Book Machine Publishes at Powell's in Portland

So, I'm walking around Powell's City of Books in Portland, Ore., a couple of days ago, and my eldest daughter, Clara, says there's something I have to see. All too familiar with my professional interest in machines, she leads me around a corner, and there is a refrigerator-sized machine attached to an industrial Xerox printer on one side and a sleek Epson print on top of the other side. Together, they're busily printing pages and paperback covers, and then turning out full-sized, physical, hold-in-your-hand books!

Espresso Book Machine (EBM)

The two young guys tending the machine told me it's an Espresso Book Machine (EBM) 2.2 by On Demand Books LLC in New York, N.Y. The Xerox prints the pages, Epson does the covers, and Espresso in the middle assembles and glues them into books that can be up to about 800 pages.

Forrest JohnsonThey added that the machine's three sections take orders from and are coordinated by On Demand's EspressNet software. I also took a quick look through Espresso's transparent outer panels, and saw a variety of Festo's pneumatic components driving its handling equipment and a linear motion device running its glue pot and applicator. It also had a GE Quick Panel HMI on the outside of the control panel, and I think it also had a Bison motor, but it was hard to tell for sure. I'll try to find out more about it from On Demand shortly. Meanwhile, you can check out a video of Espresso.

Pretty cool, but it was just about the last thing I expected to see among the stacks of a legendary, second-hand book store. I mean, books are all going Amazon and digital. E-books don't need paper, right? Well, not so fast. The guys added that Espresso has been available for just about five years, and that On Demand had been running it as a concession at Powell's, but it did so well that the store decided to buy it in February.

"Print-on-demand is another growing part of the printing industry. It's mostly self-publishing right now, but there are also a lot of people who want hardcopies of their digital books," says Forrest Johnson, Powell's Espresso Book specialist. “We can print from PDF files, reprint public-domain books published before 1920, and some of the big publishers like Penguin, Harper Collins and Random House are beginning to make some out-of-print titles available, too. This way, many books will never have to be out of print again.”

Jim Montague is the executive editor for Control, Control Design and Industrial Networking. Email him at or check out his Google+ profile.