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Simplicity is a Virtue

In our highly detail-oriented graphic arts industry, it’s easy to get wrapped up in needless complexity.  But, it’s often simplicity that gets the job done right.  Simple work processes and direct communication make busy peoples’ business lives easier.

Remember the “telephone game” that we used to play as children?  You know; one person whispers a phrase into the ear of the next person, who repeats it to the next person, and so on, until the last person hears the message and repeats it for everyone else.  Do you remember how simple phrases mysteriously changed?  As information passes from ear to ear, it gets distorted.  A statement like, “This fall, the Red Sox will win the World Series” may end up as, “Don’t fall on red rocks and ripe berries.”

Example One: Gathering Information for Estimate Requests
Why do some companies still insist we play a grown-up version of the telephone game when doing estimates?  Here’s how estimate information is gathered at some companies: Sales reps get estimates from customers, then pass them to CSRs, who in turn give them to estimators.  If an estimator needs clarification, or more information, the request travels the reverse path: from estimator to CSR to sales rep to customer.  Then it goes from customer to sales rep to CSR and back to the estimator.  This is a lot of people handling simple questions like, “Does it 3-hole punch?” or, “What is the fold sequence?”

Wouldn’t it be simpler if an estimator picked up the phone and asked the customer the relevant questions without going through extraneous intermediaries?  I know that there are sales representatives out there who what to control all forms of customer contact, but is this “mother hen” approach really beneficial?  Most of us can point to certain customers that need handholding, but is this formal communication flow necessary in all cases?

Example Two: Lots and Code Numbers
Marketing is a wonderful thing.  Operating in the information age means we can test various marketing offers, promotional words, color schemes, demographics and virtually any other job component.  All this marketing flexibility has very real and sometimes complicated consequences for the bindery.  A lot of cutting edge bindery work has coded “lots.”   If these lots aren’t identified by clearly visible codes on the piece, the chances of production errors dramatically increase.

When buried deep in a piece, variable information is difficult to find.  To ensure that the right material is used at the right time, machine operators need to quickly identify and understand the codes.  If these codes are placed in convenient places on a sheet, comparisons are easily made and the verification process is simple.  However, if codes are buried inside, operators must open the product and verify coding before proceeding.

Recently, we ran a job with a key variable code buried deep inside a promotional piece.  Unfortunately, the beginning sheet size was 40” x 70” and the ten-digit inventory code was placed near the middle of the form.  Code verification was nearly impossible during production and had to be done late in the manufacturing process, exposing the job to unnecessary manufacturing risk.

It’s been said that the postpress industry doesn’t employ rocket scientists.  This is true.  Neither our production employees nor our team leaders (myself included) have mastered quantum anything.  Our industry employs people with good mechanical aptitude, manual dexterity and attention to detail.  If your project is so complicated that Ph.D.’s are needed to understand it, you run a high risk of experiencing production problems.  On the other hand, if it is carefully planned, and clear and simple communication is used, your job will be a success.

Example Three: Dutch Cut Layouts
Simplicity is important when planning press sheet impositions.  If your project needs to have “Dutch” cuts (multiple forms placed in unusual sheet positions), reduce your cutting time by aligning common trim positions.  For example, if you have a 16pg and a 6pg signature imposed on the same press sheet, lay them out so they have a common trim.  You should have the forms positioned so a single cut will trim the edge off of both forms with one stroke.  This simple layout decision will save your cutter at least two cuts.

Dutch cuts save paper, but your finisher needs to carefully manage forms with different grain directions.  Problems will be avoided if your bindery separates and clearly marks the lots by grain direction.  If not, they will be mixed up and the grain direction will shift during production, resulting in wildly varying fold positions.  If the lots are clearly marked, they can be completely separated and run sequentially.  If setup adjustments are necessary between lots, only one change will be needed.  Good Dutch cut planning needn’t slow production down at all.

Example Four: Plant Layout
Simple plant layouts are often the most efficient.  A good rule of thumb is to try to move printed material as little as possible.  Place the machines with the most tonnage passing through them as close to your loading dock as possible.

At our two-level, 80,000ft plant, we keep our five large saddle stitching machines on the first level because more paper tonnage per square foot passes through this department than anywhere else in the company.  Most of our folding and cutting machines are on the second floor.  We keep our twenty mid-sized folders (accommodating up to 26”x 40” sheets) near the elevator because they consume more stock than any other class of folder.  Next closest are our ten map folders and the furthest away is our fourteen-machine miniature folding department.

In addition, we keep all of our machines as close to the perimeter (the wall) as possible to minimize the distance that material and people have to travel.  This hub and spoke system means that staged material and work-in-process is housed in the middle of the plant, which greatly reduces transportation distance between any two points.  We allow enough space between our folders so they can accommodate almost any combination of right-angle units and inline peripheral equipment like sealers and knife folders.  Since Rickard Bindery offers customers flexible bindery solutions, we make sure that we always have maximum production flexibility.

Some graphic arts plants appear to have no more workflow planning than a Boston street.  (In Boston, streets there are literally paved cow paths.)  If companies place machinery wherever it’s convenient at the time, a price will be paid on the future bottom line.  Plan for a simple workflow.  It will make things easier for your people and help you get work out more quickly.

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Work is hard enough: Don’t make it harder than necessary.  Today, we have touched on estimating, marketing codes, Dutch cuts and plant layouts, but there’s so much more to our industry.  Think of your graphic arts operation.  Is there any process or communication flow that you can simplify?  Once again, simplicity is a virtue.

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.