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Quality Assurance In The Bindery

In our highly competitive graphic arts industry, labor costs, raw material costs, the bottom line and most importantly, client goodwill is on the firing line every time a job is produced.  An effective quality assurance program is absolutely vital.  Maybe it’s even more important than that.

Let’s look at quality assurance from a bindery’s perspective.  Suppose a printing company sends a $10,000 print job to a bindery for $1,000 of bindery services.  If the bindery expects to net a 10% profit, they are accepting $10,000 of risk for only $100 potential profit.  Since printers hold binderies accountable for their performance – as they should – the reality of the bindery business is that only a few bad jobs will destroy the financial performance of the company.  In short, binderies, as well as printers, must do their work right the first time, every time.

Get Correct Information
Quality assurance begins by obtaining the right information about what needs to be done, how it should be done, and what acceptable quality standards are.  All the parameters of the job should be precisely and completely defined.  Binderies use the term “preflighting” to mean the process of obtaining and reviewing reliable and detailed information about every aspect of a job before setting up any manufacturing operations.  Without proper information, the scheduler can’t plan the job and department leaders won’t know what is required.

Every bindery has produced jobs that they are embarrassed to admit came in their front door, let alone went out the back – yet the customer was delighted.  Similarly, every bindery has produced what they thought would be award-winning work – but for some reason, the customer was disappointed.  What can we conclude from this?  Quality is whatever the customer needs it to be.  On a job by job basis, binderies should make every effort to discover how customers define quality and adapt their internal standards to meet customer expectations.  To accomplish this, at the very least, binderies need detailed purchase orders with written instructions and pre-production samples, bluelines or samples of prior jobs.

When a bindery has compiled all the information necessary to begin a job, the internal job order must be clearly written up in straightforward language so that every operator and supervisor understands what is required.  After the job order is approved, but before production begins, a progressive series of approvals and signoffs should be collected.

At Rickard Bindery, the mechanic who sets up a machine must be satisfied that it will produce what the customer wants, according to the job order and provided samples.  This person will run a small quantity of material, take it to a setup supervisor and ask for written approval.  Next, the setup supervisor ensures that everything is prepared in accordance with job order instructions.  The supervisor measures the pieces, examines them for imperfections such as blemishes, smudged ink, scratching and folding sequencing problems, and then verifies that all parts of the machine are functioning correctly.  If applicable, bundle counts will be checked.  When the setup supervisor is satisfied that everything is correct, complete information is given to the operations manager, customer service representative and quality assurance manager for final signoffs.

At Rickard Bindery, machine operators have primary responsibility for quality control.  Managers approve setups, but once jobs are running, operators are the ones with their hands on the throttle.  Operators are expected to carefully read job orders and understand all instructions pertaining to their particular function before loading the machine, producing product and packing pallets.

Rickard operators have unique identification stamps and are required to verify the quality of their work by examining and approving samples on an hourly basis.  They stamp their ID number on the sample, punch it in a time clock located near their machine and add it to the job order.  However, things can go wrong so fast that hourly time pulls don’t guarantee acceptable quality.  Operators must constantly monitor their jobs and check their output lift by lift and bundle by bundle.  In the unlikely event of post-production issues surfacing, a time-stamping process creates a relevant production history and allows any problems to be isolated.

Rickard employees have full authority and responsibility to stop production if they have any doubts about quality.  They can go to their supervisor at any time to request a second opinion.  If a supervisor instructs an operator to proceed with the job, the supervisor assumes responsibility by signing and time-stamping a sample.  Operators then keep at least one signed sample as proof that they have been instructed to proceed.  Then, production continues as long as quality doesn’t further deteriorate.

Quality Assurance Manager
Rickard Bindery’s quality assurance manager is not an “inspector.”  This person gathers hourly “time pulls” and creates a working history of every job.  Although these samples are reviewed, primary responsibility for quality clearly remains in the realm of the operator.  The quality assurance manager invests considerable effort to coach operators and line managers so everyone involved in production understands what quality means and what acceptable variation is.

Some clients need specially produced samples.  If a portion of a job has been designated as “sample stock,” it is segregated, produced and examined piece by piece.  If a customer wants an on site bindery inspection of their job, the quality assurance manager usually guides the inspection process so issues that arise are immediately resolved.

Common Problems

  1. Job order changes.  When job specifications change, every affected production employee needs to know about it.  At Rickard Bindery, normal job tickets are written on white sheets of paper and placed in clear plastic envelopes.  When job changes happen, the order is rewritten, printed on brightly colored paper and put it into the plastic envelope facing outward so everyone knows that something has changed.
  2. Employee failure to read or understand a job order.  When an employee makes a mistake and misunderstands instructions, a quality assurance system based on checks and balances prevents small mistakes from turning into disasters.
  3. Incorrect information.  Good binderies try to double-check everything and inform their customers about their concerns.   Binderies should strive to be the “eyes and ears” for their customers while their jobs are “guests” at the plant.
  4. Production counts.  Finished work must be counted accurately to ensure that customer quantity requirements are met.

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Maintaining acceptable quality for a wide range of products in a job shop environment is difficult, but certainly possible. Carefully planned and implemented quality assurance systems are mandatory.  More errors are caught when operators develop “ownership” of their job performance and when additional sets of trained eyes look at each job.  From day one, Rickard Bindery machine operators know they are empowered to shut down a machine or even an inline system if a predetermined standard of excellence isn’t met.  This is the best way to prevent costly errors.

Kevin Rickard is Vice President of Operations for Rickard Bindery and a Director 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.