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Moving on up

Sep 1, 2001 12:00 AM

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Moving to a new facility can wreak havoc with operations if you don't follow a few ground rules

When Dave Sunderland is asked to describe his most challenging move, he talks about a downtown printer that relocated from five floors in an old building with limited truck access to a newer facility on the outskirts of the city. The move began on a Friday. The company's press equipment, prepress and bindery operations, and shipping and receiving had to be disassembled, transported to the new location and operating by Monday morning.

And yet, what might have been a nightmare for most is described by Sunderland as a “smooth” and “successful” move. “I enjoyed this move as much as any,” he says.

While Sunderland sounds like an eternal optimist, he's also an experienced mover. As president of T&D Machine Handling (Alpharetta, GA), specialists in moving sheetfed presses, Sunderland has overseen whole-facility relocations as well as single-equipment moves.


Sunderland's biggest piece of advice for printers about to relocate: “Follow an organized plan,” he stresses. The moving plan may include these steps:

  • Identify all equipment to be relocated. It sounds simple, but Sunderland says printers have sometimes told him that “everything in the building” needs to be moved, only to learn later that two pieces of equipment were being traded in and another was being sold. “To come up with a thorough plan, we need to be aware of everything involved,” he says.

  • Identify all parties involved. This includes the printer's personnel, the technicians that will be taking apart and reassembling the equipment, riggers and any contractors. Even the more seemingly ancillary people, such as the local electrician handling the disconnection of power from the presses, should be identified.

  • Organize a written description of the move. Sunderland suggests writing down each party's specific responsibilities, how they may overlap, and where each person's duties begin and end.

    “This is an area that printers and contractors sometimes don't spend enough time on upfront,” the exec observes. “If you're moving a sheetfed press, for example, establish a standard for where the work actually ends.”

    Typically, T&D Machine Handling asks the printer to run some test sheets before moving a press, then do a few test runs afterward. “It doesn't mean you have a perfect machine, but it's the same machine you started with when you began the move,” says Sunderland.

  • Develop a schedule, confirming and coordinating with all parties involved. Consider the amount of time each piece of equipment will be out of production. There may be a logical order to move the equipment to minimize downtime.

  • Make sure everyone understands the pricing arrangements and terms.


Alpha Beta Press (Tinley Park, IL) began planning for its move early, when management realized it was growing out of its 19,000-sq.-ft. plant. “We'd move a skid 10 times a day; there was no place to be efficient,” says president and co-owner Steve Smits. “We also needed to add another press but had no room for it. So we bit the bullet and invested a lot of money to build a new facility.”

The architect recommended a general contractor for construction of the building; after touring other structures worked on by the contractor, Smits hired him. During the eight months of construction, at least one of Alpha Beta's three managers was at the site.

In Q1 2000, Alpha Beta moved to the new 50,000-sq.-ft. building, which was about 10 miles away. The actual move took eight weeks; during six of them, the company operated out of both facilities. Many of its 100 employees worked overtime, often putting in 20 to 30 hours a week at each plant. Instead of moving its big presses, the printer purchased three new Mitsubishi sheetfed presses and installed them directly in the new plant. It also hired two firms: one that specialized in moving office equipment, including prepress, and another that relocated the heavy iron.

Despite careful planning, snags cropped up. Building construction took three months longer than originally scheduled. “It was not a pleasant experience,” Smits acknowledges. “Some of the delay was weather-related; some had to do with the general contractor not coordinating the subcontractors well. And we had bad soil in certain areas. I completely underestimated the time the construction phase would demand of me and our key management people.” For a few months, Alpha Beta had to rent space from the firm moving into its old facility. Smits and company ultimately moved into the new plant before it was fully finished.


Then there were phone problems. A new T1 connection, which supported seven lines, was installed at the new facility but one line initially didn't work. An entire day passed before staff figured out that some customers' calls weren't getting through.

“One company brings the phone line to the outside of the building. Another one handles the line inside the building. Then, there's the equipment manufacturer,” Smits recalls. “There was a lot of finger-pointing as to whose problem this was.”

It took Alpha Beta a good three months to get production and operations back to normal levels. Smits summarizes the lesson learned from the moving experience in one sentence: “You have to expect the unexpected and be ready for it.”

Jim Lewandowski, executive vice president of Quantum Color (Morton Grove, IL), agrees. In October 1998, Quantum moved three sheetfed Heidelberg presses and 130 employees out of a 50,000-sq.-ft. facility to a remodeled 70,000-sq.-ft. building a few blocks away. It also installed new prepress equipment, two new Heidelberg presses and a bindery department in its new location.

While both the owners and president had previous moving and plant-designing experience, management nevertheless hired a general contractor to manage the newer facility's redesign. The printer also hired consultants to evaluate the lighting, electrical and water system requirements, and involved every company department in move planning.

But, “you have to be flexible with regard to your move schedule,” Lewandowski observes. “The consultants and general contractors cannot possibly foresee everything that's going to happen.”

Quantum, for example, expected to move in April, but was delayed due to “timing issues with lots of little things,” Lewandowski says.

The printer operated out of both plants for two months. In such a situation, Lewandowski notes that logistics have to be carefully managed. All paper may be stored in just one facility, for example. “Communication between people in both buildings is key,” he says.


When moving, unfortunately, it's not just communication but a multitude of other things that printers must also keep in mind. Sunderland, Smits and Lewandowski offer these tips for a successful move:


This strategy proved priceless for Quantum Color, according to Lewandowski. He says many of the plant design and equipment recommendations came from the company's shop-floor personnel. The exec also recommends providing progress reports to employees.

Sunderland adds that a move proceeds more smoothly if employees understand what their responsibilities are, and subsequently work with the rigger and technicians.


As in Alpha Beta's case, Quantum Color employees worked many weekends and 12- to 14-hour days, according to Lewandowski. “Your employees have to understand that accommodating a move is over and above the normal work day, for quite a long time,” he points out. “The costs are enormous.”


Both Alpha Beta and Quantum Color made their moves transparent to their clients — but if you choose this route, make sure you can outsource work if necessary. Alpha Beta's one saddlestitcher was down for four days after it was relocated; during that time, the printer farmed the work out to local binderies.

“We didn't mention it to our customers; most are just trusting you to get it done,” Smits explains. “Our goal through the whole process was to make it as seamless as possible to our customers, without any downtime. We were successful, but it was difficult — and cost quite a bit of money — to do that.”


This allowed Alpha Beta to move one piece of equipment at a time. If the company moved a two-color press to the new facility, for example, it wouldn't relocate the other until the first was functional in the new building.

Equipment duplication “gives you more flexibility with scheduling and meeting customer demand,” says Smits. “Not all equipment runs during all three shifts. If anything does go down, you're not completely out of service.”


Before Alpha Beta's move, Smits toured a Bowne facility in South Bend, IN, and talked to its plant manager about moving details. He also read A. John Geis' book, “Printing Plant Layout & Facility Design.”


A large move involves a lot of teamwork. “Even in areas where one party may be assigned more specific responsibilities,” explains Sunderland, “coordination of the work requires a good attitude and cooperation between all parties.”


A problem-free move is never guaranteed. “I'll never do it again in my life,” declares Smits. “I'd put on an addition; I'd buy new presses. But to build a building, put in three new presses and move a plant — I'd never wish that upon anyone.”

But a good plan and flexibility can go a long way in minimizing problems. And if all else fails, just keep in mind: “Time heals. You tend to forget the pain after three years,” jokes Lewandowski.

Choosing a rigger

The press is essential to a printer's livelihood. A printer, therefore, shouldn't hire just anyone to move these expensive pieces of equipment. Dave Sunderland, president of T&D Machine Handling (Alpharetta, GA), which specializes in moving sheetfed presses, offers these tips to choose the best rigger for the job:

  • Hire a company that is familiar with the type of equipment you have, and has experience moving that type or brand of press. The rigger should provide references, and you should definitely check them.

  • The rigger should provide all the equipment necessary to move the presses, including the trucks for transport, proper rigging tools, skates to support the machinery, gantries and forklifts.

  • The rigger should provide a certificate of insurance that outlines the coverage for both equipment movers and the presses. Sunderland advises that in some cases, printers may want to check that the insurance covers the entire machine in case of damage, and not just the one part that might get damaged.

“A large printing press is going to be taken apart into many sections to be moved,” the exec explains. “The value of the machine is the sum of all those parts, not the value of one particular part. It's possible to damage a section of the press and affect the value of the entire piece of equipment.”

The perfect facility

How do you plan, design or construct a new building or addition? And how do you accommodate for future growth? GATF's “Printing Plant Layout and Facility Design,” written by A. John Geis, provides examples of floor plans, layout essentials and facility specs to help printers develop the best facility for their operations.

To order the $40 book ($70 for non-members), call (800) 662-3916 or e-mail: