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Feeders and Collators

Producing items such as calendars, brochures, or books? Feeders and collators can ensure your print production process is effortless. Jo Golding looks at the core products and their strengths

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Feeders and collators are key pieces of technology for the smooth running of making printed products such as booklets and brochures

Smooth operator

There are plenty of seemingly unimportant things that play an integral role in our lives. The same can be said for the print industry, with machines such as feeders and collators key for a smooth production process. While a collator stacks the paper, a feeder ensures a steady flow of paper into your chosen printer—something no printing company should be without. As well as making the process more fluid, it also means it is more automated with less need for manual intervention.

One company providing solutions for a range of collating jobs is Col-Tec, located in Hampshire. Managing director, Paul Bailey, talks about the products the company provides: “Col-Tec offer a complete range of collators from standard models B5, B4, B3, B2 and B1 to customised sheet sizes.

“The number of feed stations is decided by the customer and built by Col-Tec to specification. Col-Tec feeders are so versatile that the stock range is potentially unlimited and starts from lightweight tissue paper right through the range and up to thick board, as well as folded sections and books.

“That versatility is the Col-Tec’s key strength—it provides the company with a multiple number of market segments including calendars, brochures, point of sale, mail fulfilment, credit and security cards and a vast range of fringe applications involving braille books, sets for wrapping flowers and wallpaper pattern books etc.”

O Factoid: The origin of the word ‘collate’ can be traced back to 1550-60, with the Latin word ‘collatus’ (past participle of ‘conferre’ to bring together). O

Bailey highlights the importance of this equipment: “Clearly no print job is complete until it is fully finished. Collating and in-line finishing applications therefore help release the product to the end-user, allowing the supplier to close the job and invoice for the printed items provided. Where Col-Tec collators reduce high manual labour costs and/or produce much quicker turnaround, the investment can provide both an excellent return, as well as being vital in delivering a highly efficient service.”

Col-Tec has introduced a new solution to the market for automatically collating bespoke sets. The ‘smart collator’, using an ethernet connection, will automatically collate all set patterns from job data spread sheets.

Col-Tec’s smart collator (showroom model pictured here) automatically collates bespoke sets

Bailey continues: “Collating machines have been designed and supplied to deliver tens of thousands of collated sets of the same configuration. Now the world’s most versatile collator can deliver collated sets on demand, meaning that no two sets need necessarily be the same. They can be store or client specific no matter how small the quantities and any number of store or client jobs can be collated continuously without interruption.

Now the world’s most versatile collator can deliver collated sets on demand, meaning that no two sets need necessarily be the same

“Typical applications for these smart collators have been associated with large formats up to 1,600mm x 1,100mm, but can be produced in any size including much smaller formats. In-line delivery conveyors can be linked to printers, wrapping and boxing machines to better automate a previously intensive, slow and costly labour operation.”

High performance

Intelligent Finishing Systems (IFS) has a range of solutions such as the Horizon VAC-1000/VAC-600H, VAC-80S, Horizon HOF-400, Horizon Cover Feeder CF-400, and Horizon HIF-400.

“The VAC-1000/VAC-600H takes advantage of Horizon’s unique feeding technology and continues the Horizon development concept of ‘high speed’, ‘high performance’ and ‘high quality’,” explains Bryan Godwyn, managing director of IFS.

He continues: “The VAC-1000/VAC-600H performs a wide range of applications at high productivity, with flexible but powerful programming and user-friendly operation. Its unique rotary suction feeding system operates effectively on a wide range of paper stocks.” It can also be placed in-line with Horizon bookletmaking systems.

If printers want a flexible system configuration for both digital and offset print environments, IFS recommends the Horizon HOF-400.

IFS’ VAC-1000 has a unique rotary suction feeding system, which operates effectively on a range of paper stocks

Godwyn explains: “The Horizon HOF-400 high speed offline feeder feeds digitally printed sheets and transports the sheets to the next process. It provides flexible system configurations such as cover feeding, sheet insert on, variable page count, bleed trimming and creasing for digital printing. It can process both digital and offset print at a speed of 25,000 sheets per hour (A3 / 11” x 17”) and 35,000 sheets per hour (A4 SEF/ 8.5” x 11”). It is capable of handling the output of multiple printers.”

Godwyn believes automation is a key factor in postpress systems, as shorter runs and personalised print becomes more important, adding: “But the set-up and control interface needs to be simple and straightforward so that operators can readily adapt to a number of systems to produce high quality results quickly and efficiently to maximise productivity and eliminate bottlenecks. This is where Horizon, the trailblazer in this field and market-leader in automated quick-response bindery systems, has really got it right—its intuitive touchscreens share universal icon-based commands and simple navigation fields.”

Work together

Duplo’s range of feeders and collators can be used together or separately. The DSF-2200, which comes as part of the iSaddle 2 Digital System and the 600 Digital Booklet Systems, feeds up to 200 sheets per minute. It is ideal for short to mid-volume jobs.

Sarah Crumpler, Duplo UK’s marketing manager, comments: “It comes loaded with a number of high-end features including Duplo’s own belt suction feed system, front and side air separation, an anti-static device and ultrasonic double feed detection for enhanced feed reliability. It feeds increased paper sizes up to 14” x 20” (or 9.05” x 24” via optional Extension Tray Kit) and offers a variety of options including a trail edge air kit, pre-loading kit, and 1D and 2D barcode readers.”

Duplo also offers the DSF-6000, which has three times the capacity of the DSF-2200 sheet feeder, and comes as part of the PRO version of systems previously mentioned.

Crumpler adds: “Other benefits include the ability to process personalised booklets with full integrity, a separate cover feeder, an advanced Air Management System that ensures consistent feeding on a wide variety of paper sizes, speeds of up to 600 sheets/min and ultrasonic sensors that accurately detect any feed errors.”

The DSC-10/60i Suction Tower Collators also come as part of the iSaddle 2 System and 600i Booklet System. “Featuring a large bin capacity of 65mm and connecting up to four towers allows the feeding of multiple subsets or complete sets in various configurations,” says Crumpler.

She continues: “Each tower of 10 bins comes with A.M.S.+ (Air Management System Plus) as standard. Operated through the PC Controller, this unique feeding system manages the high power fans that create air flow and vacuum independently for each bin, enabling reliable feeding regardless of paper weight or size.”

Crumpler says the more reliable the feeding and collating systems, the less manual intervention is required, which saves times and money: “The feeding needs the right functionality for the jobs you’re processing. It has to support the accuracy and integrity of sets, speed of job change overs, flexibility, stocks that can be fed, and ensure reliability by avoiding paper jams.”

The importance of this has grown due to printers being under pressure to get products finished as quickly as possible. Crumpler adds: “When customers are working in minutes and hours, not days, finishing needs to keep up to speed. Highly automated solutions support this. As do high quality, reliable and consistent systems.”

Load and go

Morgana Systems recently launched the AF602 and VF602, automated feeding units for Morgana’s production BM2000/BM2000s and BM500/350 automated booklet making systems.

Ray Hillhouse, vice-president offline business at Morgana Systems, says: “The AF602 is a high capacity dual bin feeder for loading pre-collated sets from digital print engines. It’s specifically designed for digital applications and appeals to the type of printer used to digital print engines. These printers are used to loading paper trays on their print engines, and the AF602 follows a similar style for loading. We find a lot of these operators do not have experience with collators, so having a similar configuration helps.

Ray Hillhouse of Morgana Systems says customers are now being asked to handle jobs with variable data and personalisation

“The AF602 can be loaded with up to 570mm of stock, and when one bin runs out of material the system automatically switches to the next. This means that the system can be loaded on the run. The machine is capable of feeding sets with mixed stock in the set, so for example if a set is produced with a heavier cover, the feeder is smart enough to detect this, and will calibrate the set including cover for the run.”

Morgana also offers the AFC510 air assisted smart tower feeder/collator. Hillhouse explains: “The ACF510 ten-station machine can be used as either a straight collator for printed sections or as a smart programmable feeder for pre-collated sets along with offset printed sections, inserts etc. which is a distinct advantage for printers who have digital and litho production.”

Looking to the future of this technology, Hillhouse says equipment is changing to accommodate new markets with the introduction of multiple bin deep pile feeders utilising both air and suction fed feed systems.

He also advises first time buyers of the most important features they should look out for: “Future proofing, having the ability to ‘load and go’ up to 570mm deep of printed sheets. Being able to combine pre-collated text with self-cover or feed a separate cover that could have been laminated, foiled or printed on a different device.

Customers are being asked to handle jobs with variable data and personalisation, the latest generation of Morgana feeders can also be equipped with Barcode readers.”

Jo Watkiss, communications director of Watkiss Automation, highlights the important role feeders play in print finishing, saying: “Feeders play an important, often essential, role in the finishing process. They enable digital print to be finished offline—or they can be integrated into an inline print and finishing solution. As a near-line solution, they give great flexibility, especially when finishing the output of multiple printers.”

Watkiss says the company’s feeders work together with bookletmakers to “covert stacks of pre-collated documents, from colour or monochrome digital presses, into high quality stitched booklets.”

The company has two feeders in its range, the PSF and PSQ160-Feeder. Watkiss explains: “The PSF will take a stack of paper up to 500mm high and will feed up to 10,800 sheets per hour. It includes a second bin for feeding covers. It is equipped with large suction belts which are well proven to reliably feed a wide range of printed papers and is equipped with OMR (optical mark recognition) or barcode sensing for sheet control and integrity checking.

“The PSQ160-Feeder has modular feed bins, including standard and high capacity options. It is suction fed for reliability and features hands-free adjustment. It includes standard OMR in all feed bins with optional barcode readers.” It is designed to work with Watkiss’ PowerSquare 160—a complete bookletmaking system that staples, folds, forms, and trims in a single pass—and will feed sheets up to 620mm long for A4 landscape books.

Watkiss Automation’s PowerSquare 160 bookletmaker with dual bin feeders

I will leave you with a comment made by Crumpler of Duplo UK, which summarises the key criteria for printers when choosing feeders and collators: “They all want the same: easy integration, automation, precision and minimal wastage.”

After all, it is a competitive market and any way printers can make themselves stand out is worth doing, which a lot of the time can be done through investing in the right technology.

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