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Back to school

Jun 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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Dog ears, wrinkles, crookedness...these are only a few of the obstacles a folder operator has to overcome while running each job. Operating a folder is one of the most challenging bindery jobs, despite newer machines’ high level of automation. Consequently, some vendors offer group folding classes several times each year to supplement the initial training that is conducted onsite when a printer purchases and installs a folder.

AMERICAN PRINTER had the opportunity to sit in on MBO America’s March 2006 Fold School session at Tompkins, a printing equipment dealer in Schiller Park, IL, and to talk with instructor Tom McCoy. Class attendees, who ranged in experience level from less than one to more than 20 years, had many questions about folder applications. While the students discussed their difficulties and compared techniques for resolving them, McCoy—an MBO service technician and folding veteran of 24 years—explained proper machine setup and adjustment techniques, as well as safety.

The road to folder mastery
“I’d say it takes five years to become a good folder operator, but I don’t believe you ever completely master it,” McCoy said. “Paper changes daily just from humidity—air conditioning or heat is going to dry the paper out. And how the press department treats the paper—how much water the press puts in or how little water, the type of ink—is going to change. There are many variables.”

Different paper stocks pose another challenge. “A good quality paper is going to run better than a recycled paper that’s got less body to the sheet,” McCoy explained, “and whether the stock is coated makes a difference. For example, a paper coated with an enamel finish is more difficult than a plain white text sheet. So the paper type is a big factor in folding.”

One of the very first points McCoy made to his students was the nature of folder mechanics. “You have to remember we’re pushing the paper all the way through the machine, not pulling it,” he advised. Operators often tighten rollers, thinking they’ll “pull” the paper better, when in fact this worsens the problem. “And after it folds, it has to push two sheets out of the machine,” he added. “Ninety-nine percent of all folding problems are caused by incorrect roller pressure. You don’t need a lot of pressure on the rollers.”

McCoy explained the use of the “dummy plug” as a tool for diagnosing problems electronically on MBO’s B21 folder. “If you have problems when you’re running a 16 or an eight, you plug this in. And if the machine runs, the problem is in your delivery.” Practical operation and safety tips included the importance of cleaning, not greasing, the folder to keep paper dust out, and how to set perforating blocks. “Unless you have a 40-inch machine and the blocks weigh 16 pounds apiece, do it from the top where you don’t have to bend down to get at them,” McCoy said.

Fold School instructors provide attendees with literature detailing the mechanics of the folder they’re working on, how-to information for specific applications, and notes on fixing problems such as dog ears (folded-over corners), wrinkling and crookedness. McCoy instructs his students to keep the folder’s manual handy, and to have diagrams explaining the sheet size for each particular job. He reviewed the assorted names for several standard folds—such as “letter” or “C” folds, and “accordion” or “Z” folds—demonstrating how to perform each on the machine. Then, he turned the folder over to volunteers from the class, who took turns doing the same fold themselves. “You’ll get a feel for it,” McCoy said, “for how many clicks to get the fold length right.”

Real-life challenges
“So how do you determine how tight ‘tight’ is?” one student asked, as he practiced adjusting the folder plates.

“If you run the plates too tight, you’ll grind the rollers down,” McCoy warned, showing him how to use sheets from the stack as a guide when setting the plates and rollers.

Another attendee commented, “You never know what’s going to come up. You change formats three, four times a day.” Lamenting his company’s older equipment and inefficient setup, he added, “We have to roll the delivery from here to there, and the carpet rolls up with it.”

A fellow student chimed in, “Can I get another foot?!” explaining that his company put up a dividing wall next to the folder without consulting bindery workers. Now, changing the machine’s configuration is a struggle.

Belt tightening among some printers was a concern for several attendees, who cited shorter or eliminated third shifts and reduced staff numbers.

Not every bindery challenge can be solved in Fold School, but the instructors do their best to send the students back to work with an arsenal of applied knowledge to fall back on. “There’s always more to know,” said one attendee who has been operating folders for more than 20 years. “Newer folders have functionality we’ve never used before.”

Modern folders have more electronics and more safety features built in. Whereas Fold School attendees are taught how to adjust rollers and plates by hand, automated folders receive data from the prepress department electronically to set up the machine via motors. “It works both ways,” said McCoy. “But the operator still does any adjustments on the machine and has full control over the machine, even though it was fed the data [electronically]. It’s a lot more user-friendly.”

Putting their education to the test
On the second day of Fold School, McCoy gave his students a challenging homework assignment. They received an imposition that was designed to be folded and then opened. Their task: to figure out how to run the job on the folder, including the opening setup. “The story is that the designer made it that way, so they have to run it,” McCoy explained.

“As an operator—I was an operator for 22 years—I ran into many problems, and you just have to work with it until you can figure out how to make it fold,” said McCoy. “Most designers have an understanding of how things fold and they’re not going to create something that can’t be folded. In the way you configure the machine, you can change how you fold the paper.”

McCoy aims to help operators understand the different types of fold, so when they encounter a problem, they can work through a process and determine how to solve it. “MBO provides the course to anyone who purchases a machine, new or used,” he said. “A lot of them have specific problems they’re encountering while running a job, so they come here for help—to understand why it’s causing the problem or how to fix the problem. Most of the operators who come in are very knowledgeable, but they all leave with a little something extra.”

MBO provides free Fold School courses to its customers throughout the year. Upcoming MBO folding classes:

  • June 13-15, Westampton, NJ (Basic)
  • June 20-22, Schiller Park, IL
  • July 10-14, Columbus, Ohio
  • July 11-13, Westampton, NJ (Advanced)
  • August 1-4, Orlando, FL
  • August 8-10, Westampton, NJ (Basic)
  • August 16-18, Chicago, IL
  • September 12-14, Westampton, NJ (Advanced)
  • September 19-21, Schiller Park, IL
  • October 3-5, Westampton, NJ (Basic)
  • November 14-16, Westampton, NJ (Advanced)
  • December 5-7, Schiller Park, IL
  • December 12-14, Westampton, NJ (Basic)

Training for globetrotters, homebodies alike
Heidelberg’s Print Media Academy (PMA) offers a two-day Stahl Folder course at several locations in the United States and overseas. The course costs $225, and the full PMA schedule is searchable by location at (click “Print Media Academy” at the bottom). Heidelberg also offers classes on an as-needed basis.

The Stahl Folder course is designed for new operators. Students learn fundamental ways to set up and operate the folder efficiently, as well as the use of scoring, perforating, slitting and other attachments. Heidelberg’s instructors teach roller and buckle plate adjustment, as well as the maintenance required for many years of service from these machines.

A class for TH model users also covers:

  • Review and set up of touchscreen with operator guidance.
  • Job catalogs.
  • Air stream registration.
  • Program storage.
  • Automated fold rollers.
  • Review of control panels and second or third station.
Students are trained in a classroom environment and by hands-on application.


End-over practice in Andover
“The folder traditionally is the most difficult and complicated machine to run in the bindery,” says Mark Hunt, Standard Finishing Systems’ director of marketing. “The mathematics behind figuring out how to perform complicated folds require a lot of mental gymnastics.”

According to Hunt, the advent of highly automated equipment has made a folder operator’s job less complicated, with standard fold types programmed and stored electronically. “Some of the need for in-depth training has gone away as we’ve built more and more intelligence into the machines,” he says. “It hasn’t gone away entirely, because you still need a folder operator to make good decisions about how to organize the folding work.”

Standard’s headquarters in Andover, MA, house the company’s training center, which offers folding courses by request. The cost is negotiable, based on the length of class and number of attendees.


Learn more
Find additional folding articles from AMERICAN PRINTER:

Denise Kapel is managing editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at