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BOOSTING BINDERY PRODUCTIVITY

Jul 1, 1999 12:00 AM


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Are you so eager to show off your postpress area that you start plant tours there? Do you proudly inform customers and prospects that your bindery will soon be a completely digitally networked operation? Can you say you'll soon be CIP3 compliant-that everything from the folders to the cutters to the stackers to the stitchers will be tied back to the pressroom and prepress? Do your state-of-the-art material handling systems mesmerize visitors? Do they gush over your joggers, pile hoists and air pallet feeders, etc., exclaiming that they've never seen such a computerized, ergonomically correct bindery approach?

Unfortunately, this scenario is the exception rather than the rule. Bindery technology and equipment continues to suffer from an image problem. Fifty-four percent of commercial printers responding to a 1997 NPES survey believed that binding and finishing technologies have not kept pace with other areas of the graphic arts. Yet, as Bill Lamparter of PrintCom Consulting (Waxhaw, NC) has observed, computerization of the bindery started in the early 1970s with the development of programmable cutters. Electronically controlled knives from MBO debuted in 1977 and microprocessor control technology was integrated into folders in 1987. Stahl VBF and Kolbus introduced "smart" computerized hardcover binding lines circa 1982. Computer-integrated manufacturing is maturing-CIP3 is a reality today at R.R. Donnelley's Roanoke, VA, book plant, and the standard continues to evolve.

Upgrading finishing capabilities, however, is a low priority for many printers. "Overall, commercial printers aren't buying much," reports the NPES survey. "The number one planned purchase among these shops is a standalone folder, with only 11 percent of responses. The second most commonly planned purchase is inkjet and personalization equipment at six percent."

Why doesn't the bindery get a bigger chunk of capital? "A lot of the time printers don't view the bindery as an area where you can make money," suggests Tyrone Adams, national product manager of bindery systems for Man Roland (Westmont, IL). "They'll buy some used equipment. They'll say 'Let's buy a 30- or 40-year-old cutter-who cares, as long as it cuts?' But with the emergence of CIP3 systems, a lot of printers and prepress operations are starting to go with flow systems into which you put parameters for a job at the prepress station and it trickles down through the whole system. You need modern PC-driven equipment to do that."

Some printers know their binderies are inefficient, opines Donna St. John Berry of Muller Martini (Hauppage, NY), but they've resigned themselves to paying the price-either for outsourcing jobs or higher labor costs. "The bindery is a place where it's almost easy to throw people at the problem," submits St. John Berry. "Labor sometimes isn't as expensive as throwing technology at the problem. But as press speeds go up, what are they going to do? What's the point of spending millions of dollars on a press that can run 3,000 fpm when the output is going to pile up in the bindery? Your shop has to be balanced. That's where material handling systems come in and where automation is important."

How can mid-sized, sheet-fed commercial printers ensure their binderies are profit centers? We asked some leading equipment suppliers as well as some industry experts to share their ideas on boosting bindery productivity.

Look before you leap. "A major difference between printing and finishing is that most of a product's final value is already in the product when it arrives at the bindery," explains Jack Rickard, president, Rickard Bindery (Chicago) in Binding, Finishing and Mailing: The Final Word (GATF Press). "If a job goes sour on press, paper is wasted, but if a bindery job is ruined, the repercussions are much greater. On a typical printing job, perhaps 30 percent of a job's value is at risk on press. However, for a typical binding job, 90 percent or more of a job's value is at risk. If your goal is to make 10 percent return on bindery operations and you're handling a job worth 10 times your bindery conversion revenue, for every $100 of risk exposure, you have a potential profit of $1. The risk/return ratio in bindery is fundamentally different and much lower than you are used to in printing."

Provide WIP space. "You've got to have work-in-process (WIP) storage," counsels John Geis of A.J. Geis Associates (Chapel Hill, NC). "You need it near your cutters and folders and if you're doing publication work, you need to store pallets of signatures until they can be gathered."

Geis, the author of Printing Plant Layout and Facility Design as well as Materials Handling for the Printer (GATF Press), notes that some printers ignore the need for formally designating WIP space in favor of a casual "just-put-it-anywhere" approach. "They do find someplace, but to get to the required pallet, the crew ends up moving four or five other ones," relates the consultant. "That's lost time and seriously lowers productivity. Plus, if a pallet is lost, the job has to go back on press. Two days later you find the pallet-that's a big waste."

Consult your in-house experts. "Too often, printers don't check with the bindery during the planning stages of a job," says bindery guru and RIT professor Werner Rebsamen, citing "prepress prima donnas" as prime offenders. "That communication should take place before a job gets to prepress."

"In smaller shops, it's usually up to the people on the floor where a job will be done and it usually ends up on the right machine," observes Roger Mattila, bindery consultant at Vijuk Equipment Inc., (Elmhurst, IL). "At larger companies with independent schedulers, sometimes jobs end up on the wrong machines. The schedulers are justfilling some slots without looking at the bigger picture."

Mattila suggests encouraging your entire staff to become more familiar with the equipment-and the people who operate it. "Ask the people on the floor where a job will run best-they'll tell you."

Just say no to lifting and bending. Rebsamen reminds us that about 40 percent of what happens in the bindery involves lifting and stacking. Promoting mechanical rather than manual lifting can yield dramatic productivity gains. "Simple devices such as stacklifts eliminate the bending," submits Jeff Marr, vice president of sales, Colter & Peterson (Paterson, NJ). "Automatic joggers remove air from lifts of material for better cutting while making it easier to move and increase the capacity of what's being cut."

"If you look at the average cutting job in the U.S., it's less than 15 cuts per job," adds Carl Lewis, president of Graphic Machinery and Systems (San Rafael, CA). "Where the time is being spent is getting the stock on and off the cutter and moving it around once it's on the machine."

Automation may also open the operator's position to a wider pool of employees. "Before, you needed someone to lift and stack paper from the floor and restack it down," reflects Marr. "If you put in lifting devices and joggers, the requirements are less stringent. People who don't have great physical strength can do it. Before, you had to be able to lift 20 to 40 lbs. of paper."

Indeed, some readers may recall the bindery battle of the sexes that Heidelberg staged at Print 97. Two operators were given a lift of 750 sheets of 70 lb. text stock. The four-up job required eight cuts with trimouts. The first operator, a muscular man, used a standalone Polar ED 115 cutter. The second operator, a petite woman, used the same cutter, but a stacklift, automatic jogger and trim removal as well as an automatic offloader surrounded it. She was able to complete the job in three minutes and 12 seconds, while the operator using the standalone cutter required five minutes and 49 seconds to complete the same job.

Eliminating physical wear and tear on operators also reduces time and money lost to injuries and insurance claims. Carl Thorkelson, president of Interthor Inc., (Broadview, IL) reports that some users of the company's automated lifts have completely eliminated on-the-job back injuries. "Manually lifting paper is the dumbest thing in the world," admonishes Thorkelson. "It's nonproductive and dangerous." One of Interthor's customers is said to have achieved a 50 percent increase in the productivity on a cutter after adding an automatic lift.

Look beyond speed. "Increasing speed isn't always the answer for increasing production," explains Hans Max, president, MBO America (Westampton, NJ). "You will hear some people say they increased their speed from 7,000 inches to 8,000 inches, but some paper can only run at 6,000 inches -so you have to look at other areas for increasing productivity."

Introduced at Print 97, MBO's Perfection buckle-folding machine reportedly enables a minimum 20 percent improvement in productivity via a dual paper transfer system, a controlled routing system that combines vacuum infeed with vacuum alignment (VIVAS) and a high-speed sheet guide that uses large diameter conical wheels-in place of marbles-for paper transportation. Faster setups are facilitated by electronic sheet management, combination buckle plates, antistatic plates and a computerized makeready system.

Keep that job moving. Delivery is the weakest link of any folding system, according to Rudi Gunther, director of Stahl Products, Heidelberg USA (Kennesaw, GA). "Product must be removed and prepared for subsequent distribution without slowing the machine. One solution is to connect an automated bander to the folder to stack and strap small items such as leaflets, self-mailers and greeting cards."

Gunther adds that another delivery option is an automated bundler that gathers, presses and bundles signatures or folded brochures at the rate of up to 10,000 pieces per hour. One system does everything from checking for misfolded pieces to inserting top and bottom plywood dividers between stacks.

Don't waste time on waste removal. Use a pneumatic trim collector to dispose of cutter waste, advises Geis. "Otherwise somebody is constantly moving hampers or buggies from the cutters and three-knife trimmers to the docks or to a manual baling operation," notes the consultant. "That's nonproductive."

Some cutters, including the Polar, feature a cutter table that opens up, thus eliminating the need for the operator to remove waste scraps. "Another way to do it is to just have a pneumatic tube with a pickup sweep at the end of the cutter bed," suggests Geis. "Instead of pushing the trim into a buggy, the operator pushes it into the sweep, which sucks it away, picks it up and bales it."

Review what's being outsourced. "It boggles my mind that people will send out perfect binding-even some small binderies will do that-instead of buying a $15,000 to $20,000 machine," declares David Spiel of Spiel Associates (Long Island City, New York). "It's very surprising that people will live with long turnaround times when they could be doing work in-house."

Spiel adds that index tabbing is another prime candidate to be brought inside. "Many people tell me they send out $2,000 to $3,000 worth of index tabbing a month when they could be leasing an automatic tabbing machine for under $1,000 a month."

Size matters. "One of the biggest pitfalls in the bindery is not planning for the future-buying something that's too small or buying based on price rather than spending a little more to accommodate applications you might not have considered," relates Jennifer Gattis, marketing director, Duplo (Santa Ana, CA).

Sometimes even a few extra inches of equipment can make a world of difference. Man Roland's Adams recently had a customer request a 45-inch cutter to go with a 40-inch pr ess. "We suggested he move up to a 50-inch cutter, which allows the operator to spin the stock in the throat of the cutter and speed up the cutting process," relates Adams. "With a 40-inch press and a 45-inch cutter you'd have to move the stock all the way out so you can turn, spin and make the next cut."

However, bigger isn't always necessarily better. "Sometimes two smaller machines are better," notes Mark Hunt, marketing manager for Standard Finishing (Andover, MA). "If you have lots of ultrashort-run work, you may be better off with two perfect binders. That way you can be simultaneously breaking down and changing over to new jobs rather than flowing it all through one machine."

Get the most bang for your buck. A little out-of-the-box thinking goes a long way in the bindery. "We have a punch primarily intended for mechanical binding, but it can also punch windows, doorhangers, etc.," offers Spiel. "Really sharp guys are using it to punch windows at 60,000 sph rather than using a cylindrical die cutter at 3,000 sph."

Combine operations where possible. Similar to a Swiss army knife, much of today's bindery equipment is amazingly multifunctional. Vijuk's 920 Fenimore Sidewinder can collate flat sets or take those sets and saddlestitch, fold and face trim them. It also can do signature collating for perfect binding applications.

Die scoring, perforating and inline trimming can all be done in one pass on the TR Die-Score system from Rollem (Orange, CA). Additional functions are possible by combining the system with an existing folder or in-line gluer. "For a self-mailer printed two-up, we used the system to slit in two directions," explains Susan Corwin, marketing manager. "The piece was scored, remoistenable glue applied, right-angle perforated and folded in one pass. We didn't inkjet it, but that's possible."

Often, gluing can be combined with another finishing process. "We're putting glue control systems on sheet-fed folders, making all kinds of products possible as a byproduct of the folding step for a rather modest cost," says Graphic Machinery Systems' Lewis. The exec observes that since the USPS no longer allows staples on direct mail pieces, fugitive glue is growing in popularity.

Ron Bowman, vice president, sales and marketing, Rosback (St. Joseph, MI), suggests saving time by saving steps. Although more expensive, a three-knife trimmer at the end of a saddlestitcher can improve productivity. Without a three-knife trimmer, observes Bowman, some saddlestitchers will only stitch, fold and face trim, necessitating offline cutting operations. Since the three-knife trimmer cuts three sides simultaneously, head to tail cuts can be done in addition to face cuts.

Cutting books individually with the a three-knife trimmer also reduces "run out." "If saddlestitched books are uneven because of the stitch, they'll bow when you stack them," notes Rosback. "When you bring the cutter down, the sheets tend to run out. You have to watch that-you can only do a few books in the lift because of the stitches."

It won't happen overnight, but times-and attitudes-toward the bindery are changing. "There's a whole lot of choices out there today," observes Lewis. "It's a just a case of making the commitment to invest the capital. Bindery is starting to get more attention-we're encouraged."

Booklet Binding (Broadview, IL) is among the country's largest trade binderies (see photos on pages 62-63). Its 250,000-sq.-ft. facilities employ 350 and operate around-the-clock. General finishing services offered include cutting, folding, gluing, perfect binding and saddlestitching. Its Itasca, IL, plant specializes in direct-mail related services, including database management, inkjet and laser personalization, custom handwork, inserting, mailing and fulfillment. Responding to customers' needs, the bindery is adding channel scoring, diecutting and embossing services this fall.

About 30 folders handle everything from jumbo 32-inch-wide pieces to small pharmaceutical miniature formats. Although its folding capacity is 10 to 12 million pieces per day, the bindery prides itself on its flexibility-short runs also can be efficiently produced.

"To address the growing demand for cost-effective and timely finishing of short-run work, we'll be introducing Booklet Short-Run Finishers (SRF)," adds John P. Scott, director of marketing. "It's an expansion of our current short-run bindery-it will handle the short-run work of small, quick and in-plant printers as well as the short runs of large and medium customers."

How does Booklet Binding facilitate the finishing process for its customers? "Our customers often invite us to get involved in projects prior to printing," responds Scott. "We review the layout and materials specified for the job and offer creative solutions or suggestions to ensure the printer and its customer receive exactly what they want-and sometimes more. Preproduction interaction is very important to the entire finishing effort-we strongly encourage it."

Key to the success of the prepress dialog, says Scott, are Booklet Binding's account reps, estimators and client service reps. "Their expertise in printing and finishing enables them to serve as resources for our customers. This consultative approach qualifies us as a service provider, rather than a manufacturer."

Extensive use of purchase orders, samples and ruled-up sheets for exact specifications also aid in the planning process. Once a job is in production, the bindery stays in close contact with customers, keeping them informed of their jobs' status. Hourly time pulls help the bindery ensure and maintain quality. The bindery also performs time pulls for customers at their request and forwards the pulled sample to them for review. Customers are encouraged to visit the bindery for final approval of a piece before finishing begins.

CIP3 is a consortium of vendors and users of equipment, software and peripherals for prepress, press and postpress. The group has developed a vendor-independent interface called Print Production Format (PPF). The CIP3 PPF includes press control information such as ink control, cutting, register control and color specification, as well as postpress operations including folding, collecting, inserting and binding. See www.cip3.org.

"Binding Finishing and Mailing: The Final Word," written and edited by T.J. Tedesco. Contact GATF Press (412) 741-6860 or see www.gatf.org.

Bindery Industries of America (BIA) publishes industry studies and surveys, special reports, newsletters and other publications. Call (312) 372-7606, or see www.bindingindustries.org.

Bindery study. NPES The Assn. for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting Technologies offers an executive summary of its report. Call (703) 264-7200 or see www.npes.org.

42nd Binding Finishing & Distribution seminar. The Research & Engineering Council of the Graphic Arts Industry will host this meeting April 18-19, 2000, at the O'Hare Mariott (Rosemont, IL). Call (804) 436-9922.