Trip to Bell and Bain for Striling’s 2016-17 Publishing Students

November 9th, 2016 by caroline_obrien | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Trip to Bell and Bain for Striling’s 2016-17 Publishing Students
Tags: , , ,

Bright and early on a cold autumnal morning we, the 2016-17 Publishing students of the University of Stirling, gathered for our trip to Bell & Bain, the UK’s largest and oldest independent book and journals printers and binders.

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Once we had arrived we were introduced to and given an talk by Derek Kenney, Bell & Bain’s Sales Director Designate, and Kenny Shepherdson, their Business Development Manager. During this part of the tour we were informed that Bell & Bain currently has 115 employees, with a projected turnover for 2016 of ¬£13.2m. In Derek’s own words this makes Bell & Bain a ‘large small business.’ As much sense as that makes.

But, with just over a million sheets printed and bound per week  and approximately 2.45m journals and 6.5m books printed and bound in 2015 what exactly is meant by this statement becomes a little clearer.

After this introductory talk we were whisked away to Bell & Bain’s Burnfield Road production facility. There we were taken step by step through the printing and binding process of a paperback book.

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

This process begins with the Production Department receiving orders from Bell & Bain’s customers through email. These orders are turned into work tickets which are checked before being sent down to the computer to plate room.

Here the lithographs are prepared for each order. These plates start out blue and are chemically burned until all that remains in blue is what is to be printed. A plate is made for each colour needed, four for CYMK printing. The machines which make these lithographic plates are capable of creating up to thirty in one hour.

After this, and a brief look in at the paper storage area, we were then taken into the most exciting, and second loudest part of the facility. The part containing the gigantic presses which print the images from the lithographs onto the specific paper needed by the publisher. These monstrous, roaring machines are capable of printing 10,000 sheets an hour. Although it was difficult to hear all the information over the sound of the presses and other machines, I was able to gather that, despite there being cameras in the machine physical checks are required every 500 sheets or so. This reminder that machines are fallible is easily memorable from the slogan provided by Kenny Shepherdson, ‘Rely on the eye.’

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Once printed the sheets are then folded. This part of the factory was, rather unexpectedly after being faced with the presses, the noisiest.

Finally the signatures are sewn together, glue is added and then the cover. There is a long conveyor belt after this to allow the glue time to cool and after that it is sent to the trimmer.

The result is a finished book, in our case this was a new adult colouring book (because the world needs more of those). But in the end, as Derek Kenney reminded us at the end of our tour, it doesn’t really matter as long as people are still reading. So whether print really is dead (something that Derek strongly denied) or if it will continue to thrive indefinitely, as long as we read we’ll be alright. Because once we lose our interest in books we lose our interest in learning and growing.


Thanks to Barb Kuntova for letting me use her photos.