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!
We welcome your bottleneck stories below. If you like this article, please share using the social media buttons at left or above.
Have you ever spent all night or all weekend working on a job because of a bindery equipment breakdown? If you’re like me, that’s probably the moment you took a keener interest in maintaining your equipment. It’s been my experience that a large number of printing companies have this type of ‘reactive maintenance’ program. When something breaks you fix it.
The production demands on employees in print shops and bindery departments can be high. Everyone wears many hats. You do your best to take care of your equipment but there is probably not a formal maintenance program in place.
If your company embraces Lean manufacturing or has a program like the Total Production Maintenance program from the Printing Industries of America, you’ve got a leg up on those without a program. Perhaps you’ve read some of the thousands of books on the subject or taken courses. Heck, you can get a college degree in the subject if you like.
The sheer volume of information available and the scope of the task is enough to dissuade even the most determined student of maintenance. Thus we stick to ‘reactive’ maintenance because it’s easier and it’s acceptable. But as Murphy’s Laws teach us, there is always the unexpected which will occur at the worst possible moment, even with a preventive maintenance program in place.
There are however, some simple maintenance rules to follow that I learned by being a private pilot. These help prevent the unexpected and enable us to deal with them effectively when they do occur.
Why borrow from pilots? Well, if you owned and flew an airplane, wouldn’t you want your maintenance program to be perfect? You’re not likely to go flying if you know your maintenance is suspect. It’s YOUR life on the line, not your mechanics. And as a pilot, wouldn’t you want it to be simple to manage?
Of course lives aren’t usually at stake in bindery equipment maintenance (although they can be). Yet the life of the business is at stake. Deadlines are very real and can be very expensive when missed. So it makes sense that we too should want our maintenance tasks to be very good and very easy.
With that in mind, here are 5 Rules for Cost Effective Bindery Equipment Maintenance which will eliminate a lot of the chaos of ‘reactive maintenance’. The ideas below were inspired from an article by Mike Busch, an aviation columnist, pilot and owner of Savvy Aircraft Maintenance Management. As an aircraft owner and pilot, these are rules that he lives by, in the truest sense!
Rule 1—Select a Manager
If no one has responsibility for maintenance, by default you end up with a reactive program. Even the most meticulous, caring machine operator needs to be given time for maintenance. In other words you still need a manager.
So the first step is to appoint someone from your staff to manage maintenance, even if it’s you. It might also make sense to have a team of individuals selected from various departments. This person or this team is then responsible for the vitally important task of selecting the mechanics or technicians responsible for servicing their respective equipment.
Rule 2—Choose the Right Technicians and Support Team
Busch likes to use the rule of the “3 C’s” in making his selection. The prospective mechanic MUST be all three:
- Competent. They must be experienced at troubleshooting and servicing your equipment. If, for instance, the folding machine mechanic is experienced at MBO repairs but has never laid hands on your type of Horizon folder, then you’ll want to think twice before letting him work on your machine.
- Communicative. They must keep you apprised of what’s going on as work progresses, especially with complicated jobs. If they tell you to buzz off or they have a dismissive, superior air, it’s time to reconsider.
- Cooperative. Are they customer oriented and willing to work with you in a way that’s comfortable for you? If they are dogmatic about doing things their way only, move along to the next fellow.
I recall my struggle to produce complicated, high quality books on a very old McCain saddle stitcher. We decided it was time to replace it with something newer and brought in someone to help us. He happened to be a McCain expert (competent) and after talking it over, (communicative) he got the old museum piece running at top speed. He explained to us why a second, similar vintage, refurbished McCain would be a better solution even though we were willing to buy newer equipment (cooperative). So we bought it. He had all 3 C’s going for him and both machines performed for years.
Rule 3—Insist on Written Estimates
Have you ever OK’d a repair job without an estimate, only to have a heart attack upon seeing the final bill? I thought so.
There should be three phases to this process which ensure that you, the equipment owner and/or manager, are always kept in the loop.
- Inspection. The mechanic troubleshoots and lays out a list of parts and service needed.
- Approval. The maintenance manager reviews the list and approves the repairs.
- Repair. The mechanic works on the approved repairs. If unforeseen things arise that aren’t on the approved repair list, he discusses them with the maintenance manager before proceeding. That way there are no surprises.
Rule 4—If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Let Them Fix It
When you read a maintenance manual, you’ll almost always see “time directed” maintenance items. For instance, “Change the hydraulic oil every 40 hours.” But often these items are guesstimates, based on average usage in a “standard” region. The problem with this is you might be sacrificing a lot of service life needlessly, which means you’re paying more money…needlessly.
With the prevalence of new electronic monitoring equipment, it’s easier to use “condition based” maintenance. With monitoring, you only do the repair or replacement when the condition of the part requires it. In our hydraulic oil example, there are in-line monitors that will tell you precisely when the oil is contaminated to the point of requiring change.
You might be able to monitor some items with simple visual inspections. For instance, belts or chains might simply need to be looked at once a month.
In short, if you can put a system in place for monitoring important equipment and their components, you can replace them only when needed. You don’t need to rely on a schedule that adds costs without necessarily increasing reliability.
Rule 5—Don’t Fix it Until You KNOW What’s Wrong
Have you ever called a mechanic in to fix a problem only to find that the problem reappears on the very next job? This is a troubleshooting failure. It happens when you try to fix a problem without really understanding the cause.
Troubleshooting is probably the toughest part of maintenance for a few very good reasons. Sometimes the problem is hard to duplicate without running a specific job. When the mechanic arrives you might be on a different job. But he needs to completely understand what is happening before he can troubleshoot the cause.
Otherwise he is forced to use experienced guesswork to fix the problem. As Busch says, “When the mechanic guesses, the owners pay.”
Good troubleshooting also requires good systems knowledge. If your operator or mechanic lack that, their troubleshooting efforts will suffer.
These rules are not a replacement for an overall maintenance and production strategy. But they will help you deal with the unexpected more effectively, and hopefully keep your weekends free.
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Have you ever said “yes” to a folding job only to find out the piece was a miniature fold which was too small for your equipment? I have, even though I had been specifically asked if any of our folding machines could do a job that small. After it arrived in the bindery and once I got over the initial panic, I remembered there was a simple technique for folding below the minimum published size.
A miniature fold is generally classified as one that is less than about 2.25” to 2.5” or so. That happens to be right around the minimum fold limit for most conventional folding machines of the type you’d find in a commercial printing company or trade bindery. Miniature folding generally requires a specialized miniature folding machine (also called pharmaceutical folder) designed specifically for this work.
Does this mean you should turn away a printing job that is smaller than your published minimum? Not necessarily. If it’s not too much smaller than your minimum, you can probably stretch the performance envelope of your folder enough to handle the job. Note: there are some things to watch out for when you do this but I’ll get to those in a minute.
To illustrate this miniature fold technique I used a Baumfolder 714XLT folding section. The minimum published fold size is 2.25”. I pushed the fold plate stop all the way in and the resulting fold was 2 3/16”. As you can see, published minimums allow a little plus/minus adjustment.
To get a smaller fold, we are going to extend the fold plate stops using a piece of corrugated or other thick board. You could even use a few sheets of board or cover stock glued together and trimmed to size on a guillotine. However, you need to be sure the board fits snugly inside the fold plate.
- Cut a piece of board to fit the width of your fold plate. (photo series starting upper right)
- If you’re using corrugated, use the original die-cut side as your new ‘extended’ fold stop, since it is perfectly straight and flat. (I marked the die cut side here with X’s.) If you’re guillotine cutting, either side will be fine since both sides are straight.
- It helps to pick a whole number for the size of the cut board. In this case, for instance, I made the corrugated 2” wide. Then I simply added 2" to my fold size to figure out where to set the fold stop indicator. You can make it any size, but be sure to make your cut carefully and evenly. If the board is crooked, you’ll have a hard time setting your folds.
- Insert the corrugated in the fold plate. You may have to open up the fold plate mouth or loosen the bottom plate so the corrugated slides in easier. Remember to re-tighten. Or you can flatten the corrugated a bit before inserting. We want the piece to be firmly in place so it doesn’t move around as the machine runs, thereby affecting your fold size.
Now you’re ready to set your fold. Since the board is tight in the fold plate it will take more effort than usual to make minor fold adjustments should you need to lengthen the fold. It’s best to avoid lengthening adjustments by making your initial, rough fold adjustment longer than needed. Then adjust your way inward. For instance I wanted 1 7/8” so I set the stops for 2” plus 2” for the corrugated (4” total.) Then I gradually moved it in inward (shorter) to get to the desired length.
If you find you need to adjust outward (longer) you might need to pull the plate out and move the corrugated by hand.
Of course if you want to get fancy, you can attach the board insert to the fold stop with tape or maybe even clips. To do this you need to ensure the board is free enough to move but not so thin that the paper will slide over or under the board, causing a bad fold.
In our Baum 714 example, I easily managed to set up 2 folds, accordion style, at 1 7/8”, a full 3/8” below the published minimum. There was still plenty of room to get even smaller.
What to Watch Out For
Whenever you push the performance envelope of a folding machine, it’s a good idea to walk yourself through the entire job. Just because we can get the folds smaller doesn’t mean we can do every other part of the feeding and folding operation with a smaller sheet. Here are some other factors to consider.
What’s the minimum size sheet you can actually feed? If you can’t feed it you can’t fold it. Running a small job two or three up can help with this problem. Maybe you can use another feeder with a right angle section. Perhaps you can feed it by hand if it’s a short run. Just be sure you know what you’re getting into!
What’s the minimum size sheet you can register on the infeed table or the cross carrier? In our mini accordion fold example running on our 714 right angle, we can register a 3-panel job that folds to 1 7/8” but not a 2-panel (4 pager) that folds to that size. That’s because 1.875” X 3 = 5.625” long (OK to register) while 1.875” X 2 = 3.75” long (too short to register).
Will your job need to be slit on the folder? In order to slit successfully, the final folded piece has to be big enough to be gripped by the pull out wheels on the slitter shaft before it leaves the last fold rollers. If it’s smaller it will be impossible to cut consistently. If your miniature fold is too small for this, you might be able to do it on a guillotine cutter or another slitting machine. Just be sure to test the process.
Will the folder’s delivery be able to handle such a small piece? It may seem like a trivial item, but it’s not, especially if you are doing a big quantity. (Go here to read a related article with tips for smoother operation of your folder’s delivery.)
So while it is indeed possible to fold some pretty small pieces on a regular folding machine, be sure to walk yourself through the job from beginning to end. If it’s beyond your scope, call a trade bindery that has the miniature folder to handle this work.
But if you find yourself in a moment of panic and just need to stretch your capabilities a little, this technique could come in handy. It’s worked for me over the years!
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Aside from the usual variety of scoring, perforating and cutting tools that you can add to your folding machine, there are other productivity add-ons you might not have heard about. Or maybe your post-press operation has grown, and that long-forgotten accessory you didn’t need five years ago is exactly what you need today.
Here are ten folder accessories ranging from the simple to the complex, listed in no particular order. Some of them will work with any model of folding machine while others are limited to specific models and years. The common denominator is that they all have a big bang for the buck invested.
Pre-Slitter Shafts. Also called front-mounted slitter shafts, these shafts are typically located before the parallel folding section. The big benefit here is that the pre-slitter gives you much greater flexibility in positioning scoring tools, perfs and trims on any given sheet. They also make it easier and faster to get good registration, since you are performing your operations before it hits the folding section.
And yes, these shafts can be added to some folders. Stahl TH/KH and TD series folders can be retrofitted with pre-slitter shafts and you can also retrofit the right angle sections of their TH machines. To my knowledge most other folders would have to be ordered from the factory with pre-slitters installed. Check with your manufacturer to be sure.
Electronic Counters with Batch Control. Of course almost all new folders come with built-in batch counters. But if you run an older machine on a regular basis, an electronic batch counter can give you an instant boost in productivity. They’re simple, inexpensive and available from most bindery parts suppliers.
Banding Presses. This is an old-school, low-cost accessory that goes hand-in-hand with the Batch Counter. Even the smallest of folding operations can benefit from using one of these widely available devices.
The bander compresses a stack of folded pieces so that you can add a paper band, making a neat, professional presentation. Folding jobs pack MUCH better when compressed. In turn this reduces shipping costs (fewer cartons) and reduces shipping damage since the folded piece can't move around in the box. Be sure to use cohesive bands which are simply pre-glued strips of paper. No need for separate taping so you can pack even faster and neater.
If you’re doing high-volume work, then step up to an automated stacker plus banding unit.
Greeting Card Deflector. These clever gadgets allow you to bypass the fold rollers and deflectors when scoring or perfing card stock. When you run very heavy stock through a fold roller you might encounter the “alligator skin” effect as well as undesirable curl. (You can read a related article here.) Although this can be successfully managed to some extent, you might consider these deflectors if you’re running a high volume of stocks heavier than about 14 pt. or so.
There is a size limitation: the sheet must be long enough to still be gripped by fold roller #1 as it enters the slitter shaft. Available from partsforfolders.com, you can download a pdf brochure here and watch a demo video here.
Gatefold plates. If you find yourself re-folding jobs by hand to make the final double gatefold, you might want to invest in a gatefold plate for your machine. It won’t take many jobs to pay for it. They’re available for most popular floor model folding machines.
Soft Polyurethane Fold Rollers. These rollers are designed to handle slippery aqueous coated stocks as well as light weight book papers. Made of material that’s somewhat softer than the conventional fold rollers, their grip is much better. The downside is that once they’re installed, you can’t switch them out when you return to folding regular stocks. They will probably wear a bit faster than normal rollers but the payoff comes in having the ability to successfully fold those troublesome jobs, especially if you face them on a regular basis. Available from most manufacturers.
Gluing Equipment. There is plenty of sophisticated electronic gluing equipment available to retrofit almost any folding machine. You’ll need segmented fold rollers to fold the glued pieces. With the right equipment and a little creativity, you’ll add tremendous capability to your finishing operation.
Double Stream Device. This allows you to run two-up streams of folded work without having to reduce folder speed much, if at all. Two-up capability is one of the best ways to get a huge boost in productivity. With the right cutting and scoring tools you can even run cover stocks this way. Some large format folding machines also have three-stream devices available.
Sheet Return Device. This device is for running 16 page right-angle signatures or similar work. If you've ever run 16-page right angle signatures by yourself, you know how much work it can be. Without a stacker you'll find that you'll probably need a helper to unload in order to get to higher production speeds. Of course the extra labor might then cancel out any speed advantage you just gained. Or there might not be any extra help available.
With a sheet return, the delivery is moved to within arm’s reach of the operator. This substantially reduces the steps needed between loading and unloading. With a conventional 16-page buckle folder setup, you do a LOT of walking. This takes time, which in turn limits your production speed. The sheet return eliminates most of those needless steps and thus allows a single operator to max out their running speed.
I’ve seen homemade versions of sheet returns and you can see how MBO does it with their Perfection series here.
Side Air Assist. Last but not least, this is one of my favorites. Although it appeared on the scene after I finished my stint in the bindery, I would have made it my mission to get one of these on the MBO folder I ran, especially when running signatures.
Experienced operators know what a chore it can be to air and fan out a lift of heavy stock, especially if it’s 23 x 35” or bigger. It gets worse when the aqueous coating or varnish make the sheets stick together. By the end of a shift, your wrists and forearms are aching and you’ve probably taken far more breaks than normal.
Greg Gale, the creator of the SAA device, came up with the idea after suffering with the fanning issue for years as owner of a trade bindery. You’ll have to check out the SAA video here to see it in action, but the idea is ingeniously simple. A blower mounted to the side lay of the top infeed table tracks the sheet as it’s laid on the feeder. It then blows air down the entire length of the sheet, making the fanning process a ‘breeze.’ (Sorry for the pun.) Instead of struggling to air and separate the sheets, the operator lets the SAA do all the hard work. No more strain and pain. No more carpal tunnel syndrome.
The ten items above are just a partial sampling of add-ons for folding machines. Have a favorite or little-known add-on of your own? Let us know below.
Imagine this: your customer comes to you with a special bookbinding project. There is only one copy, it’s 800 pages long, it’s entirely hand illustrated and hand written on hand-made paper. Your binding method must be very sturdy in order to withstand repeated heavy handling. It must be artistically pleasing to some of the most famous and demanding artists in the world. And oh yes, it took the author untold years to complete to his perfectionist satisfaction.
The year is 1692 and since human nature doesn’t change much, my guess is this prospective bindery customer wanted the job done by tomorrow, and he wanted a good price. While the scenario I’m describing is imaginary, the book itself is very real and quite a work to behold.
Erik Kwakkel is a medieval book historian at Leiden University. In his research he encountered a fascinating Dutch book archived in a French library database. The title, loosely translated, is Treatise on the use of Color in Watercolor Painting.
The handwritten and illustrated book from 1692 is nearly 800 pages long. Its author, A. Boogert, says in his introduction that he wrote the book to explain how to make watercolor paints. He also explains how to change color tones by adding various portions of water.
The incredible thing is that he illustrates each color and every shade on the page opposite his written formula. (photo above left) As if that weren’t enough, he included an illustrated index of every color described in the book. Every color swatch and every illustration throughout the book is done by hand.
Boogert also says in his introduction that the book was intended for educational purposes during a time known as the Golden Age of Dutch Painting. As far as is known, the book is one of a kind, probably due to the technical printing obstacles involved in mass producing such a precisely illustrated book.
Perhaps students traveled TO the book to study color with an instructor with the book as a guide. Not much is currently known although Kwakkel says there is a Dutch student doing a PhD thesis on the book.
Of course the first thing I thought of, and probably what any printer will think of when seeing this, is the Pantone Formula Guide, which didn’t publish until 1963. The fact that it took nearly 300 years for technology to be able to handle such a printing job gives us an appreciation of the difficulties involved with the original book!
The technical obstacles to printing such a book in the 1600’s were huge. At the time it was certainly feasible to print a few hundred copies of a book consisting mostly of type with some woodcut illustrations to dress it up.
I'm not sure how they would have printed a book with hundreds of very precise color gradations. Although the inventions of movable type printing and the use of oil-based ink are credited to Gutenberg around 1439, printing technology didn't vary much from screw-type presses until the 1800's.
That's when the cylinder press and the rotary press were invented. The cylinder press (paper passes between a cylinder and a flat surface) produced up to 4,000 impression per hour and the rotary press (paper passes between two cylinders) produced up to 8,000 impressions an hour.
Until the advent of 4-color process work, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to make an oil-based ink print to look like a watercolor. The reality for that period of history is that the only method to produce such a book correctly and accurately was to do it by hand.
Maybe I’m just nostalgic, but there’s something to be said for an appreciation of craftsmanship like this. Imagine having to do this project yourself! Every component of this book involved great attention to detail.
- Paper making
- The general outline and layout
- Precise mixing of water colors
- Categorizing and cataloging the color spectrum
- Carefully handwritten copy
- Binding technique and materials (it’s still in good shape over 300 years later)
Usually when we hear the word “craftsmanship” we think of a skilled person practicing a trade or craft. According to many dictionaries, it also implies that a product is produced with artistry, beauty or excellence. Here at the home of the Tri-Creaser we always say, “Why bother to print it if you can’t finish it.” It’s practically our motto. Every piece should look great from start to finish and in the end, accomplish what it was designed to do.
Printing and print finishing has a long, colorful history. This unique book reminds me that we should continue to strive for artistry, beauty and excellence in our work, even though we live in a fast-paced digital world.
Somehow the one-of-a-kind book survived and is housed in Aix-en-Provence, France at the Bibliothèque Méjanes. You can actually view images of the entire book here, courtesy of the library.
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