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May 1, 1999 12:00 AM

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If today's web presses had a theme song it would be "Ride of the Valkries" (a.k.a. That Superman Music). Modern iron might not be faster than a speeding bullet, but at 3,000 fpm it would be a close race. New technology--including an arsenal of automated features--figuratively lets printers leap tall buildings in a single bound. However, just as Lex Luthor and the occasional pocketful of Kryptonite plague Superman, slow makereadies are the villains of the pressroom, particularly as run lengths decline.

How do you prevent makereadies from plodding along like a Wagnerian opera? On the sheet-fed side, we've stressed management support, employee buy-in and using single-minute exchange of die (SMED) to identify process improvements ("On Your Mark, Get Set, Makeready," american printer, April 1999). This article will expand on those ideas and introduce some web-specific tips.

Think big. "The main issue is not how long makeready takes, but a combination of several issues," declares Udi Arieli, president of AHP Systems (Des Plaines, IL). "You have to look at makeready times, the optimization of total manufacturing and the synchronization of every step in the manufacturing process of a job. At the same time, you have to minimize the makeready time, the idle time and waste on all jobs. The key to successful manufacturing is the ability to maximize throughput while minimizing resources such as machines and employees."

Bill Hoffman, vice president of manufacturing at Berlin Industries (Carol Stream, IL), agrees. After about two years of research, the $100 million catalog and direct mail printer is about to implement a digital business tracking system to automate and integrate estimating, scheduling, job tickets, shop floor distribution and its warehouse. "We thought the flow of information through the shop was inefficient," explains Hoffman. "A lot of it was word of mouth."

Berlin's Enterprise Resource Planner (ERP) will provide instant information throughout the plant while eliminating "information silos." "Ninety percent of our estimates will be available less than a minute after the information has been input," says Hoffman. Short lead times sometimes force the company to go to press without knowing the final quantity of a job--the new system will enable information to flow directly from the customer to the press.

Create cost awareness. "A lot of press crews don't understand or have never been informed what the cost of producing a printed piece is and what part they play in controlling that cost," submits William L. Farmer, Jr., technical consultant at the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF) in Sewickley, PA. "If you don't make them aware of their part in the whole picture, you'll never get positive results."

Farmer adds that while all employees--from the chief executive to the floor sweeper--are responsible for keeping costs down, it is management's responsibility to institute checkpoints. "If a job isn't right, you need to identify the cause and shut the machine off before you throw a lot more paper away," says Farmer. "Too often, operators want to cruise along making running adjustments."

establish standard makeready speeds. "A normal makeready requires around five inspection, analysis and correction cycles," submits Frank Drazen, author of Textbook of Pressman Training. "The prime factor is the speed of the pull. If you take five cycles to achieve saving copy and the press is running at 20,000 iph, you will have about 5,000 waste. If you do those same cycles at 10,000 iph, you will have 2,500 waste--a savings of 50 percent."

"As the press is ramping up to its targeted operational speed, the ink and water systems have to maintain good balance," adds George Sanchez, Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses' North American director of sales and marketing (Lincolnshire, IL). "This is critical to reduce waste . . . but some presses have difficulty going from makeready speeds to full production speeds while still delivering saleable product--they have to climb up gradually." Process control tools such as closed loop inkers can help operators optimize the set up of ink and water curves, suggests Sanchez. "You should also develop a reliable and predictable database that takes into account the variables of a given job, such as ink coverage, paper stock and basis weight and required tension levels. You can then shift curves depending on preset job criteria."

Attack the big three. Registration, color and ink problems are the top three culprits of makeready waste, according to the 1998-1999 Market Outlook for Web Offset Printers. Automation has proved to be an excellent solution at Berlin Industries, which features closed loop color as well as register control systems from Web Printing Controls (Barrington, IL). "Closed-loop color enhances speed, especially if you're doing version changes or only have black plate changes," explains Hoffman. "Presetting enables the press to come up to speed almost instantly--the press adjusts itself. It's cut our time and waste sheets in half."

"A great many printing firms --both big and small--don't control their ink at all," observes Dan Siewert, pressroom manager at Williams Printing (Atlanta). "You need to ask for ink analysis sheets on each batch. Teach operators what gray balance is and how to use a densitometer. If you're still doing it the old-fashioned way--hanging plates and getting color by eye--you're crazy."

Don't overlook the human factor--consider "fingerprinting" your operators by testing their vision. Obviously, you don't want to have two color-blind operators on the same crew! Mitsubishi's Sanchez cites folder automation as a key timesaver. "Automated folder changeover allows operators to change from various product formats and back (i.e., tabloid, magazine, digest, delta and delta chop signature formats) in the shortest possible time with predictable adjustments. Automatic folder changeover also allows on-the-run lap adjustments as well as phasing and timing adjustments. Fully automatic function allows the operator to go through all formats with the push of a single button."

Take advantage of today's technology. "A lot of things have been added to presses to reduce makereadies" notes Joe Abbot, director, technical support MAN Roland (Groton, CT). "There's automatic and semiautomatic plateloading, color-to-color register, and improvements in presetting using a CIP3 interface. PECOM and similar interfaces allow operators to concentrate on makeready rather than doing accounting or bookkeeping."

"We are 100 percent digital," testifies Ron Wisniewski, printing operations manager at Arandell Corp., a $177 million upscale catalog printer (Menomonee Falls, WI). "Arandell installed Heidelberg's Prepress Gateway System (PPG) capable of scanning image data from our Creo platesetters and providing this data to the press consoles. This information is used to preset the ink keys--the equipment can 'learn'--it gets better and better."

Fingerprint press/prepress equipment. "We have seen some plants get a few computers and printers and consider themselves to have a high-tech prepress department," says GATF's Farmer. "But they hadn't characterized the presses or fingerprinted them to fine-tune their electronic image generation to fit the press. If the prepress system isn't fine-tuned, it's like putting a high-performance V-8 engine into a car with bald tires."

Accentuate the positive. "You cannot jump on your operators when they have bad days," advises Gerry Macdonald, plant manager at S. Rosenthal Co. (Cincinnati, OH). "We post crew performance percentages--nobody wants to be at the bottom. We know we'll have good days and bad days," says Macdonald. "But we like to say that we only track good days. If we have a record-breaking day, our foremen work their fannies off to figure out how we can repeat that performance."

Provide ongoing training. Few of today's operators have the benefit of an apprenticeship. "A new operator learns to chuck a roll, change a plate and set ink fountains and three months later he or she is driving the press," relates GATF's Farmer. In his hands-on training seminars at the GATF pressroom, Farmer has operators troubleshoot presses--e.g., change packing, roller settings, tension, etc., to solve a slurring problem.

At Williams, in-house training uses guidelines established for National Skill Council Certified Press Operators (see "What is an NCCO,"american printer September 1998, p. 154).

S. Rosenthal also has an innovative in-house training idea--it partnered with several other printers and a local college to share the cost of a press simulator.

Lose the threads. "Threads offer a tremendous opportunity to reduce makeready time," asserts Jerry W. Claunch, president of Claunch Associates (Palm Beach Gardens, FL). "Threads account for 10 to 15 minutes of time during every makeready, including time spent looking for fasteners and finding the right hand tool to use on the threaded item." Claunch suggests low-cost solutions that eliminate threads including dowel pins, toggle clamps, pneumatic clamps, quick disconnects for air and electrical lines, hinges, magnets, quick acting nuts and quarter turns.

Help operators get up to speed. As today's presses approach the 3,000 fpm mark, operators have to adjust, too. "When you put a fast press into a slow house, there's a mindset that printing presses can't run that fast," explains Ron Bartell, product manager for Heidelberg Web Systems (Dover, NH). "Management has to stay on top of things to get the speed up. But once they do, they'll see speeds increase on their other presses too."

Whether you have new presses or older equipment, "makeready levels the playing field," submits Macdonald. "Whether you're running 3,000 fpm or 1,000 fpm, everyone has to stop--at least until we get erasable cylinders. The guys who know how to do makeready can make that cost center a profit center."

*1998-1999 Market Outlook for Web Printers. Contact the Web Offset Assn. at 100 Daingerfield Rd., Alexandria, VA; or call (703) 519-8156. *Textbook of Pressman Training. A new audio tape for pressroom managers is also available. Call Frank Drazan at the International School (708) 485-6973; fax: (708) 485-1019. *Print Management Systems. Craig Press, a Solutions OnSite consultant for Printing Industries of America (PIA) and president of Profectus Inc. specializes in evaluating and implementing business management systems. See or call (888) 868-8662. *Advanced Web Offset Operations Workshop. GATF's Bill Farmer, Jr., leads this course October 4-7, 1999. Call (412) 741-6860, ext. 200; or fax (412) 741-2311. *National Skill Council Certified Press Operators. For more information and testing dates, contact the National Skills Council at (207) 985-9898. *Quick Response Makeready Program. Learn to apply SMED to your makereadies for dramatic time savings. Contact Ken Rizzo, senior consultant, technical/quality systems, GATF at (412) 741-6860.