Resolve all bottlenecks in finishing

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IInventor Ron Popeil was a master of infomercials and was able to create compelling and memorable messages to showcase his many products. Of particular note is its “Showtime Rotisserie and BBQ”, a device sold rather hyperbolically with the slogan “Set it and forget it”. If only print production were that easy…

Despite our hopes youhen the Popeil slogan extends to our printing processes, the reality is generally different. While the goal of the process workflow is a smooth and frictionless journey from inception to delivery, bottlenecks in digital print production are a moving target, the lwhose locations depend on factors such as technology, personnel, software, and training. When one element of a process speeds up or slows down, it can directly affect other steps in the process and complicate this ideal of fluidity.

Digital printing has brought profound changes to the commercial printing industry and has truly changed the rules of the game for how printing is specified, executed and consumed. For the purposes of this article, digital printing has resulted in shorter run lengths, which has not resulted in fewer impressions, but rather more jobs of shorter duration. This profusion of inkjet and toner-based digital jobs – each with their own finishing needs – has resulted in finishing bottlenecks in many production facilities.

The purpose of this article is to examine the nature of these bottlenecks and explore the steps printers are taking to address them.

Smooth the flow

Kevin Kiernan, General Manager of All Color Printers, has witnessed the push towards smaller series. Not only did this serve to provide PSPs with more (albeit shorter) jobs, but the shorter print runs also made many smaller printers competitive for the job. This makes the need for competitiveness and efficiency even deeper. The company, located in Deer Park, NY, focuses on commercial printing and box work. Its finishing capabilities include cutting, folding, sewing and gluing.

At All Color Printers, a static control bar has been installed to control feed issues during finishing.

In an effort to stay competitive on small jobs, All ColorPrinters has added a die cutter/cutter/creaser, as well as creasing equipment, to handle inline finishing. They also compensated for the slipperier finish of their toner-based output by looking at the gear belts. Another factor causing finishing bottlenecks was static electricity. Ionization is now used to limit static electricity, thus minimizing the possibility of power problems associated with static electricity. This is especially important, Kiernan says, for the company’s variable data jobs.

Additionally, All Color Printers noticed that due to the movement of the sheet in the digital press, it was difficult to get a straight edge, which made it difficult to finish accurately. The company now trims stock before it goes to press, minimizing or eliminating potential problems.

Looking ahead, Kiernan would like to further automate the company’s processes and would be interested in integrated technologies that can efficiently assemble booklets, pull covers and pages, cut and visually track the part through the process. process to ensure quality. The goal, he says, would be to minimize the extra handling and challenges associated with a station-to-station approach to print production. In some cases, acquiring the technology is a major capital investment, and in others the technology is not yet widespread.

Investment versus growth

Specializing in postcards, brochures and letter work, PostcardMania, of Clearwarer, Florida, performs analog and digital printing processes and has finishing capabilities including die cutters, folders and inserters. Workbench handles jobs from as few as 10 sheets up to thousands, and includes variable images, variable data, and personalization among its print capabilities. To increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of printing, PSP strives to consolidate its work wherever possible.

Currently, finishing operations at PostcardMania are mostly manual, says COO Anthony Heald. While the company has looked into inline finishing options, it also recognizes that a significant investment in equipment and personnel would be required to get the systems in place. The answer to whether, or when, PostcardMania should invest lies in the details of the company itself. Heald says it’s a balance between investment and growth.

Heald says that while the company hasn’t set metrics to measure the efficiency of its finishing operations, it carefully analyzes costs to determine what’s most efficient. He says that, at the moment, the finish is going smoothly, making it difficult to find the right time or primary motivation to invest in next-level automated solutions.

He adds that a new challenge in print finishing is finding quality bindery employees who are already trained. Instead, the company must hire inexperienced workers and train them.

Looking to the future, Heald, like Kiernan, sees the promise of integrated automation solutions that can, for example, handle the entire production process. This can include printing from tape, then cutting, cutting and inserting, all integrated. “That would be phenomenal,” Heald says. In the shorter term, the company is studying a slitter, with the aim of making production more transparent and efficient. “Achieving quality is not a problem for us,” he adds.

Another challenge specific to PostcardMania is the facilities-concentrated, as the company’s digital printers and finishing technologies are located in different buildings, resulting in a movement of materials 100 meters from printer to cutter.

For commercial printers faced with the need to eliminate finishing bottlenecks by acquiring additional equipment, Heald recommends careful preparation, saying investments are costly and PSPs must have the volume to justify them. “It largely depends on the company and its situation,” he adds.

An effective approach

One of the biggest production challenges resulting from digital printing, reports Tony Littleton, vice president of manufacturing for ABCO Printing in Dallas, is the presence of equipment-driven pricing structures that involve click”. To avoid these costs per sheet, the company strives to maximize sheet space, typically grouping different jobs together on the same page.

A key metric ABCO uses to determine if this strategy is used in production is aiming for 95% of its digital color jobs printed on 11 x 17 inch sheets or larger. While this strategy is great for cost control, it creates a strong opportunity for finishing bottlenecks, especially in die-cutting.

In order to address and even eliminate these bottlenecks, ABCO – which primarily prints materials for training materials, product manuals for medical devices, and materials for aviation accounts, using a combination of offset and digital presses – maintains a strong commitment to efficiency and employs continuous improvement strategies.

Therefore, the company’s finishing technologies, which include saddle stitching, perfect binding, lamination, die-cutting and hot stamping, can all be used by more than one employee. Thanks to cross-training, printed articles rarely “wait” for a single operator to do the job. “It’s essential,” Littleton offers, “that there is no downtime in the process.”

When asked for an example of how digitally printed output can contribute to finishing slowdowns, Littleton pointed to ABCO’s efforts to move into certain large-format segments through the installation of a large format dish. ABCO did their research in advance and purchased a CNC router/cutter at the same time the table was purchased.

ABCO Printing's commitment to efficiency keeps finishing processes like die-cutting moving, despite a flood of jobs.

ABCO Printing’s commitment to efficiency keeps finishing processes like die-cutting moving, despite a flood of jobs.

He says it’s often perplexing to see companies buying rigs without a volume-based plan to cut or finish the stiff boards that come off of them — a bottleneck in the making. The concept here is that finishing is not some sort of add-on, but rather an integral part of the process. This fact is relevant for all printing disciplines and technologies.

When asked what advice he would give to other printers struggling with finishing bottlenecks, Littleton said he would urge them to look for a root cause. “I would ask them to name the problems, including where and what they are. Usually there’s a problem that stands out, and that’s where they should start.

He also strongly recommends involving employees in localizing or creating the solution. “They know better than us [in management] do,” he says, “and they want the process to improve. Littleton also strongly recommends a “2 Second Lean” approach, which focuses on localization and saving time in processes. These time increments add up and can therefore minimize the severity of production bottlenecks.

Process and standardization

Two additional approaches that can help control bottlenecks in digital finishing require companies to assess the very core of the business and consider elements of corporate philosophy. The first is to understand how individual changes may affect the process as a whole, and then take strategic steps to proactively address them. By doing so, companies can limit the “surprise” of certain bottlenecks, prevent them from moving through the process, or even prevent them altogether.

The second is to choose to push customers towards more standardized products where possible – a step that can minimize the number of time-consuming adjustments needed in binding and finishing.

This is more possible when the finishing steps are basic services and not added values. This strategy, similar to minimizing paper changes on press, can bring additional time savings, minimizing the effect of production bottlenecks.

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