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In-Plant Printers Should Outsource Folding Services

In-plant printers should do it all, right?  No!  The best run companies, including in-plants, know what their core competencies are and focus on them.  Vertical integration (adding capabilities that occur before or after a company’s core services) is an outdated business model and should be put to rest.

In our competitive marketplace, in-plant printers may be tempted to add ancillary bindery services.  The lure of perceived scheduling control, value added manufacturing and increased profits cause some managers to consider unwise investments.  There are some instances when buying machinery outside core competency areas is right, but more often than not, they will drain cash and managerial resources for years.

In-plants should be in the habit of saying, “yes” to their in-house customers.  Your customers want to hear, “Yes, we can handle that request.”   Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.  Do you think they care how you get a job done?  Don’t they just want their job done right and on time?  Outsourcing should be thought of as a key success factor for any graphic arts organization.  Here are a few tips how to make outsourcing folding services go more smoothly.

Plan for Success
Once a job has been designed, and the product’s “look” has been agreed upon, call in your bindery professional.  Usually there are several ways to run any job.  Simple layout changes can produce remarkable time and dollar savings.  Panel size alterations and other minor design adjustments can make jobs look great, function better and cost less.

Many folding jobs should have small variations in panel sizes, but don’t.  While the shape of individual panels may look similar, often they need to be sized differently to allow for shingling, wraparound, washout (creep) and push-out.  Paper is three-dimensional; don’t ignore its thickness.  Correctly designed panels allow your bindery to fold your job right on the color break, rather than along side of them.  What may look like sloppy bindery work really may be the result of poor design.  Physical laws apply to folding.  For example, don’t expect your bindery to produce an attractive multi-panel barrel-folded piece if it’s been laid out with equal-sized panels.

Always provide blue-lines, rule-up sheets, folding dummies and marked and sequenced folding samples (1st fold A to A, 2nd fold B to B, etc.).  Leave 1/8” between live copy and intended trim position and another 1/8” for bleed takeoff trim.  This allows for natural variation in both the printing and binding processes without risking product damage.  Smaller margins are possible, but check first.  Allow for washout when folding right angle pieces or when you are slitting paper to make a nested product.  Your paper thickness will determine how much washout peeks out.  Contrasting colors will make washout more noticeable, but careful preplanning can enhance a product’s appearance.  For roll folds, the outer two panels should be final finished size with each succeeding interior panel decreasing by 3/32”.  And, the last panel should be 1/16” smaller than the preceding one.  Failure to perform these steps can lead to bend-overs, bad color breaks, jams, waste and increased spoilage.

Take Stock Of Your Paper
In any product, there is some variation during the manufacturing process.  Paper is no exception.  Irregularities do occur and will affect folding performance.  Inconsistent surfaces will contribute to decreased bindery yield.  Even if paper comes from the same lot, there still may be variation in paper bulk.  For example, 80# uncoated cover stock can caliper anywhere from 8- to 13-points, depending on the manufacturer.  This is significant because 10-point stock usually folds well while paper 12-points and thicker requires different folding techniques and machines.  Be careful of running odd lots.  Changing paper in the middle of a job will affect downstream folding so be sure to mark the change spot and advise your bindery.

Generally, the thicker your stock, the more variables you will face.  Pre-score your stock if it is 100# text weight or heavier.  Sometimes, thicker stocks without critical color breaks can be inline wet scored or folder scored, but always ask for an opinion before bypassing channel scoring.  When folding stock thicker than 10-points, watch for ripple cracking on buckle folders.  (Ripple cracking is scaring on a sheet, parallel to a fold, after the sheet has been bent beyond the limit of elasticity.)  Knife folders generally will not ripple crack until the stock is 12- or 13-points thick.  Plow folders can fold up to 23-point stock without suffering any ripple cracking.

Know your grain direction.  Reduce cracking and the need for pre-scoring or inline wet scoring by folding your first fold with the grain.  If this isn’t possible, consider choosing a stock with short fibers and “off machine” coating for better moisture control.

Paper fibers can break during folding, which results in cracking.  However, choosing proper production techniques, machines and fold plates can often save jobs.  The shock load on paper fibers increases geometrically with machine speed.  So, when fibers are breaking, slow down your folder speed to reduce fiber stress.

If ink is too brittle, it may crack.  Correcting this problem is difficult because ink doesn’t have the strength or flexibility of paper.  Choose your fold plates and folding machines to minimize paper stress, add moisture to the surface (wet score) and slow down your folder.  Wet ink is another common bindery problem.  If there is a good chance of having wet ink at bindery conversion time, use varnish or aqueous coating.

Although varnish seals ink underneath it, preventing marking and smudging, it is slippery and may hinder fold rollers from getting a good grip.  Varnish dries to an uneven surface of peaks and valleys.  When sheets run through folder rollers, the peaks are knocked off and ground into powder that gets on the rollers and alters their gripping ability.  The exact point at which the rollers get a solid grip on the buckling sheet determines the fold position.  If there is any change in the gripping characteristics of the rollers, the fold moves.

When a folding operator begins running a job, the rollers are clean and the job runs well.  However, after a few thousand pieces, varnish powder is deposited on the rollers and begins to change the fold position.  A knowledgeable operator will stop, clean the rollers and watch the fold return to its proper position for another few thousand sheets.  Or, a different operator may stop, change the fold stop position in the plate and watch the piece quickly go out of folding register again.  Either way, productivity and quality are very difficult on long run jobs with flood varnish.  For example, a non-varnished job that runs at 10,000 pieces per hour might yield only 6,000 or 7,000 if varnished.

Specialty Folds
Binderies should be thought of as extensions of your in-plant services.  As we’ve already covered, knowing where to get something done effectively and efficiently is much more important than where it gets done.  Your in-house customers will be impressed if you offer them specialty folds such as iron cross folds, swinger folds, pop-ups, miniature gatefolds, 16 accordions, gatefold & right angle gatefolds, and folding without side guides.

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Outsource folding services right.  If you can offer solutions to your in-house customers, regardless of whether or not you do the work yourself, you will be valuable to your organization.  Remember that bindery affects product appearance and function as much as presses do.  Good communication and planning will keep you in business a long time.

Jack Rickard is the President of Rickard Bindery, and the former President of the Printing Industries of Illinois and Indiana, Binding Industries of America, and Graphic Finishing Industries of Illinois.  Rickard Bindery is a company specializing in creating solutions for challenging bindery jobs.  He can be reached at (800) 747-1389.