The story of Syncrom Binding and Finishing Systems is the quintessential story of a tinkering job in a garage that grew into an industrial success story.
15 years ago founder and managing director of Syncrom, Wynand Boshoff, began building something that he needed as a printer but couldn't obtain locally at an affordable price. It was a simple machine that simply had to cut 1mm grooves into the spine of a book for better glue adhesion.
The world is full of simple devices that professionals sometimes build in order to help them with some small element of their jobs. That's where it ends for most. But for Wynand Boshoff it didn't stop there. The device worked well, but he soon felt the need to improve it. In particular, he felt the need to produce a machine that could cut a groove, apply hot glue and affix the cover all in one cycle. It was a case of "one machine that lead to another."
Boshoff, who had previously sold his successful printing businesses, had experienced many needs for specific solutions in the printing industry. He therefore continued to experiment with more design concepts that he had been developing in his mind over half a lifetime as a small- to industrial scale printer.
His inventions ranged from simple clamping devices to scoring and perforating machines and later perfect binding machines. In each case, however, his principle was never to allow his designs to be influenced with preconceptions.
To this day, Syncrom maintains the principle that the machines of competitors will never be disassembled to see how they work. Each and every machine that was produced was conceived through a mixture of industry experience, old-fashioned development, and progressive imagination.
Soon other printers noticed his inventions and started asking if he would build them copies as well. This compelled him to progress from simple designs that sometimes still used superwood frames, to much more sophisticated machines. What had initially been a hobby, had by this time quietly become a full-time business. For the first three years Wynand did everything himself, from inventing machines to building them, through to marketing and selling them, delivering the products and training the customers. It soon became clear that the business was demanding to be taken to the next level.
New specialists join the company
This was the point where son-in-law JC le Roux agreed to join the business as technical director. JC already had experience of the printing industry and was a qualified instrumentation technician. This paved the way for dispensing with the semi-automatic system, in favour of a fully-automatic design with PLC controls. When the Multi Auto 320 perfect binder was produced, it was a fully-automatic perfect binding machine that produced the strongest binds in the world. The team was very satisfied. It was a serious industrial machine that could compete with the best machines in its class. But it soon proved that the market was looking for something more affordable.
Accordingly, the Multi TT perfect binding machine was developed, which was essentially a smaller version of its automated brother. The TT was a product that simply sold itself. When the 100th machine was sold, the business held a joyful celebration. But that was only the beginning. Soon the two hundred mark was passed, and so the TT became the biggest-selling perfect binding machine in South Africa.
Later German engineer, Hartwig Schroeder, joined the team as a technical director, thus adding a lifetime of valuable engineering and manufacturing experience to the company. It is interesting to note that every member who has joined the Syncrom technical team has had to be an inventor. This means that Syncrom's innovations tend to be the result of the combined ingenuity of everybody that is involved in the development process. Another key team member is telemetry expert, Daan Joubert, who is the brain behind many of the electro-technical aspects of Syncrom's machines.
The fact that the founders of Syncrom have never forgotten their small beginnings in the printing industry can be judged from the fact that so many of their machines are designed specifically with businesses in mind that are of intermediate size.
After that came a revolutionary new product when the first and as yet the only A3 sheet-fed sticky-note machine in the world was produced. The development of the Syncrom SAP, as it was called, was an enormous undertaking. After a great deal of trial and error the design was finally perfected. At the time it was a great leap forward. The compact new machine was a tiny speck against the industrial behemoths that cost millions and that were the only alternative in the market.
Best of all was the fact that the price of the SAP machine was literally 24 times less than the most affordable machine that could be bought elsewhere!
In-between, Syncrom manufactured various innovative products, all having features or combinations of features that no other products in the world could boast.
Gradually, an entire series of finishing machines was produced, of which the Syncro was the most advanced at the time - a machine capable of scoring, perforating and numbering sheets in one operation. There was also a tape-gluing machine, used for binding covers onto the spines of carbon books. This machine is still the only one of its kind in the world. Complimenting this machine there is a hinge-cutter and a heat binding machine as well.
Syncrom's approach continued to be the manufacturing of extra-strongly fabricated machines. They wanted machines that could be moved around without undue risk of damage. The designs were advanced, yet the emphasis always remained on keeping the designs as simplistic in principle as possible. This had the advantage of creating machines that require very little maintenance and repair, and machines that are simplistic enough that customers in far-flung developing countries could do their own repair and maintenance work. The principle is to use mostly parts which can be sourced anywhere in the world, or manufactured by engineering shops.
An attempt to mechanize an old hand-binding technology
After the phenomenal success of the Multi TT perfect binding machine, Syncrom's design team began thinking about the next leap forward. They were satisfied that the Multi TT was probably the most versatile single-clamp perfect binding machine in the world. But already the market was insisting on layflat binding. Layflat technology, in principle, was almost as old as book binding.
The problem was that hand-bound layflat methods ("lumback" binding) were usually far too slow and expensive to be of much use for the average book finisher. The best modern option, on the other hand, was PUR binding. While PUR yielded a great end-product, PUR binding machines were usually far beyond what most printers could afford. Furthermore, it is a delicate system which has to be very carefully managed and suffered from drawbacks which made even many large finishers think twice.
There was, of course, an older-generation binding technology which yielded superb layflat binding results - PVC-based ("cold glue" or "lumback") binding. The only problem was that cold glue was water-based and took too long to dry. Furthermore, the application method was too slow. It involved bending the pages skew whilst clamped, then applying glue, before clamping the book until half-dry in a relaxed position. What made this method unique was the fact that glue was not merely applied to the edges of paper, but it was actually drawn in-between every two sheets in the book. This, combined with the flexibility of the bonding agent glued the book page-to-page and made the binding super-strong and beautifully layflat.
It was a fine dream, yet as good as the method was, only a very few finishers could still afford to bind books this way. It seemed entirely impractical to adapt to an industrial system. Still, it was tempting when the older members of the team thought back at how well PVC binding used to work. Unfortunately all attempts at building a machine which could duplicate the old handcraft method of applying cold glue proved to be unpractical.
The breakthrough came when the members decided to abandon the hand-craft method, in favour of something entirely new. "What would happen," they reasoned, "if instead of bending the pages askew, they were somehow separated? What if air was used, for example?" The idea made immediate sense. After many experiments, a very high-tech system was perfected by which the pages of books could be separated in order that glue might be applied as the book passed across a regular glue roller.
The slow drying problem of PVC glue was solved by using EVA glue, which made the books ready for handling within approximately five minutes,and ready for testing in approximately 15 minutes. The system was so unique that it could be successfully patented. This system was called "doublebinding" and the term was registered as a trademark. In this manner "doublebinding" was born. The machine that did the work was called the vorTEX/////doublebind.
Doublebinding to the market's rescue!
Today the vorTEX/////doublebind represents the future of book binding worldwide. Doublebinding fills a very important gap in the market. By far the most books are produced by finishers who are roughly of medium size. Of course, the customers of these book finishers have the same demand as those of large producers. They too, want affordable books that will be strong and not fall apart, and books that will have good layflat capability.
But providing in this need was a problem - the volumes were too big to make hand-binding options feasible. And the volumes were too small to make PUR binding feasible. PUR binding was just too expensive and cumbersome for many. (The curing time for PUR binding is generally between eight to 20 hours.) And so, this section of the market generally settled to convincing their customers to accept the less-effective perfect binding. In fact, this tendency was by no means only limited to medium-sized binders. Perfect binding continues to be the most popular binding method even for small- and large industrial-sized finishers in very many cases.
Market research has clearly indicated that the strongest growing trend in the printing market, is the trend towards shorter, more frequent runs. And this means lower volumes had to be bound at a time, making large industrial machines all too often impractical.
In solving this enormous industry problem the vorTEX/////doublebind was perfectly positioned. It could provide a truly layflat product with a super-strong bind at a price which even small- and medium printers and finishers can afford. The fact of the matter is simply that every printer who has been using a single clamp perfect binder, will find the vorTEX/////doublebind the perfect binding solution for his business.
When the vorTEX/////doublebind was launched, the market received it with enormous enthusiasm. Regarding this as their greatest breakthrough ever, the Syncrom team felt justly satisfied. Especially when the product was taken on a country-wide roadshow and orders came pouring in. To their surprise, they found that not only did small- and medium finishers rush to place their orders, but big industrial finishers were also taking notice.
Some were indicating that they couldn't wait for higher-capacity models to be developed (in which case they sometimes simply order two or more units). Others, however, realized that every industrial giant needs a lower-capacity machine somewhere in a corner for short production runs, limited edition jobs and editing copies. For this, the vorTEX/////doublebind was perfect - as was the price.
At this point it was realized that the vorTEX/////doublebind needed to go international. A unique solution to a unique problem had been found and Syncrom was the only company in the world that could provide it. If it solved the binding problems of the South African industry it would certainly do so for the rest of the world as well.
Syncrom has therefore recently started establishing a network of international distribution agencies. These agencies will handle marketing, sales, installation, training and technical support. Companies who are interested in looking at distributorship options are welcome to contact Syncrom at any time.
What's next for the future?
As sales volumes keep increasing at a never-before experienced pace at Syncrom, the question that is sometimes asked is, "so what's next for Syncrom's future?"
This is a big question, but the team at Syncrom already has an answer ready. "We are working on several new cutting edge innovations already," Wynand Boshoff smiled. "It would be premature to speak of it now, but I will say that when we tinker, we are tinkering with PUR. PUR has its problems. It is mainly suitable for finishing shops that maintain a 24/7 schedule with multiclamp equipment. But it is still a great technology. We think there may be scope for us to do some surprising things with PUR."
As for doublebinding, Boshoff stated that there are interesting further innovations regarding doublebinding technology that Syncrom is looking at. "The big industrial giants keep asking us for much higher-capacity vorTEXes," he explained, "so that is certainly one need that we are dealing with right now."
When asked whether Syncrom might ever produce another product as radically unique as the vorTEX/////doublebind, Wynand answered with a wink: "There is something I came up while I couldn't sleep one night. When we tested it, the results were better than you could have ever imagined. If all works out as planned we may have a product in production very soon that will make smaller finishers have to strap themselves down for excitement. This may be a product that will possibly even out-sell the vorTEX. But in innovation there is always a lot of testing and refinement that needs to be done, so more details would be premature. But it will be worth the wait, that much I can assure you!"
The company of Syncrom was founded by small-time entrepreneurs with big plans. And those plans were turned into reality by a steady flow of ingenuity and hard work. Clearly, much more can be expected of this company for the future. Around the world, printers and finishers are waiting with abated breath to see what else this team of gifted inventors can do for them and their businesses.
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