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What are Collators?
Collators are machines that process stacks of paper and organize them into piles. Collators can work in-line as part of a complete finishing system with stackers, bookletmakers, and trimmers. When working in-line, users simply have to attach machines and program their desired settings; this then becomes a fully automated process. Collators can also attach to copiers, laser printers, and digital duplicators. Very often, collators are expandable; more bins can be added to double or triple capacity.

Choosing the Right Collator
Speed, sheet capacity, bin size, compatibility with other machines, and quality of documents determine which collator is best for a particular operation. Another main consideration is the choice between suction (air) or friction collators. Friction-feed collators are better for one- or two-color jobs, where speed is a priority. Suction-feed collators are better for heavier, or coated, stocks.

You can expect to spend anywhere between $5,000 and $14,000 on a collating machine. Higher-end models have greater bin capacity, greater speed, more controls, higher levels of automation, expandability, and are easily attachable to other finishing equipment.

Friction vs. Suction
Friction collators use a rotating friction wheel to feed individual sheets from a station to a transport conveyor. A separator pad or corner separator then separates the sheets from the remainder of the pile. The user can control system speed, overlap detection, and feed-wheel pressure. Adding extra bins is relatively easy with friction feeders. Because friction-feed collators are required to feed sheets printed with ink, edges of sheets can occasionally get marked with traces of ink. This is one reason why friction feeders aren???t as expensive as suction feeders.

Suction feeders use air blasts to transport and separate individual sheets of paper. They rarely mark sheets with ink and are better equipped for handling difficult paper stocks, such as coated and textured paper.

Things to Consider

How many sets need to be produced per hour?
The amount of sets per hour varies from machine to machine. Higher-end in-line models can collate up to 3,900 booklets per hour, while less expensive in-line machines usually produce up to 1,500 booklets per hour. Desktop machines handle much less paper, where production will depend on the operator.

What capacity (bin size) is most suitable?
Friction collators tend to fit about 200 sheets per bin, while suction collators fit about 450 sheets per bin. Desktop machines fit between 100 and 175 sheets per bin. Bin capacity is especially important for larger volume jobs; collators with larger bin capacities produce more sets per hour.

Can the machine be expanded by adding other bins to it?
Some collators are expandable in that they can attach usually 8, 10, or 16 additional bins. This can double or triple output and is a significant factor in deciding what collator is best for you.

How compatible is the collator with other finishing machines?
Very often collators are combined to work "on-line/in-line" with stackers, bookletmakers, and trimmers. Higher-end machines are compatible with high quality finishing machines that can handle a wide variety of paper types, sheets sizes, and weights. Compatibility with other finishing machines allows for incredible efficiency, as well as high output levels.

What types of paper stocks are going to be used?
The type of paper stock used will make a difference when it comes time to decide what collator is best. Suction feed collators are better at handling difficult paper stocks such as coated and textured paper. If standard-weight 8.5" x 11" paper is going to be predominantly used, then paper stock is a secondary consideration.

  • Bookletmaker: assembles individual sheets into small document sets by stapling and/or folding them together.
  • Collator: a machine with trays to stack, store, and transport documents sets.
  • Feed-wheel pressure: the rate at which the friction feed system operates; directly related to speed.
  • Friction feed: a rotating friction wheel feeds individual sheets into the machine where the sheets are then separated from the remainder of the pile.
  • In-line/On-line: production is under automatic control of the machine, in which the collator is connected to stackers, bookletmakers, and trimmers, working "in-line" with them.
  • Offset stacking: document sets are stacked in an alternating style so that every other stack sticks out making it easy to differentiate between sets.
  • Overlap Detection: this system recognizes when two sheets have been fed into the same set that should have been fed into different sets, and notifies the user.
  • Receiving trays: trays on the end of the machine where collated documents rest after they???ve been processed.
  • Paper stock: the physical properties of the paper (material, texture, color, etc.) that may determine certain handling needs.
  • Straight stacking: document sets are stacked on top of one another.
  • Suction (air) feed: air blasts are used to feed and separate individual sheets of paper.
  • Trimmer: a machine that will cut or trim any undesired margins from a documeng.