Thread Sewing is Beltz's Core Business

Increasing number of orders, decreasing runs per title: Beltz Grafische Betriebe GmbH in Bad Langensalza (Germany) responded to this trend by investing in two new Venturas MC 160, bringing more flexibility to its thread sewing production.

"As one of the last Mohicans in Germany" – according to Michael Tuchscher, Head of Project Management and member of the Executive Board – the Beltz group of companies has both two of its own publishing houses and its own graphic arts operation. This is because the books published by Verlagsgruppe Beltz, based in Weinheim, and Campus Verlag GmbH, based in Frankfurt am Main, are for the most part printed and bound at Beltz Grafische Betriebe GmbH in Bad Langensalza. Max Herrmann, a management consultant and a distant relative of company founder Julius Beltz, who is the seventh generation of his family to work in the company, emphasizes for the sake of clarity that "we don't see ourselves as our publishers' in-house printer, but rather produce their books at competitive prices.

Nevertheless, at currently 30 percent, the company's own publishing products make up a significant part of the order volume. This has several advantages: the complete added value of a book remains in-house, production reliability increases, the quality of the end-products can be better monitored, and it ensures a certain basic utilization of the facilities.

From left: Max Herrmann (management consultant at Beltz Grafische Betriebe GmbH), Volker Keppler (area sales manager at Muller Martini Germany) and Michael Tuchscher (head of project management and member of the management team at Beltz Grafische Betriebe GmbH) discuss the optimum machine layout.

Smaller runs and more frequent reprints

However, the proportion of outside orders is growing steadily. Around 80 percent of customers are publishers from the three German-speaking countries Germany, Austria and Switzerland. For them, Beltz primarily produces scientific textbooks in the fields of medicine, law and social sciences, but also children's, youth and educational literature, as well as travel guides.

Print runs are in the range of 50 to 50,000 copies, with the average constantly falling. While 1,700 books per title were printed in 2020, two years later it was only 1500. "Because publishers don't want to produce in stock, we have smaller print runs and more frequent reprints," says Michael Tuchscher. "In addition, high-volume catalogs in particular have been eliminated more recently."

65 percent of books are thread-stitched. "That is our core business," emphasizes Max Herrmann. The fact that thread sewing – not infrequently finished with linen or half-linen and embossing – is increasingly the focus of customers also has a lot to do with the fact, according to the management consultant, "that it is only marginally more expensive than adhesive binding these days. We can therefore offer our customers much higher quality – in other words, longevity and sustainability – of the books for only a small extra charge."

Beltz produces 3 million hardcover and 3.2 million softcover books annually.

The new Venturas MC 160 offers several advantages

But that, in turn, has a lot to do with state-of-the-art, higher-automation thread sewing technology. "We need this to be able to produce short runs economically," emphasizes Michael Tuchscher. Which brings us to Beltz's latest investment. Because the graphic arts company, which employs around 140 people in multi-shift operation and produces 3 million hardcover and 3.2 million softcover books a year, put two new Venturas MC 160 book sewing machines from Muller Martini into operation in August 2022 and January 2023.

In addition, the Connect system, which originated from Muller Martini and went into operation in 2005, was reduced by one book sewing machine from the previous three to the new two. And an old 28-station gathering machine was replaced by a modern ZTM 3692 with 30 stations and a Universo pile delivery. "The two new Venturas MC 160 give us several advantages over the previous models in terms of more compact layout, production of shorter runs, higher production stability, better quality, greater user-friendliness and a richer stitching pattern," emphasizes Michael Tuchscher. And Max Herrmann adds, "This has further strengthened our market position as the main contact for German scientific publishers."

The two Venturas MC 160 are used exclusively to produce offset-printed signatures for books. However, Beltz is also increasingly involved in digital printing. While its share of the total production volume was still 8.5 percent in 2020, it rose to 15 percent in 2021 and 17.6 percent in 2022.

Beltz supplemented the BF 512 bookline with a Ribbon inserting machine.

New Ribbon and soon also new RF 700

Beltz decided on the two new Venturas MC 160 not least because of its many years of good experience with Muller Martini book sewing machines. However, the machine demonstration took place in an unusual location. Because the corona pandemic made it very difficult to travel from Germany to the Print Finishing Center at Muller Martini headquarters in Zofingen, Switzerland, the live presentation of the Ventura MC for Beltz's machine operators was relocated without further ado to the Munich Meisterschule für Buchbindetechnik Industrie. "In the process," says Michael Tuchscher, "we gained an all-around good impression of the book sewing machine."

However, Beltz did not only invest in thread sewing, but also modernized its BF 512 this year. The book line from Muller Martini – which is used in Bad Langensalza alongside two KM 472 and KM 600 perfect binders – was supplemented with a Ribbon inserting machine and soon also with an RF 700 back gluing and backlining machine.