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GETTING BACK TO BINDERY BASICS

May 1, 2000 12:00 AM


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Many innovative and user-friendly concepts have been engineered into today's bindery and finishing machines. But the search for efficiency and productivity goes beyond equipment capital investment and subsequent monthly payments. Productivity improvements are driven by the leadership responsible for shaping a company's culture. This article will look at the basics of bindery operations: man, machine, methods, maintenance, materials and the environment.

MAN The bindery has always been a labor-intensive operation. Vendors have responded by introducing highly automated equipment that produces a more consistent product with reduced makeready times and faster running speeds. Even with these advancements, however, you still need to hire, train and empower good people. In banking terms, employees are your most valuable assets. Time after time, they act as your collateral, applying their knowledge, experience, energy and enthusiasm to get the job done correctly and on time-even under less than ideal circumstances.

With the exception of a start-up operation, most bindery employees are hired under frantically reactive circumstances. Many binderies serve a cyclical market -the workforce is rarely static. Suddenly the pressroom is pushing out work and the order is given to ramp up the bindery. Are you prepared? How can you deal with upswings in manpower requirements?

Here's what Berryville Graphics (Berryville, GA) did in the early 1990s. Using a temp agency was not a viable option-few agencies served the area at the time. Instead, supervisors teamed with the company's human resources department to establish an in-house capability for coping with increased manpower needs.

Essentially, the firm established an in-house employment agency.

Working together, human resources and the supervisors established employment criteria, screened candidates and brought them in for a brief indoctrination once applicants qualified for the active list. The initial list was filled by advertising as well as asking the full-time workforce for leads. Consequently, many of the new part-timers weren't strangers -they had ties to the incumbent workforce. A formal orientation set a professional tone while communicating the firm's expectations.

The company made a point of paving the way for a smooth "handoff." This is what happens after the H.R. department has done its part-recruiting, screening, completing paperwork, etc. Now the new employees have been handed over to the shift supervisor. What happens next?

A commonsense approach can help you quickly achieve an acceptable level of productivity. At Berryville, whether a new employee was assigned to a production line or handwork area, he or she had a team leader. The leader provided instruction, set goals and monitored progress. This was how the company established its philosophy with the workforce. This is one way to send a clear message about a company's commitment tocommunication and leadership.

Berryville found that this approach enabled it to ramp up smoothly to meet increased production goals. Also, some of the new employees were eager to expand their skills, ultimately creating a more flexible workforce (a great resource, especially during crunch time). Perhaps most significantly, quality actually improved, despite the increase in production volume. Preparation and subsequent confidence in employees' abilities paid off.

MACHINERY Can you tell me why a second-shift operator spends 15 minutes resetting the identical piece of equipment the previous operator ran nonstop for eight hours? Well, it would seem there are 50 ways to leave your lover and 50 ways to run the same piece of equipment. Thankfully, computer-aided makeready on new equipment eliminates this problem. If you don't have fully automated equipment set up, what do you do?

Old habits are hard to break, but some leadership, attention to detail and a page from process management can help. Have each operator document all makeready steps for a standard job. Then compile a sequential makeready checklist from the operator's manual or from the OEM technician. Call a meeting of all operators for that equipment and compare their checklists to the OEM's suggested checklist. If possible, have the technician participate in this meeting-it's a huge help in establishing an accepted procedure. At the same time, this outside expert can answer questions and take your operators through a hands-on makeready. This investment will soon pay for itself-but only if you get an experience technician who is a good communicator and has the necessary patience.

Schedule your maintenance as you would a job. All operations, regardless of size, must perform regularly scheduled maintenance. Operators should be able to troubleshoot problems or at least isolate them to a particular area or function. Set up a central log on all major pieces of equipment to document problems and encourage communication. Since you inevitably have unforeseen production delays or sudden customer demands, your scheduler should work closely with the bindery supervisor or manager to establish a consistent, yet flexible routine.

METHODS Some bindery lines seemingly turn into ghost towns the minute a job is completed. The crew leaves for the break room or handwork table with only an operator and a material handler left behind to perform time-consuming makeready for the next job. Why does this happen?

Many supervisors are struggling to balance the need to complete a handwork job while meeting the production line schedule for the shift. If the handwork job has to ship that day, a supervisor might bargain with scheduling to push back a job or two to the following shift, so the crew can concentrate on handwork. Unfortunately, this can lead to excessive downtime on prime equipment. Delta Lithograph's (Valencia, CA) solution was to create two line teams comprising operators, line crews and material handlers. Other employees join this core group as dictated by the makeready requirements of the next job. Advantages include the following: *Segmenting makeready responsibilities among more players reduces overall makeready time by changing over more line stations simultaneously rather than sequentially; *Having material handlers pre-stage materials eliminates delays caused by missing components while giving them an opportunity to efficiently remove leftover components from the previous job; *Creating a team eliminates a two-tiered authoritarian system (operator/helper), fostering an environment of ownership and cooperation; *Assigning team members specific makeready responsibilities raises the overall skill level of the workplace while sending a positive message to employees about the company's commitment to training and advancement opportunities; *And building teams can help you evaluate employees' performance-those who demonstrate outstanding ability and attitude can be given additional training, ultimately creating a more versatile workforce.

MATERIALS Some everyday materials evolve into standard items. You use them day in and day out and purchase is probably tied to price. But not all bindery materials should be considered commodities. It pays to have other supplier resources at the ready. A best value purchase (rather than one made on price alone) supports productivity improvements.

Did you ever see an operator struggling with a job because the glue wasn't setting up properly? Consider what the operator is personally experiencing-more downtime, more waste (possibly leading to a shortage) and the prospect of struggling with quality and run speed throughout the job. "It's the glue," is the response you're likely to hear if you ask the operator to account for poor performance. But that's only part of the problem.

Adhesives often are the most critical materials a bindery can add to the integrity of a product. Few binderies have the luxury of a temperature and humidity controlled facility, and personnel only occasionally influence the choice of papers and substrates used for a job. This is an opportunity for a best-value purchase to translate into a partnership.

During a busy production cycle, there's tremendous value in working with an adhesive supplier who goes the extra mile. For example, the supplier might have its lab send a variety of samples and have a rep spend a Saturday with operators testing, analyzing and fine-tuning to establish a reliable operating range for new adhesive requirements. The supplier also might call to tell you about a new polymer that can improve performance or seasonal range of your current adhesive. Value is further added by a supplier's customer service rep who alerts you to an impending expiration date.

You can always shop for the best price if you're confident about a product's past performance and consistency. But if you're anticipating a large production run, you want a responsive supplier who will test substrate adhesion properties. A best value purchase is often your best bet.

It's also important to inventory production-related materials on a regular basis. Doing so ensures you have sufficient materials on hand to prevent a production shutdown and helps avoid loss due to spoilage or obsolescence. A mad scramble to reschedule a job to gain production efficiency is a wasted effort if you're out of a particular foil, backliner or adhesive. Also, if you don't have a first-in, first-out system for your adhesives, you could find yourself facing some exorbitant disposal costs.

The inventory should present a concise, yet comprehensive account of all materials used in the bindery during production. This will help your production department evaluate material availability and accurately forecast its short-term schedule. Purchasing can use this information to review best-value purchases and effectively maintain a JIT delivery schedule.

ENVIRONMENT If you really want to learn about the effects of global warming, try working in a low-ceiling bindery in New Jersey during July and August. I used to jokingly tell my employees that people paid good money to health clubs just to be able to sweat like them. Seriously, however, has rapid fan-induced movement of hot air ever made anybody cooler?

The bindery is a challenging work environment. Fluctuating outside temperature and humidity is practically impossible to control without a major investment and higher operational overhead. Nonetheless, climate-controlled systems can help your workforce keep productivity high, especially during the summer.

Lighting makes a definite impact on atmosphere. Many older facilities have dangling lighting fixtures just below the ceiling. Functional lighting consists of fluorescent fixtures above the equipment -it gathers dust and concentrates light in a narrow area.

Haddon Craftsmen had web printing facilities in Bloomsberg, PA, and its bindery in Scranton, PA. In the late 1990s, the company merged both operations, dedicating approximately 200,000-sq.-ft. to bindery operations. When the lights were turned on for the first time, it was incredible. Brilliant lights created a vibrant space. You could not walk into that facility without having a greater awareness of your environment. Good lighting isn't just a productivity concern; it's a safety issue, too.

The keys to productivity improvement can be reduced to a few words: observation and common sense. Don't over-anaylze. Machines can be engineered and repaired, but people must be led and supported.

Are you making money in your bindery? A new publication from the National Assn. for Printing Leadership (NAPL) can help you evaluate your operation. The updated "Budgeted Hourly Cost Study on Bindery, Finishing & Mailing" contains budgeted hourly cost studies for 540 different pieces of equipment, covering 37 different categories of machinery from more than 90 different manufacturers or exclusive distributors. It offers: *Base cost of each machine, *Auxiliary/optional equipment cost breakdown, *Full specs for each machine, including maximum size and/or thickness of material processed; number of stations or heads; rated speed; estimated floor space required; functions performed by equipment; manning and power requirements; and a full list of standard and optional equipment/features, *Contact information for each manufacturer.

One copy is sent free to NAPL members upon request as a benefit of membership. Additional copies are $65 each. Cost for non-members is $125. To order, call (800) 642-6275 or fax: (201) 634-0328.

Looking for more bindery information? See our article archives at www. americanprinter.com. You'll find "Boosting bindery productivity" (July 1999), which features tips from printers, vendors and consultants; "Saddle up and stitch right" (November 1999), a look at midsize saddlestitchers; and "So many books, so little time" (January 2000), on high-speed stitchers and more.