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5 Signs You Might Sabotage Your Printing Industry Career


career sabotageThere is a funny tendency in human beings to undermine their very own efforts at succeeding. Maybe it’s nature or nurture or a combination of both. Most of us at one time or another (me included) are guilty of occasional ‘self-sabotage.’ Here are five signs that you might be dooming yourself to falling short of your potential and harming your career.

You Feel Entitled

Some years ago I worked with a new bindery staffer in whom I recognized an aptitude for operating folding machines. I offered to train him as a folding machine operator. He had some issues with punctuality but I was willing to look past them if he was willing to try. His response: “I'll take the training only if you give me the same money the other operators are getting…right now.”

Well, that nipped that deal in the bud and the offer was withdrawn. Within the week he was out of a job due to continued tardiness. His sense of entitlement cost him the potential to receive valuable training, on-the-job experience, not to mention a doubling of his wages within the year. The moral: don't wait for money or a job title to do the job. It will only cost you in the long run.

You Strive to Be Ordinary, One of the Crowd

If you strive to be the average guy, you can expect average compensation and average or no recognition. Admittedly, it can be hard to counter-act peer pressure and sometimes it’s simply more fun to be just one of the guys. But you’re not in it for fun. You’re in it to be rewarded for the value you bring to your company. You’re in it to make a difference in your life and the lives of those around you.

MaryEllen Tribby in a recent edition of The CEO’s Edge frames it like this, "Ninety-five percent of people are ordinary. If you're trying to be ordinary, you've got a lot of competition. But when you strive for extraordinary, you actually have less competition. This gives you the opportunity to not only achieve better results, but to stand out and become recognized for your contribution."

You Don’t Feel it’s Necessary to Think Like an Owner

After all, you are an employee and the owner has the ultimate responsibility for dealing with the big picture problems. You simply get paid for your time or particular expertise, right?
It’s easy to feel this way, especially if we’re surrounded by like-minded colleagues. However we are talking about ways to make you more valuable. One of the surest ways to do this is to think like an owner, even if you are not.

Tell yourself that you are running your own business. There are two ways this will help.

First, whatever your job, it has an impact on the customer. You are there as an employee because there is a need by the owner for help in satisfying the customer. If you always consider the impact your actions will have on the customer, (our final bosses) then you will be less likely to cut corners or do shoddy work. It will help you make better daily decisions for yourself and the company when you think like an owner.

Secondly, think of your employer as your customer. You’re in business to keep your ‘customer’ happy and must provide value in order to continue receiving your salary. When you actively run the business of “You, Inc.” you’ll find yourself automatically looking for ways to increase your value to your customer, your employer.

You Like to Complain and Find Fault

We complain when we don’t like something. It probably goes back to our toddler days when the only way to get a parent’s attention was to complain.

Randy Pausch in The Last Lecture writes, “Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won't make us happier.”

The fact is that when we are faced with something we don’t like, we have two choices. We can either accept it or we can take an action to fix it. Complaining is a negative act because it only keeps us in the problem and does nothing to fix it or move us past it.

Coach Lou Holz advises, “Never tell your problems to anyone. 20% don't care and the other 80% are glad you have them.” Instead, ask yourself what you can do to fix it. If there is nothing you can do, accept it and move on.

You Find Yourself Saying “It’s Not My Job”

Back in the day when a job with one company could last for decades, you might get away with this attitude. Today it is a sure-fire way to make yourself ordinary and expendable. Technology changes our jobs rapidly. The highly-paid film stripper who in the 90’s said it wasn’t his job to learn computers is now a part of printing history.

To keep things in perspective, I’m not talking about a highly paid, skilled pressman who is asked to clean the bathroom. Without extenuating circumstances, this would indeed be a foolish waste of resources. It’s not in the best interests of the company or the individual. But if the same pressman were asked to take a course in pre-press color management, it could be useful to both the company and the individual. It’s not part of his normal role in the company, but it could help the company to improve and it could make him ultimately more valuable to his current employer or to a future employer.

No matter what our position is in the company, we all have the same ‘job’ in that we need to keep the company successful. With that in mind, it’s important to avoid the knee-jerk reaction when faced with a request that falls outside our normal scope.

“Get ‘er Done” is the American way, is it not? If you are always open to new possibilities, to get the job done, it’s inevitable that you become more valuable. Strive for the extraordinary.

Have a story about self-sabotage in yourself or a co-worker? Feel free to share it below.

Production Tips from the Owner of a Perfect Binding Operation


I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Rodrigo Castellanos of Offset Universal, a printing company with an extensive perfect binding and saddle stitching operation. Although his Rodrigo Castellanoscompany focuses on publishing and printing books for direct clients, their bindery equipment capabilities led them to do trade bindery work for numerous printing companies throughout Mexico. He offers insight on ways to stay productive and competitive in our ever-changing industry especially with regard to the perfect binding aspect of the business.

Andre: Could you give us a little background on Offset Universal before we get in to details of your operation?

Rodrigo: Offset Universal has been in business since 1967. My father got involved in 1980 and it became something of a family business where he worked along with his brother for 20 years. My mother began working there in 2000 and I’ve been there about 11 years.

Today we have 53 employees. We operate 6 days a week, 12 hours a day and produce nearly 3 million perfect bound books each year along with plenty of saddle stitched books and a variety of other bindery and commercial printing work.

Andre: What type of equipment are you running?

Rodrigo: In the printing operation we have three Heidelberg sheet-fed presses up to 40”. In the bindery we have several Baum and MBO folders, Polar guillotine cutters and 2 Muller saddle stitchers. Our perfect binding lines include 2 Muller Martini RB-5’s and 1 Normbinder.

Andre: You and your family have been around the industry for some time now. What mistakes have you seen or made that you would tell other bindery owners to avoid?

Rodrigo: Don’t assume you have to buy a new machine to improve production speed or quality. The types of perfect binding and stitching machines we run are built to last. It’s a matter of oil, proper maintenance and good operating practices.

Most importantly, you can update these machines with retro-fit technology that can often get you the same results as investing in a brand new machine. Some of the things we’ve invested in over the years include signature recognition systems for the gathering or inserting stations, bigger pumps for improved vacuum and air control, and of course Technifold’s creasing systems for all of our cover feeders.

Depending on your particular needs, there are plenty of other upgrades that come to mind. Waste removal systems, stackers, inkjet addressing and labeling, strapping machines, 3-hole punches, and more.

I’ve learned that productivity often has less to do with the actual equipment itself and more to do with operating practices. Two important things come to mind.

One: run the machines at a constant, non-stop speed. I’ve found that our productivity is better when we run at the best possible non-stop speed. The trick is to find that maximum, non-stop speed for each particular job. Every job is different. This is one of the best productivity tips I can share.

This brings me to my second point. It’s worth investing in a good operator, preferably one with mechanical skills and talent. Those mechanical skills will keep your binding lines running and get them back up quickly when something breaks.

The operator should also know how to use all the accessories and adjustments on the machine if you want to get the most from your bindery equipment. It’s also important to support the operators by having all the tools, accessories and parts immediately available, well organized and easily accessible. 

Andre: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced with your perfect binding operation?

rounded spinesRodrigo: For years we struggled when running books with thin spines less than 4mm and/or light weight covers. The OEM scoring tools would leave us with unsightly rounded spines (photo at right) instead of a nice, square cover and the hinge scores on certain stocks simply didn’t perform like they should. We also had problems with fiber cracking on thick, UV coated covers.

All this in turn led me to try your Spine-Hinge creaser on one of our perfect binder cover feeders. Now we have them on all our perfect binding lines as well as the Technifold Spine Creasers on our saddle stitchers. That’s taken care of these problems. (photo lower right)

Andre: How much money and time would you calculate you’ve saved by retro-fitting your equipment with the various upgrades?

Rodrigo: I don’t have a dollar figure to give but I can say with certainty that all these small square backboneinvestments have returned many, many times their original cost. It’s truly invaluable.

Our operators are able to set up the machines faster than ever, on every single job. We run jobs with fewer errors and with a higher average hourly production. Quality is higher and our customers are happy. Over the years we’ve definitely prevented quite a few rejected or re-worked jobs which in turn boosted our customer retention.

And of course my experience with Technifold products led me to become a dealer for them, but that’s another chapter in my life and a story for another day!

Andre: Thanks, Rodrigo, for taking time to share your experiences with us. It’s always good to hear how bindery operators are staying competitive and how they are getting more from the equipment already on their floor. As always, if any of our readers have questions, comments or stories of their own, please feel free to share them below. If you’ve got a question for Rodrigo, I’m sure he’d be happy to answer those as well. Ask away in the comment box below!

Use Jigs and Gauges to Speed Folding Machine Setup


Most folding machine operators are familiar with the use of marks to aid in setting up any given folding job. Depending on your model of folding machine, it’s likely loaded with marks, indicators, dials and rulers to make it easier to set up. You probably have a lot of home-made marks of your own. Those of you with newer computer controlled automatic folders have it even better. You can dial up the exact same settings again and again with the push of a button.

For those with the pre-computer folders, there is a way to reduce setup time and increase accuracy. There is a concept that is popular in other industries such as woodworking and metalworking which can easily be applied to your folder. I’m talking about the use of jigs, gauges or templates to reduce setup times to a bare minimum and to reduce waste to as close to zero as possible.

I frequently used jigs in woodworking, a hobby, and I also used them to speed up hand-assembly projects in the bindery. Yet I never thought to transfer the concept to my work on folding machines. If I had it to do over again, I would make it a priority!

If this all sounds very “Lean” in nature, well, it is. In Setup Reduction for Printers, Malcolm Keif and Kevin Cooper review the concept of Lean as it applies to printing and print finishing operations. The goal of Lean is to eliminate anything that is waste, which translates to anything that the customer isn’t willing to pay for. This is overly simplistic but in short, the customer is paying only for product. Everything else is ‘waste’ and should be eliminated. Setup time is considered waste and the book discusses many approaches to reducing setup times.

Your company may or may not embrace Lean practices. It doesn’t matter. If you are an operator, supervisor, manager or owner, it’s in your best interest to always search for ways to become more valuable today than you were yesterday. A Lean state of mind will help you do just that.

Jigs and templates are anything that is used to position a variable adjustment on your machine. The authors use the illustration of an operator setting up a pile feeder and delivery by grabbing a handful of sheets to set the in-feed and delivery guides. That’s a very basic jig.

Of course the use of jigs and gauges only makes sense on repeat jobs since it takes time to create a useful jig. How do you determine what jigs or templates to create? In the spirit of Lean, the creation of such jigs is the result of asking a lot of difficult questions. Maybe start by asking “How can I reduce my folding machine setup waste to zero sheets?” Or to put it another, way, can you set up your folder so the first sheet in the delivery is perfect? If not, why not?

I suspect most operators will start to hem and haw nervously about now. After all, its ‘customary’ to have a certain amount of paper wasted and time wasted in setting up a folding machine or any other piece of bindery equipment. I say let’s toss customary out the window.

Even if your equipment is somewhat dated, you can start asking questions. The answers can give you setup reduction ideas you might not have ever considered before.

Let’s stick with the folding machine example. An easy and common setup is the letter fold on a book weight, 8.5x11” paper. On a simple folder you have the infeed guides, a vacuum or friction feeder, at least 2 fold plates, and delivery tray to set up. Pretty easy and it doesn’t take too long, right? I bet if you’re like most folks, you or your operators get it set pretty closely and then fiddle a bit with the fold plates to dial it in.

fold plate jigBut what if you could set it up so that the first sheet was perfect? How much time would that save you over the course of a year? If you do a letter fold job 100 times a year, and you save just 5 minutes of setup each time, you’ve saved 500 minutes or just over 8 hours.

How can a jig or a gauge do this? Let’s look at the fold plates. Most machines have adequate markings and will get you pretty close, but a little fine tuning is almost always required. A jig will eliminate this ‘fine tuning’ step.

Set up the machine so you have it folding perfectly. Now cut a wooden stick exactly to size to use as a gauge in each of the two fold plates you are using, as shown in the photo above. (A used plastic cutting stick from a guillotine cutter might even be better.) It may take a bit of re-cutting. Once you have the perfect fit, you can use these to dial in both fold plates before you ever run a sheet. The first sheet out should be perfectly folded, without any fine tuning. (The jigs will likely be slightly different for various weights of paper.)

Let’s look at setting up a 16-page right-angle signature. To what else could a jig or gauge be applied? What about infeed guides (continuous or pile feed), perforating blades, cross carriers, or cutting knives? If you put your mind to it, you can probably come up with some home-made ways to precisely and repeatedly position everything so as to produce a perfectly folded, perfed and trimmed sheet starting with sheet #1, and to do it faster than ever.

Think about all the little fine-tuning adjustments you make setting up such a signature. I just listed four things. Multiply that by several minutes of setup time each and you see that time savings can be significant when repeated over the course of a year.

Before you say “But, that’s impossible…” ask yourself, “Why not?” It will raise a lot of questions. Turn them into “what if” questions and you may be surprised at the answers you come up with. For a little outside-the-box thinking, ask the questions of people who know nothing about your machine. It may not be possible to achieve perfection, but if you continuously improve your setup times, you continuously become more valuable.

Look for more on this subject soon. If you’re using jigs, templates or gauges on your bindery equipment and would like to share, let me know using the Contact Us form. Or feel free to share your comments, suggestions and ideas below!

An Unusual Dog Ear Tip for Folding Machines


Dog ears can be a thorn in the side of folding machine operators. Sometimes a simple turn of the dial to adjust the inside panel fold length is all that’s needed to fix it. Other times it seems dog ear inside panelnothing will work. I would sometimes feel like it was a conspiracy of everyone from the designer through pressroom to see how creative, clever and experienced I really was. In true adherence to Murphy’s Laws, the problem was always at its worse when there was the least amount of time to fix it. I vaguely recall a trucker once standing by, pallet jack at hand, fingers tapping, chiding me to just run the job, problems or no, and pack it so he could get home in time for dinner.

score perf diagram250Brian Dickson of Gazette Printers ran into a dog ear problem running what should have been a routine 8.5x11 letter-fold piece on 80# Cover. The problem arose when the guillotine cutter operator mistakenly trimmed half the job so the inside panel was 1/8” too short. The job was also pre-scored and perforated, making it impossible to cheat a little here and there by moving the folds around. The end result: severe bent corners, also commonly called ‘dog ears’.

Dickson tried all the usual and unusual solutions on his MBO and Baum folding machines. He also tried one of my favorite techniques, described in detail here in a previous Bindery Success Blog article. The technique described in the article works like a charm for most dog ear problems. It was taught to me by an old-timer many years ago, but only after several years of suffering!

In this case however, the problem was made worse because the sheet had several perforations as shown in the diagram. The perfed boxes at the bottom of the sheet (the inside panel) made it difficult to manipulate that panel without ripping the perfs.

inline tandem right angleNext he decided to try something you might not normally try on a letter fold. Dickson set up his Baumfolder so the 8 page right angle section was running straight out from the parallel section instead of at a right angle. (drawing at lower right) Fold #1 was done in the first unit and fold #2 in the right angle unit. He hoped that by doing this, the first fold and inside panel would be flattened just enough to make the second fold possible.

The technique worked and they were able to finish the job without dog ears and without ripped perforations! I think there were probably two things at work here.

  • First, the trip through additional fold rollers did indeed flatten the inside panel and squeeze the fold just enough to prevent it from popping open and causing dog ears.
  • Second, as all folder operators know, the fold rollers will impart a slight curl to cover stock as it travels through the fold rollers. This can either have a positive or a negative impact, depending on the specifics of the job. We can’t know for sure, but it’s certainly possible that in this case the curling effect was a benefit. It might have removed a slight curl by curling in the opposite direction. Or it could have added a slight curl in a direction that was beneficial to preventing dog ears.

In any event, it worked. Doing the two folds in two separate sections obviously increased the factors at work on the sheet. We know that extra time and distance traveled in a folding machine means there are more opportunities for scratching, scuffing, and jamming. Usually we try to avoid doing this on folders and most other bindery equipment. Yet in this case, it proved to be the perfect opportunity to eliminate the problem. That’s something to keep in mind when you’re faced with your next ‘insoluble’ folding problem!

Thank you Brian for submitting this tip. It’s another great illustration of the inventiveness and persistence that are the traits of good bindery equipment operators. (Last week’s article touched on the same subject with a clever folding solution submitted by another Bindery Success™ reader. You can read it here.)

Please feel free to share this article with your colleagues using the buttons at left or at the top of the page. And as always, we welcome your comments, stories and feedback below.

Getting More from Your Bindery Equipment


Want to find out if your next interviewee for a bindery department opening is a good candidate? Try this experiment. Show them a piece of bindery equipment and briefly explain what it does. Then pause for a few moments and ask them, “What’s on your mind?” If they answer, “I was wondering what else I could do with it,” then you have a lifer who is perfect for bindery work.

astronaut folding machineBorn out of nature and necessity, this trait seems to be universal among good bindery staff. Most of us who stay in this line of work have an inquisitive mechanical nature anyway. Working on bindery equipment is like playing with giant but expensive Lego® sets. You simply can’t help but try to come up with a new creation that’s not in the book!

Then there’s necessity. It’s easy for production bottlenecks to form at the bindery. It’s the nature of any manufacturing environment that the last guy in line is prone to have less time than originally planned and almost certainly will not have a cushion. The folks ahead of them used that up. Thus we’re faced with the necessity of having to perform, usually last-minute and most definitely with whatever equipment we have on the shop floor.

The resulting creativity is often impressive, fun, and useful to share with colleagues. In that spirit we have a clever bindery setup submitted to us by Jim Murphy of Crescent Printing.
The job at hand is a letter sized piece which needs to be ink jetted, then folded, then triple tabbed. The method they had been using was to fold the job in half in one operation, then ink jet and tab in a second, separate operation.

Recently they devised a way to accomplish all that in a single operation. First, they purchased an independent control box, sometimes called a self-control box, for the right angle section of their MBO folder. (Sure would be nice to install these on some people I know…) These control boxes simply let you run your right angle section anywhere you want, independent of the main folding machine section. Basically you’re turning the right angle into a separate, stand-alone folding machine, good for all sorts of uses. (Read a related article here.)

Next, and this is my favorite part, they bought a high-speed conveyor belt from a local surplus store—for only 30 bucks. Heh. With these inexpensive upgrades, they now assembled the various units as shown in the video below. The piece is first processed on their Video Jet BX system and then runs into the MBO right angle section for the single fold in half. The folded piece is delivered on the conveyor for forwarding to the tabber for triple tabbing.

The net results?

  • Offline folding of 70,000 pieces is completely eliminated.
  • Murphy says that running at 14,000 pieces per hour, there was no sacrifice in tabbing speed.
  • The job was produced in substantially less time and with fewer people. The customer also got a better postal rate with the smaller size. It’s a winning situation all the way around.

Every time you produce a bindery job in less time, with fewer people, you boost your net profits. If you repeat the job, the savings and the impact to net profits will be significant over the course of a year.

Another huge benefit to doing more, faster, with what you have, is that you gain a competitive edge. These days, if you can turn any given job a day sooner or even hours sooner, you have the advantage if time is an issue with the buyer. And time is always a precious commodity.

Most of us know the story of the troubled Apollo 13 space mission which suffered a life-threatening mechanical failure enroute to the moon. The engineers in Houston calculated the astronauts were going to be nine hours short of oxygen. Incredibly, the key to their life-and-death solution involved duct tape and a piece of plastic bag. Yes, they had a roll of the tape on a space mission! It allowed them to modify the air scrubber system and kept them alive all the way home.

Although our bindery jobs are not as glamorous or newsworthy as the astronauts, there is a similar spirit at work. Murphy also submitted a unique inline saddle-stitching and tabbing operation which you can read about here. In the bindery, the only thing we can do today is to work with what’s at hand so that we can get it done now. Sometimes we even use tape!

The printing industry may be changing, but as Jim Murphy and his colleagues show us, the inventive spirit is still alive and well! Or perhaps Murphy is on a campaign to re-write Murphy’s Laws with a positive spin.

If you have a creative bindery solution or tip you’d like to share, just let us know here. We pay from $100 up to $250 for tips and videos we can use. If you like the article, please share with your colleagues using the toolbar at left or at the top of the page. As always, we welcome your stories and comments below.

A Rock and Roll Lesson on My First Day in the Bindery


My first day in the printing industry made me feel like I was one step closer to being a rock star. I had moved to New York City in the late 70’s, telling my parents I was going there to attend college. The real reason was that I wanted to join a rock-n-roll band, get a record deal and tour the world. You had to go to New York or LA to make that happen.

rock star red guitar200I found a band that would have me as their bass guitarist, I attended Columbia University part time, and soon found myself working with the band leader in his parents’ printing company, sandwiched between the city’s meatpacking district and Greenwich Village.

After the usual first-day introductions they set me to work collating sheet music by hand. The piece was Christopher Cross’ Ride Like the Wind, his mega-hit song from 1979. I remember thinking how cool it was just to be surrounded by the aura of musical stardom. It didn’t matter if it happened to be in the industrial atmosphere of a commercial printing bindery department.

Of course I understood that manually collating 10,000 sets of sheet music would not make me famous. Yet simply participating in the production of music for a hit song was an authentic New York experience. And that was good enough for a twenty-something bindery guy with zero experience and a serious need for cash in an expensive city.

In reality I had an advantage. My little fantasy gave me a big picture outlook on the menial task set before me. I liked to imagine what it would mean to me as a musician to have a company distributing thousands of sets of sheet music for a song on which I had performed. I knew it would mean a lot and of course I’d want it done perfectly.

With such a viewpoint, as both potential customer and producer, I performed the task with extra care. So when my supervisor said they had to be done before I went to lunch, it didn’t bother me so much because I had a sense of the importance of the job. When the owner corrected me on my shoddy shrink-wrapping of the project, I didn’t feel put upon or overwhelmed because I had already subconsciously put myself in the customer’s shoes.

In hindsight these were some great lessons for a first day at a new job. Of course we all expect to get a list of tasks, priorities and expectations when we settle into a new job. One of the most important things I learned was to always take it a step or two further than the job description in front of me, to think beyond myself.

It’s not that hard. Put yourself in your bosses' shoes for a minute. (We all have bosses.) What do you think is expected of him by HIS boss? What pressure and expectations is he or she facing? Always try to understand what your boss is trying to accomplish. The reasons behind their actions are rarely arbitrary. If you get a good feel for that, you'll do your job better and you benefit in other ways.

  • You'll react better to what is demanded of you, especially if it’s difficult or even beyond the call of duty.
  • You defuse tension and avoid the negative, “it’s not my job” mentality.
  • You give yourself a greater sense of purpose.
  • You make it more likely that you’ll be promoted because in a sense, you’ve already stepped into your bosses shoes. Your colleagues will sense that.

Try to imagine the problems and expectations faced by the owner of your company. In any job, the daily activities and stresses of small business can be wide-ranging and seemingly without reason. There is always a reason. In the end it may not make sense to you, and you might even disagree. But if it makes sense to the person to whom you’re accountable, and you understand that reason, it’s a lot easier to accept and to hop on board in support.

Ultimately, we should try to understand what customers want, because that’s what drives everything. In the end, it is the customer who signs your paycheck. If you take some time to understand that, your first day and the many days to come are far more meaningful than if you stuck to reading the boring job description in front of you.

The first day on a new bindery machine usually gave me the same feelings as the first day on a new job. It could be intimidating, even after many years in the industry. It was more so when the owner brought in a customer, their ad agency, the company sales reps and production people to watch you run a critical job.

Chuck Yeager, the famous test pilot who broke the sound barrier, said about flying the dangerous X-1 rocket plane, “It wasn’t that the X-1 would kill you, it was the systems in the X-1 that would kill you.” The secret to his success was that before he operated any equipment (in his case, dangerous airplanes), he would learn the systems inside and out.

In my first year or so running an ancient Sheridan saddle stitcher, I didn’t really understand much about how and why stitcher heads operated. The result was a lot of needless stitching problems and wasted books, along with broken and prematurely worn parts. When I took time to fully understand that particular part of the binding system, my results improved dramatically.

The ‘system’ on your job might involve bindery equipment, software or management procedures. Whatever the system, learn the ins and outs before you take off and you’ll likely have a smooth landing.

The first day of retirement hasn’t arrived for me, nor do I have any plans for it. I’ve noticed however, that we get numerous requests from folks in the industry to keep them on our Bindery Success™ mailing list after they retire. That says a lot about the industry. After a lifetime of working in printing, they'd like to stay in touch with people, events and ideas. There are good memories and the challenges have their rewards. For the newcomer, this is a good sign of things to come! It means you have much to anticipate.

There will always be a new ‘first’ in your future. You can count on that. Whatever it is, remember to think of the big picture, to think with the ‘big hat on’. We’re always students. I’m not jumping around on a stage these days, unless you count playing with the church choir as a gig. But I’m still relishing the adventure I embarked on when I took off for New York City, and I still remember the lessons.


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Tips for Small Folding Machines in Digital Post-Press Departments


Small tabletop folding machines are simple, reliable pieces of bindery equipment. With their utility at doing short runs quickly and their prevalence in the used equipment market, they’re a popular option for digital print finishing departments.

Maybe you received a little training when you bought your folder or perhaps you just read the manual and watched a video. If you’re new to folding machines, this will get you started and will probably keep you running for weeks or even months. But if you don’t remember some basic pointers, eventually even the routine jobs will start to give you grief.

Problems on small folders typically have simple causes and many are entirely preventable. Here are a few basic tips and habits to help your troubleshooting efforts and keep your folding machine running like new.

hand cleaning equipment225Keep the machine clean. Dust is the enemy of all bindery equipment. It sticks to oiled parts, rollers, trays, shafts, and accessories. Even very small amounts of dust on the accessory shafts can prevent you from sliding tools freely. It can build up in fold plates and fold rollers, causing paper jams and smudging your beautifully printed jobs. Over the long term, it behaves like sandpaper, gradually wearing out anything that moves.

If you do nothing else, keep your folder clean! It takes seconds to wipe it down at the end of each day. Keep it covered when it’s not in use.

Keep your fold rollers clean. (There’s that word ‘clean’ again!) If you have rubber fold rollers which are glazed, hardened or cracked, you will have problems. Follow the manufacturer’s directions when applying cleaners or solvents. If you’re not sure, use warm water and a mild soap on the rubber components, using care around metal parts.  Combination rubber/steel rollers also need to be kept clean, both metal and rubber parts.

Water, or a water and solvent solution, is often required to remove glazes that are a combination of paper dust, inks and varnishes. Be sure any metal components are wiped dry.

Lubrication. Most small folders require little lubrication, but when called for, be sure to do it according to schedule, and with the right amount of lubricant. In my apprentice years I made the mistake of being overzealous with an oil can. The folder mechanic who witnessed the results of my transgression simply said, “I bet you won’t ever do that again!” For weeks I was pulling oil-spotted sheets from the jobs I ran. He was right, I never did it again.

Maintain friction feeder parts. If your folder has a friction feeder, there are components in it that wear with use. Older Baumfolders for instance, have a rubber retarder roll that needs to be periodically rotated and eventually replaced. Rubber feed wheels are susceptible to glazing. Ideally you should keep these clean and in good condition. If a feeding problem suddenly appears, check the rubber components and adjust, clean or replace as needed.

Square up the in-feed. Most small tabletop style folders feed directly into the fold rollers, although some will have a register table. Whichever it is, be sure the in-feed guides or the register table side guide is perpendicular to the first fold roller.

Although you may have to skew the in-feed guides at some point to compensate for a sheet that is not cut squarely, it is always better to start with them set perpendicular to the fold rollers.

Put another way, given a folding machine in reasonable mechanical condition, given paper that is trimmed properly, and given an in-feed that is set correctly, the paper will always register and fold perfectly. Take away any one of those items and that’s when your folding problems begin and your setup times increase.

Check your sheet spacing. A good rule of thumb: if more than half of the folded sheet is going into the first fold plate, increase spacing between sheets. This prevents the trailing edge of a sheet from interfering with the lead edge of the following sheet.

To demonstrate this to a folding machine novice, set up a letter-fold job with the first fold in plate one, set to 2/3 of the sheet length. Do the final fold in plate 2. Keep the spacing close. Run some sheets into the machine by hand and watch the slow-motion action as the sheets overlap. It becomes clear why spacing can be a problem. It isn’t always a problem but if an issue appears with this type of fold, then spacing is the first thing you want to adjust.

Know your folding machine limits. Is the stock too thick or thin for your machine? Yes, there are limits and no, you probably can’t run that 14 pt board through your tabletop machine. I know you’re going to do it anyway, but don’t complain to the manufacturer when it doesn’t work as well as a 20# bond! Some light-use folders are designed only for book weight or copier papers.

Remember too that stocks heavier than about 6 pt. will require scoring or creasing. This is the only way to maintain consistent register and in many cases will be needed to eliminate fiber cracking.

Read the Manual. Even though your machine is fairly simple, make sure you have all the operating and maintenance basics covered by reviewing the manufacturer’s instructions. A tiny oversight can cause major problems.

For instance, you want to ensure the fold plates are always installed correctly, according to directions. On some machines it’s easy to install them incorrectly! If you don’t catch that, you’ll be scratching your head all day trying to solve a ‘folding problem’.  There might be safety switches or re-set buttons particular to your machine. It only takes a few minutes to review your entire manual.

The bottom line is that a low-cost used folding machine combined with a creasing machine (such as our CreaseStream Mini) makes for a productive and very responsive digital post-press department. Be mindful of the few simple items above. You’ll prevent most folding machine problems and keep your digital printing operation running the way you want.

Have a small folding machine tip or story? Feel free to share below.


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How to Run 2 or More Scores When You Only Have One Scoring Tool


It can be a headache, but there are times when it’s necessary to run a scoring or perforating job twice through a piece of bindery equipment. Maybe you have one creasing tool available but this job calls for two or three. Perhaps it’s an equipment scheduling problem and the small folder with one scoring tool is the only one available that day. The headache usually starts with the second pass through the machine, when the operator discovers the entire first pass didn’t register, or is in the wrong position, or is crooked. Worse yet, a customer discovers the problem!

Whatever the scenario, there are special challenges that will catch you off guard if you aren’t accustomed to running multiple passes. A few simple habits however, can prevent the high-speed, inadvertent transformation of valuable printed material into waste sheets.

1) The first pass through a folding machine might impart a slight curl to the sheet. This in turn can influence the register the second time through. It also makes it harder to feed. Generally this is a folding machine issue, but it can happen on scoring machines as well. If you encounter a curl problem, here are a few things you can try.

Simply flip the sheet. An up or down curl might catch the edge of a deflector or roller. Flipping it over might eliminate the issue. Run a few test sheets to see if the register problem disappears. If it does, then be sure to move the scoring or creasing tools to the opposite shaft.

Prevent or minimize the curl in the first place. Here’s a tip for folders that reduces or eliminates curl and improves register. The downside is that there are size limitations depending on your folding machine. You can download the tip here.

Let the curl work for you. If the sheet already has a curl, run it through the folder on the first pass so the fold rollers remove the curl. In some cases you’ll end up with a perfectly flat sheet for the second pass.

2) If a scored piece is to be subsequently folded, check it in the folding machine. When you score and fold inline you get instant feedback if there’s a problem. So it’s obvious when to stop. Not so with two passes. But there is a workaround.

Make the first score you run the same as the first fold in your folder. For example on a letter fold let’s say you plan to fold up into fold plate #1 and down into fold plate #2. On your first scoring pass, do the score for fold #1. Score a handful of sheets. Set your folder for fold #1 only, and then run the scored sheets through the folder to check position, register and quality.

If the folding is done on another machine, repeat this process with the second score. In any event, make sure you test it on the folder before you run an entire scoring pass!

3) Check the register with every handful. To start with you should have “reference sheet” with the score or perforation lines marked exactly in the right position. A rule-out (lineup sheet) is helpful, but I’ve found it more accurate to have an actual sample cut to size and then marked. Then take one sheet periodically and compare it to your reference sheet.

paper jogged dotted line250It’s also vitally important to check sheet-to-sheet register as you jog each lift from the delivery. Sight along the edge of the neatly jogged lift and any register problems will be readily visible. The photo at right exaggerates the effect. Yet anything that strays from a perfectly straight line as shown is an indication of a problem.

When checking register in this manner, check both the leading edge AND trailing edge. It sounds like a lot of work but it's easy. Jog the lift, look at one side, flip it over and look at the other side. It soon becomes second nature.

4) Be sure paper is trimmed consistently. Running in two passes is like shuffling a deck of cards. If there is any variation or other problem, it will be almost impossible to sort it out afterwards. If the lead edge of the sheet is roughed up or dinged, this too can cause problems. Set aside any problem sheets and deal with them separately.

5) A rough or deep perf can affect register on the second pass. If you’re running a combination of scores and perfs and you think the perf might be a problem, do the perforating pass last if at all possible. Or better yet, use a finer perforating blade or a micro perforating tool.

If you have a way to flatten the perf as you are running, be sure to do it. Many perforating machines have a de-burring or flattening feature built in. On a folding machine, you might be able to flatten the perf if you have a 16pp right angle section or you have pre-slitter shafts. A note of caution from one who has been there and done it: do NOT flatten a lift of perfed sheets using the clamp in the guillotine cutter! This will just make them stick together when you go to feed them again.

Yes, it requires a little more effort and care when running multiple passes on your folding and scoring machines. As with ALL post-press work, it pays to take a few minutes to think the job through to the end, well before you ever pick up that first sheet.

Of course the sales department says I should have just shortened this article to one sentence, “Buy all the extra Tri-Creasers and Micro Perforators you need so you can do everything in one pass.” In the interest of being accommodating to my colleagues, and for those of you new to our bindery solutions, you can download more info below.

Have a two-pass story you want to share? Add your comments below and be sure to share this article with your colleagues.


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9 Easy Ways to Improve Your Post-Press Operation


If you manage a post-press operation, you know how easy it is to be pulled every which way by the daily details of running, maintaining and scheduling a mix of bindery equipment. Throw in an equipment breakdown, a personnel issue, or a snow storm and your headaches multiply.

detective work bindery 175It’s a tough spot to be in. The post-press end of the printing business is very much a hands-on affair and traditionally we’re taught to muscle our way through whatever is in front of us. Bindery department supervisors often come up through the ranks, so there is probably little in the way of management training.

But when the management responsibility falls on our shoulders, then we must make the critical transition from working IN the business or department to working ON it. Otherwise the operation is managing us.

This doesn’t mean you have to do it full time, especially if you are a hands-on supervisor or even an owner whose duties include operating equipment. Your management education can start with the simple act of stepping back from the daily grind to take a look at what’s going on.

Here are nine components of your operation that are easy to examine. Small changes in each can have an instant, positive impact on productivity.

1) Checklists. Even the simplest of checklists is proven to prevent mistakes and improve efficiency, quality, safety, and communication. Pilots, surgeons, and equipment operators in many industries use them for good reason.

They can also be used to make decisions in advance. This in turn reduces the number of pesky, repeated questions you get asked throughout the day.

We talk about checklists in more detail here in this related article. The article also contains a link to download a “Checklist for Checklists” which will help you in creating checklists tailored to your operation.

2) Training. What training programs, if any, are required of new employees on your staff? Is advanced equipment training available to operators who want to move up and learn more? Manufacturers and equipment dealers are great resources. So are bindery equipment mechanics who often have decades of experience they are willing to share. A day or two of training from an experienced mechanic can yield huge dividends.

If you have a larger staff, you undoubtedly have internal expertise which could be put to good use in a formal training program.

3) Safety. Is there a safety program in your shop or department? If not, there should be. Bindery equipment, despite all the safeguards, can still cause serious injury. Working in a warehouse environment around forklifts, trucks and loading docks also pose their own special hazards, especially to the newcomer.

There are plenty of free and low-cost safety training resources available online through OSHA, the Printing Industries of America, and the Binding Industries Association. And don’t forget, equipment manufacturer’s recommendations are an important resource for specific safety recommendations.

4) Manage Activity and Measure Results. If we could manage results, life would be simple! Of course the only thing we can truly manage is our activity and the activity of those colleagues for whom we are responsible—who does what, how they do it, when they do it, etc.

But if we don’t have a system for measuring the results of that activity, how do we know we made a good decision? We don’t. We must determine what’s important and then measure it.

For instance, if you are supervising a crew of folding machine operators, you probably want to keep track of production on each machine. If you know that average production on Folder A is a certain level and Johnny is always 20% less than average, then you know you’ve got to address how Johnny is doing his job. Perhaps he needs more training.

There is no right or wrong thing to measure. If it’s a digital post-press operation, perhaps the number of jobs that ship each day is the important number. Each business or department has its own unique needs and special importance. Measuring results will lead to questions and these questions will guide you in the ongoing process of managing activity.

5) Managing Slack Time. Downtime due to lack of work is too often seen as free time, or a time to relax and let everyone have free reign. That’s a mistake. Slack time like this should be managed and scheduled with the same importance as uptime.

A simple way to do this is to have a list of pre-planned activities prepared for slack time. When slack time happens, your staff jumps right into the list. This turns wasted time into productive, useful time. Go here for a related article on the subject of managing slack time.

Perhaps a little free time or fun time is important to your organization. If so, put it on the list! The point is to manage it, rather than letting it manage you.

6) Drug Testing. If drugs are being used in your workplace, then your staff’s productivity is unquestionably worse than it should be. So too their health and safety.

7) Lean Practices. In a perfect world, lean manufacturing comes from the top down in any organization. But if your organization doesn’t embrace the concept, you can still incorporate lean practices in your department. There is a more detailed article on lean practices here.

A great primer on the subject is Setup Reduction for Printers: A Practical Guide to Reducing Makeready Time in Print Manufacturing by Malcolm Keif and Kevin Cooper. It’s an easy read and as the title suggests, it’s geared specifically towards the print industry. You can buy the book here on

8) Analyze Unscheduled Downtime. Here we are talking about failures in equipment or personnel that result in unscheduled machine downtime. As Murphy’s Law teaches us, such failures occur at the worst possible moment and will cause the maximum amount of financial damage.

Some failures are preventable, yet that only happens if you take the time to analyze why it happened. In fact, there is an entire industry devoted to failure analysis using data collection. For our purposes, you can start an analysis by using questions or if you want to call it by its proper name, Socratic Method.

Let’s say for instance that a folding machine is down. Your question series might go something like this:

Q. What caused the folder to go down?
A. A vacuum pump failed.

Q. Why did the pump fail?
A. It overheated.

Q. Why did it overheat?
A. The intake filter was clogged and the cooling fins were caked with dirt.

Q. Why were they dirty?
A. The night shift thought the day shift took care of cleaning and filters, and the day shift thought the maintenance department was responsible.

Q. So what can we do to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

You get the idea. With questions, you can drill down to get to the real reasons behind a failure. Of course one line of questioning may open up two or three more lines of inquiry. That however, is a good thing. Questions will uncover problems and educate at the same time.

Use questions wisely. Remember, we’re not trying to fix the blame; we’re trying to fix the problem.

9) Analyze Rejected Jobs. I’ve seen many companies who simply accept a certain level of rejection. Rejected or re-worked jobs are simply another form of failure. Questioning and analyzing a rejected job as you would an equipment failure is a powerful way to prevent it from happening again.

Yes, failures will always happen. The key to succeeding is to move past the failures as fast as possible. Successful companies and departments will still fail, but they won’t fail at the same things over and over again. 

To sum it up, make it a point to carve out some time each day to work ON whatever it is you manage. It’s a lot of tiny, thoughtful changes that make possible the big improvements. As the old saying goes, “Little hinges swing big doors,” and your bosses or customers are knocking!

We welcome your comments and stories below. Please feel free to share socially with your colleagues!

Lessons Learned on the Midnight Bindery Shift and Other Dirty Jobs


I’d wager that the real story of our work life isn’t in the bindery and printing jobs found on our resumes or posted on our LinkedIn profiles. What makes us who we are is more often found in those long-forgotten jobs we don’t bother to include. Other times it’s the story behind a job that carries the real meaning and lesson, often in ways we don’t expect.

farmer horse200My first work experience isn’t exactly what you would call a job. Growing up on a farm, I remember crops being harvested, hay being baled, cows milked, eggs picked, chickens fed, the garden tended, barns cleaned, and the countless other chores that went into making up a day in the life of a farmer. When I was old enough, probably 8 or 9, I was drafted to participate in the chores. Farm life has a rhythm tied to nature. So farming work didn't really seem like work; it seemed as natural as the rising and setting of the sun. It was simply the way the world functioned.

In later years, when I began learning my way around the bindery and print shop, the amount of work involved didn't intimidate me. Hard work, and lots of it, was, after all, a natural thing. But there were a few educational stops along the way to my adventures in print finishing.

My first ‘real’ job was as a dishwasher at a traditional road-house diner frequented by interstate travelers, truckers, construction workers, and hungry locals. It was the summer before 8th grade and at thirteen, I was delighted to be earning the princely sum of $1 an hour for 40 hours a week. It was big money to me.

The personalities at the restaurant, both workers and customers, were right out of a TV sitcom. You didn’t want to bother the owner on a Monday morning if she had a bad weekend at the track. The efficiently flirtatious waitress was skilled at earning maximum tips in minimum time and had a regular and quite colorful cast of daily breakfast and lunch customers. The ornery short-order cook softened on slow days and called me over to the grill to teach me how to cook.

I already had a good work ethic from the farm but the folks here taught me to be diligent. If I let some dirty silverware get by they’d ask me how I would feel if I were sitting down to eat with a dirty knife and fork. Thus I learned to put myself in the customer’s shoes.

I had no choice but to learn to be sociable since I was surrounded with a casting director’s dream crew of dysfunctional personalities. I learned to ask the owner how she made out with the horses before asking for a day off. I learned to step up to the plate when early one morning, with no cook in sight, the waitress convinced me that I could indeed handle the grill and take care of those first breakfast orders. (That’s when I realized why the cook shared his skills with me. I was the perfect cover for his alchohol-induced tardiness and I wouldn’t dare squeal!) I learned that for value delivered to others, you get value in return. 

In high school I worked with my two younger brothers in the kitchen at a local seafood restaurant. Since it was closer to home and we were too young to drive, we could ride our bikes to work.

Here I learned about building trust. In just a few months the owner and manager came to trust us enough to let me and my brothers man the kitchen alone. Looking back I am amazed at the level of trust placed by an adult in three pimply teens who couldn’t even drive. We did all the prep, cooking, handled the take-out window and did all the clean up. It gave us all tremendous confidence. You can’t buy that anywhere. While my two brothers both learned they liked the business (they each own restaurants) I decided I’d prefer a different career.

When that place closed down after the young, well-liked manager embezzled restaurant funds and ran off with a waitress to Mexico, I went to work at the local all-girls college cafeteria. Hey, where else would a teenaged boy go for a job? Here I learned a little about destruction of trust.

One afternoon someone stole my wallet from my locker when I mistakenly left it there while changing. I remember it contained $55 which was probably an entire paycheck. It shocked me. I realized I was working side by side with someone who could look me in the eye, laugh and joke, then turn around and rob me. It was a scary loss of innocence, but I learned that trust in others takes time to develop. Sometimes it never does.

Even with this incident, I liked my college cafeteria job. It was an escape, a way to make money, and actually a lot of fun despite moments of drudgery. The boss' daughter also worked in the kitchen and I remember one day she told me her dad thought I was often angry because I didn't smile much. This stunned me as much as having my wallet stolen!

How could my outside appearance be so different from what I was feeling inside? Sure, I was quiet and introspective but never angry at work. I loved work. From that day on I learned to smile more, to match the outside to the inside. I didn't want to wrongly put others off. In turn this taught me to not judge others so quickly. Outside appearances usually don’t tell the whole story.

One of the toughest jobs I had was working nights in a print shop. The work itself was easy. It was the emotional toll that was hard. Prior to this job I had been laid off from a really good, long time job as a bindery supervisor. I quickly got a new job but that came to an end soon after the tragedy of 9/11. Desperate for work I took the night shift job. My duties were whatever needed doing, including sweeping floors, loading the saddle stitcher pockets, packing boxes and when they had the work, some guillotine cutting and folding machine work.

It was not fun but I learned a few things that changed my life. I learned to be grateful for a job when so many had none. I learned the importance of perseverance. Keep at it and never give up. It was this lack of full time employment combined with relentless searching which led me to start representing Technifold products. If I were safe and comfy in a full time job this never would have happened. Lastly I learned there is honor in all work, no matter how inconsequential it might seem.

There were other jobs too. I packed miniature doll-house furniture, worked in the furnace rooms of an aluminum manufacturing plant, drove a lumber delivery truck and did warehouse work.

It seems that today, here at Technifold USA, I’ve come full circle. Work isn’t work; its part of the rhythm of life, just as it was on the farm. I would never have guessed that 43 years later I’d be writing fondly about my dishwashing experiences, and that others might actually find value in the story. The best education however, has come from those of you reading and from the thousands of clients with whom we’ve worked with through the years. I’ll share those in future articles. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll even share some more stories of misadventure from my years as a print shop insider.

Have you learned something valuable from a job? Feel free to share your stories below.

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