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Setups And Unsetting Machinery In The Bindery

Here’s a question for you: If a complicated bindery job has a 12-hour makeready, and requires 36 hours of machine run time, how long will it take to produce it from the time stock arrives?  48 hours on one machine?  Are you sure?  Believe it or not, good planning can reduce this time to 40 hours or even less!

Everyone wins when “impossible” schedules are made, but successful deadline compliance doesn’t happen by itself.  Good planning, plant management and communication are essential.

Setups (Makereadies)
When working on jobs needing super fast turnaround times, good binderies ask for properly marked bluelines, dummies and makeready stock a day or two in advance.  This allows job orders to be written, distributed to the plant and understood, so setup mechanics can begin the makeready process.  When the job arrives, about ninety percent of the makeready is complete.  All that remains is cutting the stock and the fine tuning portion of the setup process.  Our company has discovered that this “ninety-percent-solution” rescues a lot of customers from missed deadlines.

In addition, fast turnaround times depend on multiple-shift companies streamlining their order entry system.  It’s impossible for a setup mechanic to makeready a job unless they have clear instructions about what needs to be done.  Since it’s difficult to get product-related questions answered during non-traditional business hours, good inter- and intra-company communications are essential for work needing to be done round-the-clock.  When jobs arrive late in the day, we immediately call our customers to get answers to any questions, write the preliminary job tickets and distribute materials to appropriate departments so the makeready can begin.  This process ensures our ability to work on rush jobs during our second and third shifts.

Unsetting Machines (Returning To Original Condition: “Ground Zero”)
One key factor determining makeready speed is the starting condition of machines.  The three scenarios are as follows:

  1. If the last job off a machine is similar to the new one, and the machine hasn’t been “unset”, makeready speed for the new job will be lightning fast.
  2. If the last job off a machine is very different from the new one, and the machine hasn’t been unset, makeready speed for the new job will be very slow.
  3. If the machine has already been unset, makeready speed for the new job will be as quoted.

Some companies unset all machines after every job; some never do until the next job is present; and, others do a little of each.  Choosing the right strategy for your company depends on how many redundant (overlapping) machines you have, the variety and scope of your typical projects and average requested turnaround times.  In general, job-shop binderies with little machine duplication should unset machines after each use because most jobs require different setups.  On the other hand, those with a lot of redundancy are better off not unsetting machines after finishing “common” jobs.

Routinely unsetting machines results in fewer lost parts, better maintenance, less glue problems, etc.  And, since unsetting machinery requires less skill than making jobs ready, labor costs are lower than when highly paid setup mechanics unset and reset jobs under tight deadline pressures.  On the other hand, skipping unsetting when running similar jobs means that makeready times and production costs are reduced.  When the next job scheduled for a machine is known, it’s easy to make unsetting decisions.  If it’s different (i.e., size, paper thickness, page count, etc.) unsetting the machine makes sense.  If it’s similar, leaving it alone is best.

If a machine doesn’t have any future jobs scheduled, a decision needs to be made.  For highly specialized machines, the next job may be days or even weeks down the road.  For example, if the next scheduled job is in five days, and it is similar to the one just finished, it may be tempting to leave the machine set up.  If a rush job with different specifications unexpectedly arrives the next day, the machine will have to be unset and made ready by expensive setup mechanics.  In this case, the unsetting strategy, or the lack thereof, has backfired.

For smaller binderies with little machine overlap, unsetting decisions are relatively easy.  If jobs typically are similar, machines should remain set up.  If not, they should be unset.  For larger companies with a lot of machine duplication, unsetting decisions can be complicated.  Companies are rewarded for good unset decisions by having low operating costs and fast turnaround times.  Then, they enter the attractive cycle of lower costs, lower prices, faster turnaround times, higher market share, more equipment, quicker setups and then … lower costs.

An Example
Rickard Bindery folds a lot of three-parallel-gatefolds.  Since we have sixty-eight folding machines, it makes sense for us to leave at least one folder setup for this kind of work.  When new jobs of this type arrive, we adjust the side guides, roller tensions and plate stops, but that’s about it.  On average, we net about $30 in labor savings per setup – but the real gain is our ability to satisfy “impossible” client delivery needs.

Map and Miniature Products
In general, we leave a couple of our seven map folding machines setup because many map folding jobs have similar panel sizes and folding sequences.  In addition, we usually keep one machine set up for standard three-right-angle, 8½” x 11”, sixteen page signatures.  Since miniature products come in a wide variety of sizes and folding sequences, we usually unset half of our 14 miniature folders after use.  However, we almost always unset older machines as part of our preventative maintenance program.

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Prosperity and longevity in the postpress business depends on managing details well.  Effective machinery setup and unsetting procedures are important for quick turnaround times, low production costs and satisfied customers.  Skill in these areas can set up a company for success.

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.