By Cassandra Balentine
High-speed finishing solutions streamline high-volume digital print operations served by inkjet. Saddle stitching systems are designed to handle high volumes, enabling applications including financial and healthcare documents, direct mail, and brochures, as well as testing booklets and other educational materials.
The Role of Saddle Stitchers
Saddle stitchers represent one of many binding methods suited for digital printing. A mainstay in traditional print settings, these solutions have adapted to serve on demand environments.
“Stitching and booklet making is by far the most popular method of binding in our industry,” says Joe Bondonna, product manager, Spiral. He says this is due to the technology’s simplicity and the fact that it is a cost-effective solution for binding small booklets.
Saddle stitchers fulfill the same need in the digital print market space as they have for many years in the traditional cutsheet and offset web world. Rob Flinn, director of business development, Standard Finishing Systems, notes that in the past, saddle stitchers have provided an inexpensive, highly productive means for producing large volumes of multi-page brochures, manuals, test booklets, newsletters, journals, and magazine programs. These same products are today printed on digital presses in shorter run lengths with more challenging deadlines and an increasing level of personalization.
Digital saddle stitching solutions are used in the production of short-run, high-volume, and more sophisticated print/direct mail products, particularly when format variability and content customization are involved. “These nuances demand that a high degree of automation be present in every phase of the finishing process in order to achieve optimum production efficiencies,” says Douglas Stryker, solution manager, print and finishing, Direct Mail Systems, Muller Martini.
He adds that with digital saddle stitching equipment, content can be personalized page by page for a particular individual in a relatively uncomplicated process. What’s more, because a saddle stitcher can accept rolls of various sizes—up to 40-inches wide—there’s more flexibility with a job’s layout, which can result in not only less blank pages, but the ability to perform hybrid production where both cutsheets and signatures are combined in a single book.
Markets and Volumes
Digital print technologies keep advancing, enabling faster speeds that accommodate variability. Digital print equipment continues to get faster, driven by market requirements for individualized short-run work.
To keep up with this, modern saddle stitching solutions are designed to provide a blend of speed and versatility to minimize changeover time and maximize efficiency. “As in the past, saddle stitching satisfies the need for a range of products and markets. However, today’s digital saddle stitching solutions excel in markets that require quick turnaround, a range of substrates, personalization, tracking, and minimal waste. This is particularly true in data-sensitive markets like finance, healthcare, insurance, testing, and target marketing,” shares Flinn.
Bondonna says that at one time, the digital print market was viewed as a print environment focused on low production, short-run applications and that is still true. “However, the lines of the digital print and commercial print markets have blurred. With that in mind, a range of stitching equipment is available to handle everything from 500 to five million booklets.”
Industries such as medical, financial, and insurance companies use digital saddle stitching solutions to process personalized statements, prospectus, and policies featuring highly confidential material. “Those industries must adhere to strict government regulations with regard to printing and distributing private information. That includes validating that all material was produced and distributed accurately. In addition, because of heightened confidentiality concerns—as well as unnecessary expense—saddle stitchers are better equipped to process products with a minimal number of blank pages,” says Stryker.
Stryker adds that digital saddle stitching is utilized for high-volume, low count applications. “For example, a production run can number 40,000 books, but every single book is personalized, resulting in 40,000 books of one. A total of 7,000 to 8,000 books can be processed per hour.”
Benefits and Limitations of Saddle Stitch Binding
There are several benefits to saddle stitching, including affordability, efficiency, and availability. However, durability and maximum thickness are limitations.
“Because it’s a simpler process, less material and labor are required to operate a digital saddle stitching line when compared with a perfect bound operation. This translates to an investment advantage since the unit cost to produce a saddle stitched book is less than a perfect bound book,” explains Stryker.
Saddle stitchers run faster than perfect binders, delivering more books per hour. “One reason is because there’s no adhesive curing time required as in perfect binding. In addition, depending on its level of automation, a digital saddle stitching solution requires less manual intervention and experienced labor,” he adds.
Saddle stitching generally comes with a lower cost of production and reduced production steps compared to perfect binding or mechanical binding. In addition, saddle stitched products lend themselves to efficient inserting in automated mailing systems and often result in lower mailing costs, according to Flinn.
Stitching is a perfect low-cost solution for creating booklets. “With a range of equipment available, there is a machine that will fit every requirement,” says Bondonna.
While saddle stitching may be faster, cheaper, and more efficient than other options like perfect binding, Flinn points out that page count and durability are often determining factors on whether or not it’s the best method to use for a particular job. Compared with saddle stitching, perfect binding provides a higher quality appearance, particularly at higher page counts. “High-end products tend to be perfect bound,” he adds.
Bondonna believes that the main limitation on stitching is book thickness, especially on any equipment with automation. Additionally, thicker books don’t lie flat and tend to spring open. They are a more unitarian look where other mechanical binding systems can present a product with a perceived higher value.
Saddle stitchers can only accommodate products with a thickness of one-half inch or less. Thicker products must be perfect bound or sewn, adds Stryker.
One thing to consider is the availability of integrated inspection systems. “Because of confidentiality and government mandates, validation, and integrity enhancements are critical components of many digital saddle stitching solutions. If a printer is producing a test booklet, they must verify that every page in that booklet was produced and appears in its proper sequence,” says Stryker. Likewise, he says it is imperative that not only are an individual’s financial and healthcare statements accurate, but that this material is distributed to only that particular individual.
“It’s interesting to note that of validation and compliance issues are key reasons why many players in this arena market themselves as data and analytic solutions providers. Stryker points out that their ability to safeguard, print, and distribute highly sensitive data is simply an extension of their product and service offerings.
Saddle Stitching Solutions
Print providers rely on a range of options for optimal finishing. Saddle stitching is one method with many benefits including affordability, efficiency, and availability.
May2019, DPS Magazine