Yesterday, I spent a very interesting morning at our print and distribution supplier's UK print facility. We had a super tour of the whole facility, showing how rolls of paper work their way through various complicated machines to end up as printed books.
The paper arrives on rolls about a metre in diameter which are loaded onto the presses. The older presses use toner like a photocopier, the newer ones that they're moving to are inkjet printers, just like the one you have at home but bigger. They print the pages of the books in a seamless sequence onto the paper rolls, and a cutter then separates the stream of paper into individual pages and assembles them in the right order for each separate book.
Meanwhile, a colour printer produces the covers and they are laminated, again in a continuous stream.
The interiors or 'book blocks' and covers are then glued together, trimmed and given a final quality check.
Three things surprised me:
1. How quiet the factory was
2. How many manual steps were in the process
3. How many books they produce per day
I guess I expected to see one big machine sucking in paper and spitting out books, but in fact people were present at every stage. The only part of the process that was completely automated was the printing of the book blocks, where two giant printers work in series to print one side, then the other, as the stream of paper flies by too fast to see. Each print line, of which there are eight, will take roughly one minute to produce a book. It was nice to see that each person who managed part of the overall process performed their own quality checks to ensure any problems are caught early in the production process.
The factory turns out close to 20,000 books each day. And you can imagine how delighted I was to learn that they class me as a 'big publisher'!
Those books are then hand picked and packed for delivery either to book retailers, or for direct fulfillment to individual customers.
Very interesting indeed!