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Running on automatic

Apr 1, 1996 12:00 AM

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this automated plant excels efficient post-press material handling

The proliferation of shopping by mail has led to catalog production becoming one of the most rapidly growing segments of the graphic arts industry. Where not so long ago there were cornfields on the outskirts of Minneapolis, there now are imposing, modern industrial buildings, one of them home to Banta Catalog Group - The Printer.

With an annual production of half a billion catalogs, The Printer is one of the fastest growing members of Banta Corp. and a leader in the field. Banta ranks as the fourth largest commercial and book printer in North America with approximately 5,000 employees. It has more than 30 manufacturing sites in the U.S., five in Europe and one in Mexico, and serves publishers of educational and general books, special interest magazines, consumer and business catalogs, and direct marketing materials.

The Banta Catalog Group opened its doors in 1985 in a 100,000-sq.-ft. building, custom designed for long-run and catalog work. It housed one Harris M-1000 web offset press, two Muller Martini Model 301 saddlestitcher lines and 17 employees. Considering the remarkable ratio between high output equipment and number of employees, it comes as no surprise that the business was poised for major participation in the fast growing direct mail order market.

Bill Crossman, vice president and general manager of Banta Catalog Group - The Printer, has been at the helm since the company's inception. "We constantly strive for standardization in order to be a low-cost producer and maintain our position as one of the most automated web offset printers," notes Crossman. "To this end, we visited high-productivity plants throughout Europe and adapted specific technology to our own needs."

Two plant expansions followed. The under-roof area now is 280,000-sq.-ft., with 270 employees. In the press-room, there are three Heidelberg Harris M-1000 eight-unit presses and one M-3000. Today, the bindery houses nine Muller Martini saddlestitching lines with integrated ink-jet addressing and demographic personalization capability.

Mandated by the time-driven nature of the product, the plant operates around the clock seven days a week with each member of the team working four 12-hour shifts per week. This not only ensures maximum utilization of equipment, but also is well accepted by the workforce, as it results in alternating cycles of four days of work/three days off and three days of work/four days off.

"Our Muller Martini stitchers have been instrumental to our success," reports Crossman. "They have operated outstandingly since the onset of our manufacturing operation. The building block concept has allowed us to expand as we've grown.

"However, one of the most important factors in our relationship with Muller Martini is that everything comes from a single source, which is essential to a high-volume, time-driven operation such as ours."

Taking its responsibility to the public seriously, the company has spent close to $1.5 million on pollution control measures. Fumes are passed through catalytic converters, removing 95 percent of all pollutants before exhausting into the atmosphere, making the air leaving the plant cleaner than the outside air. Much of the 150,000,000 lbs. of paper used annually at the shop contains recycled fiber, and the 3,000,000 lbs. of ink used are vegetable-oil based.

The Printer is striving to be one of the most highly automated printing plants in the world. Following the various production steps helps gain a glimpse of the latest graphic arts technology. Running at full speed, the Sunday press prints 100,000 four-color, 48-page signatures per hour and uses nearly eight full truckloads of paper in 24 hours. The dual shingle streams coming off the creel-type delivery are picked up at full press speed by Muller Martini overhead stream conveyers, unclogging the pressroom and post-press production areas by eliminating obstructions caused by floor conveyors.

Held securely by a series of clamps, the shingle streams are transported overhead to Civiemme automatic stacker/bundlers. The compressed, strapped and counted bundles (or logs) are transferred automatically to palletizers to go into intermediate storage or directly into the bindery for finishing.

In addition to keeping valuable floor space clear, the Model 365 overhead conveyor was selected for of its economical, maintenance-free design.

Products coming off the press and requiring no further finishing, such as work to be shipped to newspapers for inserting, are diverted for processing by Muller Martini CS-95 PrintStack high-speed compensating stackers.

Shingle stream processing eliminates the need for synchronization of individual copies, as is required with gripper conveyors, and eliminates the waste caused by dropped copies at the press pickup. Tight shingle spacing enhances bundle quality and, in turn, ensures faster, trouble-free operation of automatic finishing equipment, while allowing lower conveyor speeds for less wear and tear. By automatically moving the product away from the press, conveyors also cut down on operator exposure to dust, fumes and noise.

It is in the bindery that the firm is gaining considerable competitive advantage. Nine late-model Muller Martini 300 and 301 high-speed saddle-stitching lines with universal bases can accommodate 20 signature feeders each. A total of 140 signature feeders and an almost equal number of moveable bundle loaders offer maximum flexibility to suit the requirements of almost any catalog job.

The use of a manually operated crane system with a pneumatic bundle clamp makes it possible for loading personnel to keep a stitcher line running at high speeds. Smooth operation and single-copy trim quality at high speed are made possible thanks to flying stitching heads and trimmer technology.

Catalog production is monitored by the Muller Martini Copy Control System, which automatically detects missing or out-of-job signatures, while reducing waste through sequential startup and run-out of feeders.

Numerous catalogs call for demographic editions and individual messaging. Inside and outside addressing as well as any other personalization is done by Videojet ink-jet printers incorporated into stitcher lines. Finished products are sorted into zip code or route segregated stacks by micro-processor-controlled compensating counter stackers.

During peak periods, the plant produces close to two million catalogs per 24-hour day. Being a full-service facility, the shop offers nationwide trucking to bulk mail distribution centers, newspaper section centers and post offices. It loads and ships as many as 27 trailers of mail each day.

However, management is not content to rest on its laurels. The goal for 1996 is a fully automated system for moving bundles from pressroom to storage for automatic retrieval and delivery to stitchers in the bindery and then moving palletized, finished products to the loading dock.

"Management continually strives for strategic improvements of our facilities, providing the latest state-of-the-art capabilities for our customers, explains Crossman. "This comes through in our company slogan: 'Do it right the first time, on time, every time.'"