Small tabletop folding machines are simple, reliable pieces of bindery equipment. With their utility at doing short runs quickly and their prevalence in the used equipment market, they’re a popular option for digital print finishing departments.
Maybe you received a little training when you bought your folder or perhaps you just read the manual and watched a video. If you’re new to folding machines, this will get you started and will probably keep you running for weeks or even months. But if you don’t remember some basic pointers, eventually even the routine jobs will start to give you grief.
Problems on small folders typically have simple causes and many are entirely preventable. Here are a few basic tips and habits to help your troubleshooting efforts and keep your folding machine running like new.
Keep the machine clean. Dust is the enemy of all bindery equipment. It sticks to oiled parts, rollers, trays, shafts, and accessories. Even very small amounts of dust on the accessory shafts can prevent you from sliding tools freely. It can build up in fold plates and fold rollers, causing paper jams and smudging your beautifully printed jobs. Over the long term, it behaves like sandpaper, gradually wearing out anything that moves.
If you do nothing else, keep your folder clean! It takes seconds to wipe it down at the end of each day. Keep it covered when it’s not in use.
Keep your fold rollers clean. (There’s that word ‘clean’ again!) If you have rubber fold rollers which are glazed, hardened or cracked, you will have problems. Follow the manufacturer’s directions when applying cleaners or solvents. If you’re not sure, use warm water and a mild soap on the rubber components, using care around metal parts. Combination rubber/steel rollers also need to be kept clean, both metal and rubber parts.
Water, or a water and solvent solution, is often required to remove glazes that are a combination of paper dust, inks and varnishes. Be sure any metal components are wiped dry.
Lubrication. Most small folders require little lubrication, but when called for, be sure to do it according to schedule, and with the right amount of lubricant. In my apprentice years I made the mistake of being overzealous with an oil can. The folder mechanic who witnessed the results of my transgression simply said, “I bet you won’t ever do that again!” For weeks I was pulling oil-spotted sheets from the jobs I ran. He was right, I never did it again.
Maintain friction feeder parts. If your folder has a friction feeder, there are components in it that wear with use. Older Baumfolders for instance, have a rubber retarder roll that needs to be periodically rotated and eventually replaced. Rubber feed wheels are susceptible to glazing. Ideally you should keep these clean and in good condition. If a feeding problem suddenly appears, check the rubber components and adjust, clean or replace as needed.
Square up the in-feed. Most small tabletop style folders feed directly into the fold rollers, although some will have a register table. Whichever it is, be sure the in-feed guides or the register table side guide is perpendicular to the first fold roller.
Although you may have to skew the in-feed guides at some point to compensate for a sheet that is not cut squarely, it is always better to start with them set perpendicular to the fold rollers.
Put another way, given a folding machine in reasonable mechanical condition, given paper that is trimmed properly, and given an in-feed that is set correctly, the paper will always register and fold perfectly. Take away any one of those items and that’s when your folding problems begin and your setup times increase.
Check your sheet spacing. A good rule of thumb: if more than half of the folded sheet is going into the first fold plate, increase spacing between sheets. This prevents the trailing edge of a sheet from interfering with the lead edge of the following sheet.
To demonstrate this to a folding machine novice, set up a letter-fold job with the first fold in plate one, set to 2/3 of the sheet length. Do the final fold in plate 2. Keep the spacing close. Run some sheets into the machine by hand and watch the slow-motion action as the sheets overlap. It becomes clear why spacing can be a problem. It isn’t always a problem but if an issue appears with this type of fold, then spacing is the first thing you want to adjust.
Know your folding machine limits. Is the stock too thick or thin for your machine? Yes, there are limits and no, you probably can’t run that 14 pt board through your tabletop machine. I know you’re going to do it anyway, but don’t complain to the manufacturer when it doesn’t work as well as a 20# bond! Some light-use folders are designed only for book weight or copier papers.
Remember too that stocks heavier than about 6 pt. will require scoring or creasing. This is the only way to maintain consistent register and in many cases will be needed to eliminate fiber cracking.
Read the Manual. Even though your machine is fairly simple, make sure you have all the operating and maintenance basics covered by reviewing the manufacturer’s instructions. A tiny oversight can cause major problems.
For instance, you want to ensure the fold plates are always installed correctly, according to directions. On some machines it’s easy to install them incorrectly! If you don’t catch that, you’ll be scratching your head all day trying to solve a ‘folding problem’. There might be safety switches or re-set buttons particular to your machine. It only takes a few minutes to review your entire manual.
The bottom line is that a low-cost used folding machine combined with a creasing machine (such as our CreaseStream Mini) makes for a productive and very responsive digital post-press department. Be mindful of the few simple items above. You’ll prevent most folding machine problems and keep your digital printing operation running the way you want.
Have a small folding machine tip or story? Feel free to share below.