutting small quantities from rolls is another expensive and back-breaking task, most binders opt to pay premium prices for pre-cut pieces. These are stored in bins, and must subsequently be cut to the right size. The final dimension is dictated by the actual measurement of the height, width, and thickness of the book block. With some premium covering materials costing $5 a yard or more, waste becomes a significant cost.
The key to developing an efficient cutting system is computerized measuring. In library binding, each individual book block is measured, and the dimensions of the covering material are automatically computed. Since it's all done with software, "it is as simple as swiping a bar code," Parisi says.
The system identifies the job, the number of pieces required, and so on. For example, there might be 10 of one edition, five of another, and 40 of another. With no formal contract, the engineers at Mekatronics went to work. The result was the EZ-Cut robot, which cuts individual pieces of covering materials off rolls, without human intervention.
In this, the world's first cutting robot, waste is minimized, as the cover material is dispensed from rolls stored in the Paternoster elevators. This is basically a tower in the form of a vertical carousel.
At Acme, four such towers are used to store four different width rolls. Each tower can accommodate 24 rolls of material in 24 colors for a total of 96 rolls. (Using four different sizes eliminates costly waste.)
The four towers remain stationary while the cutting station travels on rails that are brought automatically into position in front of each of tower. Software brings the roll of the required color into position. It then instructs the robot to slit the roll to the proper height, and cut to the required width.
At the cutting station, a notch is punched at the center of one edge. This is essential for subsequent centering of the cover material in lettering and case-making machines.
As the rolls are furnished pre-slit to a width of 11" to 17.5", they are easy to handle and mount in the robot. Loaded from the rear of the towers, a leading edge of 3/4" of material is allowed to extend, and is ultimately picked up by the cloth transport system. An ink-jet printer is used to identify each piece of cloth.
At Acme Bookbinding, the cut and notched pieces of cover materials are loaded into eight trays in a stacker. Next, they go to Flesher Corp. System 3 hot stamping systems. With another unattended robot at work, each cover is stamped with its unique title.
Case making follows on the Mek-a-Case, a sophisticated carousel-type case making machine capable of producing 20 cases a minute, each of a different dimension—and with zero, zip, zilch, set-up time!
Asked if the groundbreaking EZ-Cut robot will pay for itself, Parisi says his new machine will save Acme over $100,000 annually. It works independently, doesn't take breaks or call in sick, and doesn't need health insurance or a parking space.
– Werner Rebsamen
Werner Rebsamen is Professor Emeritus at Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, N.Y. He can be reached at WTRebs@Localnet.com.