Lean and green downstream

If an unnecessary makeready sheet or wasted misprint in the press hall is tantamount to throwing a banknote in the bin, an unsellable finished sheet is like emptying the entire contents of your wallet into the trash. The economic and environmental rallying cry is 'resource efficiency', and it's coming to a bindery near you.

While exact figures would be impossible to ascertain, HB & Associates environmental advisor Tom Batterbury estimates: If something goes wrong in the first process, that may be worth 50% of the selling price. If it’s the last finishing process and you’ve already cut it, folded it, creased it, then you could be up to 80%.

While the back end of the print process has historically been at the tail end of progress, finishing is catching up. Over the years, belt- and chain-driven machines with hulking motors have steadily been superseded by devices with smaller engines, highly accurate electrics and software control, and lower energy consumption. More recently, JDF-enabled finishing equipment has brought proponents one step closer to the holy grail of ‘lights-out’ production from order to fulfilment. According to GAE technical finishing products manager Alan Harrison, One of the biggest ways finishing can contribute [to environmental production] is by automating and integrating processes to streamline production or even eliminate entire stages.

Harrison says more integrated and intelligent equipment saves time and energy, adding that because each separate process in the bindery requires its own set-up, machines with automated set-up give a sellable product in far fewer makeready sheets. Automation also prepares the way for a full JDF environment that will further increase efficiency and optimise use of resources, he adds.

This was a key reason why Greenhouse Graphics, the BAPC’s 2008 business of the year, turned to GAE for a Horizon VAC-Turbo PowerCollator. When we look for equipment, we assess its impact and how it will help us conform to our internal standards. We compare eco-friendliness, speed of jobs, set-up and wastage, says managing director Ian Crossley, who believes production efficiencies naturally limit environmental impact. Lean manufacturing is also green manufacturing. However, he says less sophisticated legacy equipment is holding back the industry from the highly integrated post-press department of the future. The issue with JDF is that you need the hardware throughout the print warehouse to make it work, he says.

Automatic or the people?
Integration is a buzzword for Eric Le Moine, marketing manager for Belgian manufacturer CP Bourg. He agrees more automated kit that requires less operator intervention has brought cost and environmental benefits, but says there is more to be done to reach the pinnacle of post-press efficiency. The problem is that today’s press and finishing operators have to enter parameters into multiple machines, multiple times, increasing the likelihood of errors. But he says that will change. The people that create a job will define what they want and submit that to pre-press, which should carry the information to the printer – or even bypass the printer – direct to post-press.

Technology aside, people will have an integral role to play in post-press for the foreseeable future. Working smarter can provide instant improvements at a fraction of the cost of equipment investments. Batterbury, a specialist in environmental management systems, has a few tips on better strategy. Take more care in setting machines and checking set-ups before you go for the big run. Any spoilage is a massive waste of energy and resources, because it has to go right back through the press again. When Batterbury puts in quality systems, he tells operators that set a machine they should always get the configuration double-checked, ideally by a supervisor but by a second pair of eyes at least. 

Energy can be a huge source of waste, and production planning is key to better practice. It’s a bit like the red light on the television, says Batterbury. You put it on standby and think it’s not using energy but it is. It’s the same with finishing machinery. Unless you actually turn it off, it sits there ticking over.

He says awareness of power usage is especially important with equipment such as laminators, which take time to warm up. If there was good planning, you might plan to warm up the laminator in the morning then work it until two in the afternoon and switch it off. If it’s not planned, it means you have to leave it on all day, adds Batterbury.

The problem can be compounded by the vast array of equipment in the typical finishing department. Depending on what jobs are going through, there’s often a lot more machinery laying idle, whereas a printing press and platemaker is either working or it’s not, he adds.

However, switching dormant machines on brings its own problem: spikes on energy use. Some companies, such as direct mail printer Anton Group, have avoided this problem with ‘power factor correction’, a way of optimising voltage for a lower energy draw and a smaller bill.

On the start-up of all machinery, it balances out the usage of electricity, one ISO 14001-certified trade finisher explains. When you have a big surge as one machine powers up, it equalises it over all the machines. It’s a good way of saving energy.

Customer communication
He also stresses how important it is the finisher communicates effectively with customers. Our part of the job is more complex than the printers’ job. For that, if it’s a 1,000 run, they should be giving us 1,500. However, we shouldn’t be wasting that many sheets on the process either.

Pureprint manufacturing director Mike Wells agrees communication is vital. When you’re printing multi-section work, if you print 10 sections and a client wanted to make a change to an individual section, that could be reprinted at that section cost. If that section goes through to the finishing department and is bound into the book, then the client wants to make a change, that’s a very expensive situation.

Wells believes it’s not just about getting the right message from the customer, but about effective communication throughout every stage of production. When the salesman picks up a job, it is about making sure that when that job comes into the factory, it is briefed out fully with members of the team from pre-press, press and the finishing department. But even the most effective communication strategy can stumble if skills aren’t up to scratch. The trade finisher says: If you’ve got new kit and not a very good minder, an older piece of kit with a very good minder is going beat him every time.

To see how education and communication can be crucial to both client side relationships and the in-house process, impositions provide a fitting example. Getting more work on each sheet can result in fewer passes of post-press machines, reduced manual handling, less waste paper mounting up in the finishing department and a lower job cost. Customers can be won over by the promise of a smaller bill and better environmental credentials, but it might be up to the bindery to let the repro department know the opportunity for savings was there.

However, Batterbury warns that without communication, upstream staff might not be aware how much they can help a firm become lean and green downstream. For example, he says there are misleading stories that selling waste paper back to recyclers is a source of income. The price of recycled paper has dropped to the point that you almost have to pay for it to be taken away. If you’re wasting 10%, you may as well take 10% of all the paper you buy and throw it in the skip.

Laindon-based direct mail firm Anton Group is no stranger to resource efficiency and environmental management. Standards manager Dick Mussell says the firm prides itself on its ISO 14001 certification, and he saw last year’s relocation as a chance to really up the ante on its improvement programme. Anton Group underwent an environmental diagnostic through Envirowise and Vision in Print, for which it scored highly on most criteria, says Mussell. But the diagnostic showed us that there is more we can do on resource efficiency. The cost of waste was much higher than expected and this led to an immediate increase in interest in both verifying results and identifying further saving opportunities.

One such opportunity has come in the form of an addition to its finishing battery. The firm is in the midst of installing a Bograma stitching line, which will integrate with its MBO folder. Mike McBrearty, post-press specialist at supplier Friedheim International, says the configuration will be the first of its kind in the UK. Mussell adds that combining two processes is much more efficient in terms of waste and labour.

Other ways Anton improves efficiency in post-press include intelligent management of compressed air (it moved from 47 compressors down to two Atlas Copco units) as well as utilising Information Data Collection points on each machine that plug into its MIS. Mussell says Anton is now planning to upgrade to version 4 of Tharstern’s MIS, including a bespoke dashboard for monitoring finishing waste.


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