Aside from the usual variety of scoring, perforating and cutting tools that you can add to your folding machine, there are other productivity add-ons you might not have heard about. Or maybe your post-press operation has grown, and that long-forgotten accessory you didn’t need five years ago is exactly what you need today.
Here are ten folder accessories ranging from the simple to the complex, listed in no particular order. Some of them will work with any model of folding machine while others are limited to specific models and years. The common denominator is that they all have a big bang for the buck invested.
Pre-Slitter Shafts. Also called front-mounted slitter shafts, these shafts are typically located before the parallel folding section. The big benefit here is that the pre-slitter gives you much greater flexibility in positioning scoring tools, perfs and trims on any given sheet. They also make it easier and faster to get good registration, since you are performing your operations before it hits the folding section.
And yes, these shafts can be added to some folders. Stahl TH/KH and TD series folders can be retrofitted with pre-slitter shafts and you can also retrofit the right angle sections of their TH machines. To my knowledge most other folders would have to be ordered from the factory with pre-slitters installed. Check with your manufacturer to be sure.
Electronic Counters with Batch Control. Of course almost all new folders come with built-in batch counters. But if you run an older machine on a regular basis, an electronic batch counter can give you an instant boost in productivity. They’re simple, inexpensive and available from most bindery parts suppliers.
Banding Presses. This is an old-school, low-cost accessory that goes hand-in-hand with the Batch Counter. Even the smallest of folding operations can benefit from using one of these widely available devices.
The bander compresses a stack of folded pieces so that you can add a paper band, making a neat, professional presentation. Folding jobs pack MUCH better when compressed. In turn this reduces shipping costs (fewer cartons) and reduces shipping damage since the folded piece can't move around in the box. Be sure to use cohesive bands which are simply pre-glued strips of paper. No need for separate taping so you can pack even faster and neater.
If you’re doing high-volume work, then step up to an automated stacker plus banding unit.
Greeting Card Deflector. These clever gadgets allow you to bypass the fold rollers and deflectors when scoring or perfing card stock. When you run very heavy stock through a fold roller you might encounter the “alligator skin” effect as well as undesirable curl. (You can read a related article here.) Although this can be successfully managed to some extent, you might consider these deflectors if you’re running a high volume of stocks heavier than about 14 pt. or so.
There is a size limitation: the sheet must be long enough to still be gripped by fold roller #1 as it enters the slitter shaft. Available from partsforfolders.com, you can download a pdf brochure here and watch a demo video here.
Gatefold plates. If you find yourself re-folding jobs by hand to make the final double gatefold, you might want to invest in a gatefold plate for your machine. It won’t take many jobs to pay for it. They’re available for most popular floor model folding machines.
Soft Polyurethane Fold Rollers. These rollers are designed to handle slippery aqueous coated stocks as well as light weight book papers. Made of material that’s somewhat softer than the conventional fold rollers, their grip is much better. The downside is that once they’re installed, you can’t switch them out when you return to folding regular stocks. They will probably wear a bit faster than normal rollers but the payoff comes in having the ability to successfully fold those troublesome jobs, especially if you face them on a regular basis. Available from most manufacturers.
Gluing Equipment. There is plenty of sophisticated electronic gluing equipment available to retrofit almost any folding machine. You’ll need segmented fold rollers to fold the glued pieces. With the right equipment and a little creativity, you’ll add tremendous capability to your finishing operation.
Double Stream Device. This allows you to run two-up streams of folded work without having to reduce folder speed much, if at all. Two-up capability is one of the best ways to get a huge boost in productivity. With the right cutting and scoring tools you can even run cover stocks this way. Some large format folding machines also have three-stream devices available.
Sheet Return Device. This device is for running 16 page right-angle signatures or similar work. If you've ever run 16-page right angle signatures by yourself, you know how much work it can be. Without a stacker you'll find that you'll probably need a helper to unload in order to get to higher production speeds. Of course the extra labor might then cancel out any speed advantage you just gained. Or there might not be any extra help available.
With a sheet return, the delivery is moved to within arm’s reach of the operator. This substantially reduces the steps needed between loading and unloading. With a conventional 16-page buckle folder setup, you do a LOT of walking. This takes time, which in turn limits your production speed. The sheet return eliminates most of those needless steps and thus allows a single operator to max out their running speed.
For maximum productivity, an automatic stacker will probably win out over a sheet return. The stacker saves you steps in that you don't have to make as many trips to unload as you do with the regular delivery. Plus the signatures are pressed flat and in most cases are jogged good enough to stack on a pallet.
Side Air Assist. Last but not least, this is one of my favorites. Although it appeared on the scene after I finished my stint in the bindery, I would have made it my mission to get one of these on the MBO folder I ran, especially when running signatures.
Experienced operators know what a chore it can be to air and fan out a lift of heavy stock, especially if it’s 23 x 35” or bigger. It gets worse when the aqueous coating or varnish make the sheets stick together. By the end of a shift, your wrists and forearms are aching and you’ve probably taken far more breaks than normal.
Greg Gale, the creator of the SAA device, came up with the idea after suffering with the fanning issue for years as owner of a trade bindery. You’ll have to check out the SAA video here to see it in action, but the idea is ingeniously simple. A blower mounted to the side lay of the top infeed table tracks the sheet as it’s laid on the feeder. It then blows air down the entire length of the sheet, making the fanning process a ‘breeze.’ (Sorry for the pun.) Instead of struggling to air and separate the sheets, the operator lets the SAA do all the hard work. No more strain and pain. No more carpal tunnel syndrome.
The ten items above are just a partial sampling of add-ons for folding machines. Have a favorite or little-known add-on of your own? Let us know below.