In recent years digital printing has spread out into the world, with many small businesses taking on the role of mini in-plant printer. Designers, wedding invitation specialists, funeral homes, boutique printers, promotional item manufacturers, and realtors are just a few types of companies who have added printing to their operations.
In the old school world of commercial printing, there is often a salesperson, an ad agency, or a corporate layer insulating the producer of the product from the end user. Not so with these new ‘mini in-plants.’ Their customers are the end users, and their feedback is immediate and direct.
There is a personal lesson to be learned from the way in which these newcomers to printing think about their jobs and their clients.
Yes, precision and accuracy in print has always been important. Yet if people are using print less, then when they DO turn to it, they’ll look at it more closely than ever. It’s not okay for the job to be just okay; they must love what they see. If you’ve never delivered a job to a client, then these brief stories might shed new light on doing your job differently, and better.
Amanda Sale is President of AJ Studios where every job is unique and special to the customer. When the client picks up the printed pieces she designs for their wedding, special event, or small business marketing campaign, it’s important to her that they love the product. An ‘okay’ job simply won’t get her studio a second chance. Custom wedding invitations are one of Sale’s passions and in those cases, there is only one chance to do it right. The new bride expects that she will love the product and nothing less will do.
In an article in American Funeral Director magazine Kevin Czachor writes, “Even minor errors such as a mistake in an obituary or an incorrect font used on a prayer card can disrupt or even ruin the entire experience for those attending. Regardless of whether the fault lies with the newspaper or the printing company, small oversights have the potential to tarnish a funeral director’s reputation irrevocably.” As with weddings, there is no re-do. And the consequences from printing and finishing a job poorly are high.
Personally, one customer stands out from my years of printing work. He was a radio man in a World War II B-17 bomber who was shot down and spent time as a prisoner of war in the infamous Stalag 17B. He dropped into our print shop with a large box of handwritten pages, including his POW journal, and said he wanted to tell his story in a book. It was for his family and his friends and not necessarily for publication.
He was a retiree without a lot of disposable income so we gave him a good price to typeset, print and bind a small book. It didn’t even come close to covering the costs, but I liked the guy, and certainly I respected him for his sacrifice. My boss shook his head knowingly—he would have done the same.
Here was a fellow who felt compelled to share a vital piece of his role in history with those he would leave behind. He was a frequent visitor to the shop during the project and there was at least one day where recollections of lost friends brought tears to his eyes. We were tasked with transforming this emotional chapter of his life into ink on paper. We weren’t delivering a book; we were delivering a family treasure, a keepsake. It had to be right.
I spent many nights and weekends typesetting that book, making changes, editing, revising, and finally producing the printed book. When I’d get bleary eyed from reading the handwritten pages and peering into a computer screen, I’d think about him riding the B-17 to a crash landing in the enemy desert with two engines shot out, one engine missing entirely and a fourth barely hanging on. Then I’d continue.
Although his project seemed to take forever, it was a fraction of the two and a half years he spent as a prisoner of war. And when the final product was delivered, all my work seemed to have happened in the blink of an eye.
Not every print job can be a labor of love like this. Nor does every job have the significance of a wedding, funeral, or war experience. But if we take a minute to think of the person who will be using the product we’re producing, we are, in a way, doing our job with love. This can’t help but make for a better product, no matter what it is. It pushes us to meet these ever-rising expectations as the importance of print increases.
In an age of big data, complex technology, and endless metrics for measuring effectiveness, profits, and productivity, we shouldn’t lose sight of the person at the other end. They are a unique story and you are playing a role.
Have a story about print that touched you? Feel free to share it below. Or share this article with your colleagues using the social media buttons above or at left.
One frequently asked bindery question we get is “How can I produce multiple scores, very close together, on my folding machine?” These scores might be for a few different purposes such as perfect bound book covers, product cases and wraps, tray inserts, table tents, raffle ticket booklets, or other specialty folded items.
As you or your folder operator might have already discovered, there are limitations on how closely scoring or creasing tools can be spaced. However, if you need to overcome these limits, you have a few options you might not have thought about.
- Add pre-slitter shafts to your folder. These shafts are located just prior to the first fold roller. The combination of two sets of shafts, before and after the fold rollers, allows you to score, perf, or cut with fewer limitations. Although this option is usually ordered when the machine is made, there are retro-fit kits available on certain types of folders such as Stahl, MBO and Baumfolder. Check with your dealer. If you’re doing enough complex finishing work on your folder, it’s a great feature to have.
- Run a right angle section in line with the main, parallel section. (diagram at right) Close off all the fold plates (deflectors down) and position scores or creases on both sets of slitter shafts. You get the same net effect as having pre-slitter shafts although you have the extra complication of having to register the sheet twice, once in each folding section.
- Run the piece through the folder two or more times, as needed. For a short run, this is a quick fix. Be sure to carefully monitor the folder’s register. After the first pass through the machine you might have a bit of curl one way or the other which can affect how well it registers. (See a related article here on reducing curl.) You don’t want the first pass to register perfectly while the second pass bounces all over the place.
- Use a specialty tool such as Technifold’s Spine-Hinge Creaser to create up to four creases simultaneously.
You can put this on conventional folding machines without the need for pre-slitters, and you get up to four closely spaced creases in one pass. Of course if you already have pre-slitters, then this gives you even more creasing and finishing flexibility.
Spacing between creases is adjustable as shown in the video. Spine width when running four creases is infinitely variable with a minimum of 5mm, or just under ¼”. Hinge width varies from 4mm to 17mm (5/8” plus).
All four creases can be positioned on the same side of the sheet or you can run two on one side and two on the other. Three different male rib profiles combined with four female channels provides a lot of flexibility to crease a wide range of paper.
Although this creasing tool was originally designed to produce creases for perfect bound book covers, we’ve found users applying it in numerous other product applications, as mentioned above. Since many of these require only two creases, and due to popular demand, we’ve decided to offer a 2-Crease version of the Spine-Hinge Creaser.
In short, the 2-Crease version will do either one or two creases. The minimum crease to crease distance is 4mm (just under ¼”) and the maximum is 17mm (just over 5/8”).
Both versions are available to fit MBO 30 & 35mm, and Stahl 35mm shafts. We have a slightly different version to fit the Stahl 25mm shafts.
Click the video below to see how the Spine-Hinge creaser is set up and run on an MBO folding machine. If you’d like more details and current pricing, please use the Contact Us page to send an email or call the sales office number at the top of the page.
Check back soon for a new product spec sheet on the Spine-Hinge Creaser. Or use the Contact Us Form to email us and we'll send it to you as soon as its ready, probably early the week of Aug. 18th.
When you run cover stocks on a buckle folding machine, you can end up with a curl that affects how well the job will run. Naturally, to get maximum benefit from your folder you want the ability to run as big a range of cover stocks and card stock as possible.
The type of job we’re talking about here is one in which you run a single, unfolded sheet through the main, parallel section. It’s then creased, scored, or perforated before moving on to the right angle for folding or other operations.
A light curl is no big deal and in most cases you won’t even notice that the sheet picked up a curl as it ran through the parallel section. But as the curl gets more pronounced, you’ll run into problems. For instance, a curled sheet might not enter the right angle side guide. Or it could prevent the sheet from entering the fold roller in the next section. It could even contribute to nicking at the lead edge of the sheet if you’re scoring or perfing.
The severity of curl is affected by a few factors.
- First is the thickness of the paper. Heavier paper will retain a curl more than a thinner sheet. Also, when you reach your folding machine’s limit regarding paper thickness, you’ll know it. You start to get the alligator skin effect in which the entire surface has wrinkles all over it.
- Next is the diameter of the fold rollers. Smaller diameter means more curl.
- Grain direction also has an effect. Long grain, parallel to the fold rollers, will curl a bit more than the opposite grain.
The good news is that there’s a fast and easy way to minimize or prevent curl, even on very heavy sheets. We show you how to do that in the short video below. This technique will also get rid of alligator skin.
I’ve been able to run some pretty thick cover and card stocks like this, and still maintain good register. Of course there are still limitations; you can’t run just anything. But if you haven’t tried this trick, you might be surprised to find out how many more jobs you can perform on your folding machine, on stock that is heavier than you thought possible.
For the every-day cover stocks found in a commercial printing or quick-copy environment, this technique should easily eliminate any curl problems and improve consistency in register.
Although this tip is geared towards floor model folding machines, you tabletop folding machine operators might be able to modify this idea to work on your machines. Could be a topic for a future bindery video!
Click the video below to watch.
A recent email caused a bindery flashback, uh…I mean memory…about a piece of bindery equipment that I hadn’t thought about for years. Perhaps it was the stress of running that machine more so than the passage of time that banished the experience to the far corners of my memory.
Brian Dickson of Gazette Printers submitted a clever tip on how to fix a register problem on the Harris Multibinder. When he found out I was a one-time Multibinder operator he said, “I love talking with other Multibinder operators because we have many war stories.” From the sound of things, we might be better off starting our own support group!
In all fairness I shouldn’t be so harsh with the machine. When I was running one, we used it for something it was NOT designed to do. My job was to soft fold a saddle-stitched 11 x 17” tabloid in half for mailing. The Multibinder was designed to feed flat sheets, not stitched books!
When I arrived as a new-hire at this shop, no one else wanted to run this job. The plant manager was doing it so I was ‘volunteered.’ Always eager to learn a new machine, I read the manual that night and from that point on, I believe the machine was all mine. We did this publication every month and somehow we all managed to make it work, despite frequent protests from the machine.
For those of you not familiar with a Multibinder, it is actually an impressive, versatile machine. It’s also big, at up to about 43’ long when equipped with 17 pockets. It collates flat sheets and then depending on what the job needs, can either saddle stitch, side stitch, corner stitch or collate only. Saddle stitched books are then folded and face trimmed, all in line. When set up correctly, it will do a great job.
The primary benefit to this bindery system is that sheets didn’t need to be folded before stitching. Cut the sheets, feed them flat and you end up with stitched books. (Search ‘Multibinder’ on Youtube if you want to see some machines in operation.)
The drawback is that the flat sheets must be trimmed precisely the same size and must register perfectly throughout the collating and stitching process. If the flat sheets are inconsistently trimmed, there will be variations in folding and stitching. If you have a lot of signatures, one or two incorrect cuts will make for some very sloppy looking books.
The principle of operation is simple. Feeders drop flat signatures onto the conveyor tray in front of pusher fingers. These fingers are attached to a chain which is continuously moving. As you might imagine, there can be quite a bit of vibration and movement happening. Sometimes sheets won’t jog up to the pusher correctly or they vibrate away from it as the chain moves.
When the collated flat set reaches the stitcher, it must be perfectly jogged before the shuttle grips it. If not, the stitches and fold will be wrong. If it’s bad enough, you get wicked jams in the folder which seem to take forever to clean up.
Naturally, Dickson was looking for a way to prevent the variation in register as the sheets move along the conveyor tray, also called a raceway. He ran into problems running 16 page books made up of 4-page flat signatures and noticed that two items stood out:
- Smaller sheet sizes don’t jog as well as larger sheets.
- 60# offset book stock had a tendency to stay ‘un-jogged’ if they didn’t jog in to place when the pusher fingers hit them. The relative coarseness of the paper’s surface acted like sandpaper and prevented sheets from sliding back to the pusher finger.
Changing machine speed sometimes helped but in most cases it aggravated the problem. He also tried the manufacturer recommended brushes to help with jogging but these too often made a bigger mess of things. If the sheets had any up curl, they would catch on the lead edge of the sheet and flip it over or jam it against the pusher finger.
His solution is simple. The center blower tube from each pile feeder is pulled from the pile feeder. It’s then repositioned as shown, right on the raceway, to create an air jogging system at each feeder station. The air blast separates the sheets and keeps them in position or blows them back into position if they are out.
In case you’re wondering, the missing air tube doesn’t affect pile feeding because he is usually doing this with smaller books. There is sufficient air separation to permit proper feeding with the remaining hoses.
Since first using this trick, Dickson says things have gone smoothly and he’s minimized his register problems. Although this tip is for Multibinders, I’m sure it would be effective on any type of collating machine that uses a conveyor tray or raceway, especially if you're running light stocks. There are some Didde Gather-All, Ehlerman, and Theisen & Bonitz collators and gatherers that use raceways similar in concept to this.
If you were motivated, you could build a system using Loc-Line or other flexible tubing and connectors. But there’s something more elegant, in a way only a bindery person can understand, about using duct tape, rubber bands and WD-40 to get the job done. And you don’t have to worry about getting an impossible purchase approval from those that control the purse strings.
Have a Multibinder war story? Please share it below!
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This is, without a doubt, my all-time favorite bindery tip. I say that because I struggled with this particular issue for many, many years. Then one day an old-timer I was working with said, “Hey, all you have to do is this…” and he shared the technique shown in the video below. Just like that, my problem disappeared!
As the title says, the problem we’re talking about is commonly called a dog ear, which you encounter in letter fold brochure work. A typical scenario is an 11x17 that folds to a #10 letter fold. It folds in half once to 8.5 x 11 and then into the right angle for two folds down to a letter fold. Another type of dog ear occurs when you’re perforating signature work, but we’ll talk about that in a separate article and video.
Even if the brochure is trimmed properly, there is often a tendency to get the occasional bent edge or bent corner as shown. Bent corners (dog ears) are visible from the outside. Bent edges are hidden inside but an indicator you have them is that your fold starts to vary for no apparent reason.
The conventional way to deal with the problem is to trim the job so that the inside panel is approximately 1/16” short. Some operators will trim off even more when faced with a dog ear, but this often makes the problem worse. The great thing about this technique is that it works no matter how you’ve trimmed the job, within reason of course.
You can also use this technique on a regular, single sheet letter fold. The only difference is that with the single sheet you close off the fold plates in the first section.
So check out the video below. We talk about a few things we didn’t cover in our original post on this topic, and it only takes five minutes. If you struggle with dog ears, then this tip will help you turn out some amazing folding machine work that will leave people wondering how you did it.
Note: there are other ways to deal with the problem. We'll look at some of those in upcoming videos. In the meantime, check out this sure-fire technique below, demonstrated on an MBO B123 folder.
Here’s a ‘scoring’ technique borrowed from the greeting card industry. It might seem a little old school, but it’s still used quite often, and it’s a great technique to have available when you need it.
The video below demonstrates how to create a cut score (also called a kiss cut, or semi slit) on your folding machine. The term has a slightly different meaning in the packaging industry, but for our purposes, we’ll define it as a method in which you cut partially through the sheet. The purpose of the cut-score is to create a fold that’s nearly flat. As you’ll see in the video, it makes for cards that lie extremely flat.
Generally, a cut score is used on uncoated paper. For aesthetic reasons it’s usually not applied where there is ink coverage, but I have seen it done. I haven’t seen it used too often on coated paper, but I’m sure there are applications where it makes sense. As long as the visible cut line is acceptable, there is no reason not to do it. Cut scores work best on stocks 7 pt. or heavier.
This technique will work with any Technifold Micro Perforator, Multi Tool or CP Applicator. We’re running this on our “new” 20 year old MBO B123 to show that your folder doesn’t have to be brand new. But it does require a certain level of precision and mechanical upkeep. Our slitter shafts are new and the bushings and fold rollers are in good shape.
If you have any of the Technifold tools mentioned, all you need is one of our cut score blades (a.k.a. kiss cut) to fit in place of your perforating blade. The kiss cut blade has a much smaller diameter than regular cutting or perfing blades, since we don’t need it to cut all the way through the sheet. (Note: because our perforating tool design is different than most OEM tools, these blades are not interchangeable with other devices. They only work on a Technifold product.)
You’ll see in the video that I ran three different stocks. The green 65# cover and yellow 110# index are each about 8-9 pt. The dark blue stock is a Cougar Cover, which is about 14 pt. All of them worked well with the cut score, registering and folding perfectly.
You might not have to resort to cut scores very often, but when you do, you can see that it’s easy to accomplish. It’s an awesome finishing tool to have available when needed. It’s also great to educate your clients about this alternative solution, one which they might not have known about.
Click the video below to watch the demo.
Once again I find myself, late at night, standing over a folding machine scratching my head. I flash back to many late night struggles in the bindery, only this time I’m upset because the folding machine is working TOO well.
You see, I set out earlier in the day to make a short video demonstrating an easy technique for eliminating dog ears on folded brochures. A sixty second video can often explain a concept far better than a 600 word article. (You can read a previous article on the topic here.)
In fact, we recently installed an MBO B123 4-4-4 folding machine in our shop whose sole purpose is to be a platform for all the folding machine videos that you’ve been asking about for years. Our plan is to bring lots of how-to articles from the Bindery Success Blog to the big screen. Technifold USA customers will also be seeing detailed instructional videos on how to properly use our creasing, perforating and cutting products and all their accessories.
Back to our dog ears. Our ‘new’ MBO is actually a beautifully refurbished 1994 folder sold to us by our friends at Pasquariello Graphics in North Attleboro, MA. I wanted a machine with a few miles on it to show what can be done with the type of folding machine you’re likely to find in the field.
So I put a 12 x 18” sheet on the machine to fold once to 9 x 12” then into the right angle for a letter fold to 4 x 9”. “Should be a good recipe for a dog ear,” I thought to myself. Keep in mind that if you’re going to show how to solve a problem, you first have to create the problem. If you’ve ever run this type of work, you know what I mean. When you make the inside panel fold a bit too tight or if it has the wrong curl, you have instant dog ears.
Lights, camera, action…and...nothing. It was folding perfectly. No matter how I adjusted the fold I couldn’t get the blasted thing to make a dog ear. I wanted that unmistakable look of the classic bent inside corner. What the heck did they DO to this machine?! It wasn’t supposed to be running perfectly.
Clever guy that I am I confess that I bent some corners by hand. I wanted to run some heavier paper (better chance of dog ears) but I didn’t have any and it was late. So my hand-made ‘problem’ would have to do. These would, I reasoned, give me an acceptable illustration of what we’re trying to solve.
Next I discovered I didn’t have the right size metal scoring blade on hand to do the technique properly. They were all too small.
Never fear, that’s why we have masking tape. I added tape to a pull-out wheel to give it a bigger ‘diameter’ to compensate for the small diameter of the scoring blade. While it worked somewhat, it just didn’t look that good on video nor did it show clearly what I was trying to demo.
So that left me without the close-up I had envisioned, which is really the most important part of the tip. But I figured I could get by with what I had and I didn’t have time to order parts and get the job done correctly.
The next morning I estimated my short video would only take a couple hours to upload and edit. Until, that is, I discovered that there was no port on my new computer for the video camera cable.
OK, that’s an easy fix. Radio Shack always has the right cables, or they’ll have a converter. Except for this particular cable. There is no such animal and I have to get a new card installed on the computer to accept this style of cable.
Now I’m left with the option of firing up the old, unstable computer in order to capture the video and then transfer it to the new computer. Or do I dare take the card I need from the old computer and install it in the new one? Or do I call a geek to do it for me?
No. Three days into this half-day task, I decided this video was not meant to be, at least not this week. Too many things that are just not quite right don’t add up to inspiration for the video creator or more importantly, the viewer.
But there is, apparently, one thing that IS meant to be, and that’s me and a folding machine and a cup of coffee, late at night. No I won’t give up. There will be a video that looks the way it’s supposed to look, even if I’m up all night with this machine.
Yes, we are meant to be. Some things never change.
The one unchangeable fact about print finishing is that there is always a need to find ways to be more productive with what you have on hand. Deadlines can change, workloads can overwhelm without notice, and new equipment can force changes to old operating habits. Whether your equipment is old or new, here are six areas for study that can yield some surprising improvements in productivity.
Plant layout is vital to getting maximum productivity from your bindery equipment. Print finishing departments typically have a LOT of material moving through them. The wrong layout can decrease average yield and even cause bottlenecks. Yet once we get all the machinery in place, we tend to forget that most of it can be moved if needed.
I recall staring down such a problem some years ago in my then-new job as bindery supervisor. The bindery work area was choked by a mountain of partially finished tags and labels piled high on various work tables and skids. It was a struggle to cut and ship the daily quotas.
After some discussion, we decided to take the somewhat extreme step of moving the second guillotine from across the shop floor so that it was side by side with the primary guillotine. The idea was to use both cutters to work on one job simultaneously. The first cutter would trim the labels into strips. The strips would slide to the second cutter for trimming to the final size.
The effort immediately paid off in four ways:
- We immediately began shipping four to five times the volume of labels per day than we were shipping using one cutter.
- There were usually many lots on each sheet. Often only one or two lots were needed with the rest going into inventory. With this two-step cutting technique it was now a simple, speedy task to cut all of whichever lots were needed. This was done by doing the final cut on guillotine #2 of only those strips needed that day. The rest of the strips easily stacked on a pallet for trimming later.
- Total cutting time per job was reduced by using two cutters.
- The bottleneck moved from cutting to packing. But that was a relatively easy fix in that we just added extra help as needed to keep up with the cutting workflow.
Depending on your equipment, this can indeed seem like an extreme step. Yet for the right type of recurring finishing work, it can pay off in no time at all.
Reduce the handling of work-in-process by moving machines to meet the work. Drills, padding racks, and other small pieces of finishing equipment can often be mounted to a pallet or cart, or have casters added to make them mobile. If adding mobility to a machine can eliminate a handling step, it will probably pay off in increased productivity.
Accessories and Automation
Spend a little time researching what accessories might be available for each piece of bindery equipment.
Saddle stitchers and perfect binders are prime candidates for cover feeders, creasing tools, signature feeders, waste removal systems, stackers, pocket readers and knife folders to name just a few.
Folding machines have creasing tools, cutting tools, perforating kits, wet scores, stackers, bundlers, gate fold plates, split guides, knife fold units, glue systems, and more available as simple retro-fits.
Conveyor deliveries can replace tray deliveries on scoring and perforating machines to increase your average speed. Or roll a right-angle folding unit over to your scoring machine for additional folding capability.
Old guillotine cutters can have computer controls retrofitted. Joggers, pile turners, lifts and conveyors can also help automate the guillotine.
Use conveyors or tables to connect work stations. Instead of stacking work, then moving the pallet or cart, then picking it up again at the next station, it might make sense to move it via conveyor to minimize the number of touches. There are also paper handlers, lifts, air tables and other ways to move paper and jobs around the shop with less effort.
You can generate substantially more yield by simply changing the schedule. For instance, we know that grouping stitching or folding jobs together which are the same or close in size can save significant setup time.
But it might be the custom in your shop to prioritize the schedule according to particular customers, or for the boss, or sales people without regard to trim sizes. It’s not always possible but a little discussion or a brief phone call might be all that’s needed to reorganize the schedule to the bindery’s (and ultimately the entire shops’) advantage.
Work habits and customs usually exist for good reason. But sometimes they work against us.
For instance, let’s say your guillotine cutter operator has always worked alone, and it’s always been productive that way. One day you start to encounter cutting bottlenecks. Your first thought is probably not going to be about giving the operator a dedicated helper. I find most people think first about overtime.
Instead, a helper might be exactly what’s needed. A dedicated helper can keep the material flowing, get the next job ready, get the packers prepared, jog the lifts, and move finished material. Over the years I’ve found this to be a great way to double or triple cutting production under some circumstances. Yet it may not be your first thought because it’s not customary; it’s not a habit.
The same concept holds true for folding machines. Let’s say your workflow is just fine with a folding machine operator who always works alone. Then you get that half million quantity job that is due in a couple of days. Adding one or two dedicated helpers to the folding machine can dramatically boost output in a given time frame, especially if you are running two or three up.
Another neglected area in the People category is Cross Training. A little bit of inter-departmental cross training goes a long way towards making your entire operation more productive.
To sum up, don’t wait until you’re in a jam to start figuring out how to be more productive. Always be thinking! Take a look at these six often overlooked areas and you just might find some simple, effective ways to get more from what you have.
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Mention ‘friction feeder’ to someone with bindery experience and you just might see them curl their lip in disgust. It’s in the same category as ‘static’, something to be avoided. But like static, friction has its uses and benefits when understood and applied correctly, especially with regard to friction feeders.
When I was brand new to folding machines, I was introduced to an old Bell & Howell friction feed Baumfolder. Even though I had good training from the mechanic who had just refurbished it, I grew to dislike the ‘green machine.’ I preferred to use an even older Baum because it was air-fed and generally easier to run the coated text weight stocks that came through our bindery. So it was that the green machine entered a rather unceremonious chapter of its life, being used as my coffee table or as a work bench for visiting mechanics.
Then one day I encountered a job that was too small to run on my favorite folder but just right for the little green machine. Necessity (and my boss) forced me to clean off the muck and coffee stains for a self-taught crash course in setting up and running a friction feeder.
To my surprise, I got that tiny coated job to fold fast, accurately, without scratches or scuffs, and in a fraction of the time it would have taken on the older pile-fed machine. Since this was a high-volume repeat job, the green beast became my go-to machine for that job every month and for similar jobs for years to come.
Friction had become my friend and ally. When you look around the printing industry and the world at large you see that friction feeders are everywhere; in copy machines, laser and inkjet printers, collators, folding machines, inserters, folder gluers, packaging machinery, and more.
There are compelling reasons for this:
- They are relatively low cost. No pumps or sophisticated electronic controls are necessarily needed.
- They can feed bulky or oddly shaped materials that often can’t be air fed.
- They can operate at extremely high speed for extended periods. Folder gluers in the packaging industry can routinely run at 50,000 to 100,000 pieces an hour.
- They are relatively simple to set up and operate…once you understand them.
So let’s try to understand them. Bindery equipment is all about physics, or the forces acting on the sheet of paper, the signature, or the book. In a friction fed machine, our intent is to apply forces in such a way that the sheet moves correctly and consistently from the feeder to the delivery or to the next station.
Friction feeding is based on the principle that different materials have different friction holding them in place (in addition to gravity.) Think of Static Friction as the amount of force required to START an object moving. Think of Kinetic Friction as the amount of force required to KEEP it moving. The measure of those friction forces is called the coefficient of friction.
Before your eyes glaze over, let’s see how this applies to paper in our friction feeder. The friction of paper against paper is very low. Put another way, paper slides easily over paper. According to Tappi.org, typical business papers have a coefficient of friction in the range of .31-.59. The coefficient of static friction for rubber against paper is much higher at 1.3-1.4. Paper does not slide easily over rubber. That's why in a copier for instance, when a rubber roller or feed belt hits the top sheet, it easily breaks the static friction between the top two sheets. The trick then is to apply just enough force to get the top sheet moving. (Too much force and you’ll get double or more sheets.)
The concept is simple. The reality is a little more complicated because there are other forces at work in all friction fed machines. You might run into skewed sheets, double sheets, no sheets, or scuffed sheets. Here are a few items to remember when troubleshooting your friction feeder problem.
The paper should always be centered on the drive point of the feeder. If it’s off center it can twist as it exits the feeder. A bowed score or perf line from the lead edge to the tail edge is an indication it’s happening in the feeder. A little ‘tailing’ at the back of the sheet indicates it’s probably happening in the accessory or pull-out shafts. If your feeder has a register table attached, you can get away with a bit of sloppiness since the register table will square up the sheet before it hits the next section.
Avoid excess stock. There are two basic types of friction feeders. One style feeds from the bottom; the other from the top. The Baum I mentioned feeds from the top. Our CreaseStream Mini AutoFeed (photo at right) feeds from the bottom. The bottom-fed machines are easier to run continuously because you simply load paper on top of the pile. However, if you load too much paper, you’ll get either double-fed sheets or no sheets at all. That’s because additional paper applies additional force, making it easier to pull two sheets.
Top fed machines are a little trickier to run continuously. For best feeding results you want to keep your fanned pile about the same as the machine runs; that’s why it takes practice. You have to carefully lift the pile, slide the right amount of new sheets underneath, and gently lay the entire fanned pile back down on the table. Rough handling or lifting the pile too high will cause doubles or mis-feeds because, you guessed it, too much force is applied to the underlying sheet. With both types of feeders you often find that the last few sheets in the stack may not run through because the force between paper and rubber has changed.
The angle of the infeed table will affect feeder performance. If your table is adjustable and you are having problems, you might want to experiment with different angles.
Infeed guides will affect the sheet. If they’re too tight or too loose it won’t feed properly. They should be set so that the sheet can move freely up and down the table without any twisting movement. This is especially important on the direct infeed machines.
The paper itself can be the problem. Paper has two sides, each with a different coefficient of friction. Inks, toners, varnishes and coatings will change the performance of the paper. The paper could be contaminated with paper dust from sheeting or cutting, or from press spray powder. Any of these can change throughout the run. Try flipping or rotating the sheet if you encounter a problem. I found that carefully applying a small amount of glycerin to the feed roller would often overcome spray powder or dust problems or problems with especially slick stocks.
Paper can scuff or scratch. This is what gives friction feeders a bad name. Matte and dull coated stocks are especially sensitive to scuffing when rubbed. Yet friction feeders will handle a remarkable range of gloss coated stocks without any issues and uncoated stocks shouldn’t be a problem. A common problem with uncoated stocks is that inks or toners that don’t set or dry correctly and they offset on the sheet below. Rotating or flipping the sheet can help in these cases.
Feed rollers or belts can stop working. They need to be kept clean and free of dust. Over time they can become glazed with a buildup of paper dust, inks and coatings. This reduces their friction and effectiveness. These must be cleaned using only the manufacturer’s recommended solvent! The wrong solvent can adversely affect the properties of the rubber as much as the glaze.
Retard rollers or strips will wear out. These are the components that when set properly, allow just a single sheet to pass through the feeder. Flat spots will gradually appear on rubber retard rollers and usually these can be rotated to a fresh round spot. Retard strips will lose their finish and need to be replaced.
My little green machine saved me on many occasions. Don’t let a friction feeder’s limitations, or worse yet its perceived limitations, disqualify it for all those other jobs it CAN effectively handle.
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One frustrating aspect of a bindery supervisor’s job is that you often get a lot of responsibility yet have limited authority. You might be tasked each day with finishing dozens of jobs worth many thousands of dollars. Yet you have little or no say over how much time will be given your department to produce the work. Your bindery staff is probably limited, overtime spending or extra hiring requires painful authorizations, and buying additional equipment is nearly impossible.
The good news, if you’re facing such a bottleneck situation, is that your company is busy. The bad news is that as a front line supervisor, it’s your job to make sure that production happens smoothly and efficiently despite any authority you may or may not have.
There were days during my years as a bindery supervisor where I felt I was stuck in a no-mans-land, squeezed between the demands of management and the needs of the bindery production staff. Any cushion in the production schedule at the start of a job was used up by the time it got to us in the bindery.
Of course the deadline rarely changed and Murphy’s Law dictated that people would call in sick on the day you needed them most. But I learned that if you want to be effective, then you must not get lost in the struggle. Instead, it was far better to focus on what could be done that day with the resources immediately at hand.
A successful friend, colleague, and mentor once shared a valuable tip that’s helped me overcome numerous production and business problems. His advice? Look at what the ‘big boys’ (successful companies in any industry) are doing and then see if you can make it work for you.
One such idea that you can use starting today originated in Eliyahu Goldratt’s book, The Goal—A Process of Ongoing Improvement. The concepts discussed in the book are central to modern manufacturing techniques such as Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma and are in use by the successful businesses around the world. Although these concepts should be incorporated throughout a business to be completely effective, you can take these macro ideas and apply them in a ‘micro’ environment such as your bindery or post-press department.
The idea I’m referring to has to do with production bottlenecks, something we’re all too familiar with in bindery work. The idea put forth by Goldratt is that to maximize throughput in any system, you must first identify the bottleneck, then do everything possible to maximize efficiency of that bottleneck until it’s no longer a bottleneck. Of course a new bottleneck forms and the process starts again. (This is a simplification. If you’re interested, pick up a copy of the book for the full, easy-to-read story.)
Your bindery department is certainly a system in its own right and as supervisor you want to maximize throughput in your system. To make it more interesting, your bottleneck can change from day to day depending on the equipment you have. The first step then, is to identify the bottleneck.
Let’s say one day you have 50,000 64pp 8.5 x 11” self-cover books to stitch, comprised of 4 16pp signatures (200,000 signatures total). You have one 6 pocket stitcher and one folding machine. The stitcher can complete the job in one shift. The folder will need four or five shifts. Thus the folder is the bottleneck.
Another day you have the same job repeated, except this time it gets 3-hole drilled. All you have is one off-line drilling machine which will take twelve shifts to complete. The drill is now the bottleneck. Your clue that you have a bottleneck in a particular area is that work is piling up or there are long wait times in a certain spot.
So what would the ‘big boys’ do to eliminate a production bottleneck? Here are some simple things to examine which can have a big impact on your bindery throughput.
- Never let the bottleneck be idle, even during break times. Let’s assume that during each 8 hour shift a machine is idle for 1 hour due to breaks. Eliminating that downtime gives you a 14% increase (1 ÷ 7) in throughput. Of course you’ll need to juggle operator schedules but the increase is significant. If it becomes idle, start asking “Why” and fix it so it’s not. Remember, your bottleneck is limiting the output of your entire system. That’s why it’s so important to do what you must to improve production at that point.
- Put only the best workers on the bottleneck machines. Hey, I didn’t say you were going to make any friends doing this!
- Reduce setup times on the bottleneck. Question everything about why and how you set up your machine. Then implement the changes.
- Make sure you don’t run out of material for the bottleneck. In our 64pp book example, you wouldn’t want the presses to leave the folding machines high and dry.
- Make sure there are no quality issues with material arriving at the bottleneck. You don’t want to idle the folding machine because you suddenly have to sort through a form for bad sheets.
- Work only on what is actually needed for customer orders. Don’t waste time at a bottleneck producing something that will sit on the warehouse floor.
- Find additional capacity. Buy or rent an additional machine if possible. Outsource portions of the bottleneck job.
- Change or remove part of the bottleneck process or its components and give it to other machines. In our book example, maybe one form could be laid out as 2 8pp signatures because you have several small folding machines available that could handle that size. Or perhaps a form or two could be printed and folded on a web press.
Of course bottlenecks can originate outside your department where it is out of your control. That’s one reason why Lean practices work best when applied to an entire organization. And there is a lot more to the story of bottlenecks as told in The Goal which we'll cover in future articles.
Nevertheless, you can still accomplish a lot simply by examining the eight items listed above, as well as by constantly asking yourself questions. If your company is not practicing any type of ongoing process improvement, then you will start to shine by practicing your own. The resulting sense of accomplishment will surely lift that feeling of frustration!
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