Published Articles

Information Should Flow Like A River

Prompt answers help companies make deadlines, which makes customers happy, which boosts profits.  What’s the key ingredient?  Information.  Everyone wins when information flows as freely as a river. 

Here’s an analogy that applies to the graphic arts industry.  Imagine a postman’s mail route in a large city with a lot of row houses.  Each house has small yard with a fence and a gate.  Inside each fence is a mean dog.  It’s the mail carrier’s job to open the gate, deliver mail to the front door of each house and close the gate as he leaves, many times a day, everyday.  Each dog will behave as long as it’s being watched.  However, as soon as the mailman forgets to close one gate, he will get bitten from behind.  Aren’t our experiences the same in our industry?  Graphic arts professionals constantly need to keep an eye on every detail, or risk getting bitten.

Today’s print buyers are stretched so thinly that they rely on their printing companies to guide them through the printing process.  However, this need for handholding competes with a printer’s need for accurate and timely information.  Print buyers that give unclear instructions can slow down the printing process and make jobs more difficult than necessary.  The bindery world isn’t any different.  Our job is to be an information resource to printers, but in return, we need complete information back.

Step One: Written Instructions
Before sending jobs out for finishing, write detailed instructions explaining what you want done.  You may not know when or how, but this minor time investment will pay off in spades.  No one is as familiar with your client’s requirements as you are, and what seems obvious to you may not be to someone else.  Purchase orders are certainly preferred, but at the very least, describe what operations need to be done and how success is defined.  Think of your job from the perspective of someone who has never heard of your client and doesn’t know what items are on the “must” list.

When binderies lack vital information, and have no fat in the schedule, a difficult choice must be made.  They can either: wait for information and miss the deadline; or make production decisions and risk incurring the wrath of a customer if the choices are wrong.  Jobs with quick turnaround times and a lack of accurate written instructions are a recipe for disaster.  An unfortunate industry adage appears to still be true today: “There’s never enough time to do it right, but plenty of time to do it over.”

Have you noticed that very few binderies do setups at night?  This puzzling observation results from a systemic lack of information.  Rickard Bindery has been a three-shift operation for decades.  Over the years we’ve found that we’re able to get about sixty percent of a setup done on average before hitting the informational fork in the road.  If a bindery setup mechanic needs to make a telephone call, examine a rule-up sheet, or resolve some other issue, the setup process must be halted.  If too many snags occur in the middle of the night, the result is an unacceptably high rate of machine idle time.  This is why the majority of job setups really must occur during normal business hours.

An Example
Recently, I was impressed with the way one of our out-of-town customers handled a problematic web job with a tough fold and a tight deadline.  We were having difficulty folding this job on the color break because of “web bounce” (image movement on web press-printed jobs).  Binderies compensate for this type of problem by shifting the fold just a little (usually about 1/32”) so that the important front panel appears right, regardless of image movement.  However, this causes another problem because paper has a third dimension – thickness.  When wrapping the fold 1/32” to the back panel, another 1/32” off the face trim is lost, which undersizes the piece a total of 1/16”.  Since it’s wise to allow extra margin, and there wasn’t any additional bleed allowance on this job, we asked our customer if we could undersize it 1/8”.

Even though our savvy customer understood the physics involved, his hands were tied because the final dimensions were critical.  Instead of sticking his head in the sand, he hopped on an airplane and within four hours of our telephone call we picked him up at the airport.  He looked at the sheet, called his company and got the authority to undersize the piece 1/16”.  He knew the tolerances of his web presses and told us that if our folding didn’t move, the project would be OK, even though our margin for error would be nil.  In short, he knew his printing equipment better than we did and only he was able to make the final call.  Flying 1,000 miles to solve a production problem may seem extravagant, but it really isn’t when compared to the cost of jeopardizing a valuable client relationship.  We took him back to the airport and he returned home that same night.

More Issues
Some customers give binderies the production materials they need (i.e., bluelines, rule-ups, dummies, etc.), provide detailed written directions for manufacturing the product, but forget about communicating packing, mailing and sample requirements.  Although they don’t sound like big problems, the lack of accurate information in these areas will hold up jobs.  Examples of issues are as follows:

  1. Where should wafer seals be placed?
  2. Is there a piece per bundle requirement, or is convenient bundles acceptable?
  3. How should bundles be contained?  Shrinkwrap, paperband, rubberband, poly-strap, trays, or convient?
  4. How many pieces go in a box?  Is an absolute uniform box count necessary?
  5. Is there a maximum weight per box?
  6. Are there any special pallet needs?
  7. How many customer samples are required and to where should they be shipped?

Unresolved issues in these areas cause delays and have the potential to change job cost structures.  Let’s take a look at wafer sealing.  Assume a self-mailer job with a rush schedule is quoted as having one seal.  Upon its arrival, it’s discovered that the open edge of the piece is at the bottom of the address panel.  (Postal regulations require two seals, not one.)  If the customer can’t be reached to approve the additional cost, the bindery is forced to make a decision.  Either start production without prior customer authorization for the second seal (and hope to be paid for the additional cost), or wait for an answer and miss the deadline.  Either way, risk is involved … because of poor planning and incomplete information flow.

*       *       *

Good communication is something everyone should strive for.  If customers supply their vendors with accurate and timely information, everyone’s lives will be less stressful.  Frequency of problems will be lower, customer satisfaction higher, production costs lower, and profits higher.  When job specifications are poorly documented and phone calls ignored, problems increase exponentially.  Denying a problem exists is the worst thing you can do.  As Zig Zigler likes to say, “De Nile is just a river in Egypt.”  Let information flow freely.

Kevin Rickard is Vice President of Operations for Rickard Bindery and an Officer of the Binding Industries of America.  Rickard Bindery specializes in discovering solutions to challenging folding, saddle stitching, gluing and other bindery jobs.  Kevin can be reached at (800) 747-1389.