Link the two tribes with better communication

Jenny Roper
Thursday, June 20, 2013

The two worlds of the pre-press technician and the finisher are, considering they work for the same firm and are often just a few metres apart, pretty different. One's day-to-day existence revolves around Macs, colour calibration software and background tints, the other gets more hands-on with all manner of cutting, folding, stitching and gluing kit.

It’s unsurprising, then, that the two departments haven’t historically enjoyed the closest of relationships. Which, say many, often exacerbates the unfortunate and yet much-reported trend of finishing being the poor relation when it comes to organising a print firm’s workflow.

But while getting the two departments to understand each others’ needs might seem onerous, the production errors and workflow inefficiencies that may occur otherwise will be far more problematic.  

Unfortunately, lack of joined-up thinking between these two departments is an issue for many in print, reports Anthony Thirlby, managing director at ESP Colour. "The trade has historically been quite departmentalised," he says, explaining that this is often the result of print bosses coming up from press minder or sales backgrounds, where their preoccupation is with filling presses.

Meanwhile, artworkers and Mac operators themselves now typically have fairly limited post-press know-how. "Pre-press don’t have the training they used to," says Robert Metcalfe, production manager at Barnet-based commercial printer Splash Printing. "In the past, artworkers would come into the industry from an apprenticeship or college, but that’s missing now. So they don’t have a broad overview."

The most disastrous manifestation of this is of course errors being made. And this is particularly a danger where the latest ultra-automated kit is concerned. When a barcode is used for rapid job switchover on finishing kit for instance, it’s obviously crucial that the information embedded in that barcode is correct.

"The worst-case scenario is that the job arrives at the finisher who says ‘I can’t finish this now’ and we have to start again. Which means there’s a cost in paper and click and, more importantly, in time, because, being a digital printer, most of the work we’re doing is same-day or next-day," says Steve Hallett, managing director at Repropoint.

He also points out that non-automated processes are also vulnerable; although Repropoint enforces the kind of inter-departmental communication that hopefully wards against this happening, another danger is an imposition error that prevents the job being finished as required.

"An example would be where something is being creased and folded or creased and cut," he says. "If the pre-press department isn’t totally sure that the number of images on one page is going to work, it’s well worth them having a conversation with the finishing team."

Even when incorrect job set-up doesn’t require a complete reprint, if operators are having to override incorrect markings, it can be very time-consuming, adds Hallett.

Streamlined set-ups

And although incorrect set-ups for finishing won’t be as disastrous where more manual kit is concerned, such kit requires pre-press and finishing to be in close communication in order for jobs to be ordered most efficiently. That is, though many types of finishing kit are becoming ever-more automated to enable quick changeovers, some will always take a fair amount of time to set up. Knowledge of how long it takes to manually re-jig folding, stitching and laminating kit will therefore help pre-press technicians to understand the importance of ganging similar jobs together.

And better knowledge of finishing on the pre-press planner’s part would also help them realise where two different processes are being used to create essentially the same product, explains Thirlby. "If you look at something as simple as an eight-page A5 booklet, there are three or four different ways of folding that. What we’ve done is streamline that so there’s only one possible way of that being scheduled by pre-press," he reports.

"In the past, we’ve had one 16-page job finished with a continental fold shape and the next one finished with a conventional fold, even though it’s the same product," he continues. "That causes problems because of different unit requirements: one job might need two units and the next job, three units. So you’d have the associated downtime of having to reset machinery, which could have been avoided."

Splash’s Metcalfe adds that it’s highly valuable for pre-press to be made aware of the possibility of implementing finishing kit set-ups versatile enough to process different sorts of jobs. This way a finishing department won’t be instructed in advance to spend time setting kit up in a certain way only to find they could have switched from the last to this job much more smoothly and quickly.

Metcalfe gives the example of when a booklet might be created as two straight-folded sections, rather than one run through a cross-fold set-up, which has taken some time to prepare. "You could do the same job in one line and split the sheet in half and have two sections on a Muller. Okay, so you’ve got two sections on a Muller, but you’ve got that folder to do other types of folding more quickly. If you didn’t have that second cross-fold, you wouldn’t be setting it up and breaking it down afterwards and you could follow it with a four-page or an eight-page quite easily," he says.

Efficiency boosts

What good communication between the two departments should engender, then, is a more holistic attitude to getting work through the factory instead of concentrating on filling presses. It should lead to a set-up where overall efficiency is improved.

So just how do print bosses encourage pre-press workers and finishers to get more friendly? For Repropoint, structured meetings are key. "We hold a production meeting each day when we get the pre-press, print, finishing and logistics guys all in the same room," says Hallett. "There’s an opportunity for pre-press to be given advice from the finishers to say ‘don’t forget that the crop marks, bleeds and set-up on the page have to be like this’."  

Although he adds: "This is not the end of it. It’s key that that discussion and interaction happens throughout the day. Anyone should just be able to stop and say ‘I’m not sure if this is right, I’m going to take it back to pre-press and make sure this mark is in the right place’."

Of course talk of more intelligent planning will often involve discussion of software. Hallett is happy with what he admits is a fairly pared-back workflow at present. But he concedes that something more geared around factoring post-press set-ups might be a good shout in the future.

ESP’s operations perhaps offer a glimpse of this future. Though Thirlby reports joining up pre-press and finishing was a matter initially of "locking the bindery manager and pre-press manager into a room for a week," he now swears by Heidelberg’s Prinect Postpress Manager for automated programming of jobs according to their finishing needs.

An arguably less comprehensive, and so more affordable, option is MBO’s Data Manager software, which works with all MBO folders to feed a range of information, such as average speed and sheet wastage, back to the printer’s MIS.

Then there’s Horizon’s pXnet Bindery Control System, which can be used to pre-empt emerging finishing bottlenecks and to analyse past job stats to see where inefficient changeovers could be avoided in future; and Perfecta’s Cuttronic-Plus, used to transfer pre-press settings to a finishing machine and production stats back to the MIS.

"We would definitely recommend that software is used by someone at the front end of things for sure," says Bryan Godwyn, managing director at finishing kit supplier Intelligent Finishing Systems.

He adds: "It’s so important to plan the pre-press as part of the production of the whole job because if you get that last bit wrong, you’ve got to start again. And it’s producing a nicely finished and packaged job that will after all give the printer the advantage."

And this perhaps, has to be the most persuasive argument. Finishing is just too crucial a stage not be a key factor in job planning. And so making staff swap jobs for the day, enforcing regular meetings and implementing more post-press-friendly scheduling software could all prove critical in boosting efficiency through pre-press and finishing truly making friends.


How GI Solutions bridges the pre-press/finishing divide

The team at Leicester-based direct mail printer GI Solutions prides itself on innovative and creative mailing solutions. Critical to offering these, says operations director Ifor Pedley, is a structured approach to interdepartmental communication.

"Glue marks, trigger marks, strip-off bars – they all have a part to play and it is the pre-press people responsible for those," explains Pedley.

He explains that ordering the correct dies is a particularly critical job that pre-press is responsible for. "We do a lot of unique shapes so every die has to be custom-made," he says. "The pre-press people need an in-depth knowledge of how those dies work so they can order them."

GI ensures pre-press prepares jobs correctly and orders them in the most logical fashion through a rigorously adhered-to system of meetings and feedback protocols. "When the job comes in, the first step is for the CTP guys to check things like trigger marks, orientation, glue marks, etc. Then a pre-flight meeting will be called where CTP check the dies have been ordered and are correct, check the artwork, check that we’ve got the stock and special inks and glues needed," he says.

"Then the account manager briefs the job in to the people that are going to be actually doing it, so the pre-flight people and finishers," he says.

Particularly key is the ‘Next Process’ strategy. "Each key manager reports on what he’s doing to help the next process. He will be trying to reduce make-ready times from one job to another," he explains.

Then it’s a case of regular feedback meetings. "Every week at the beginning of the week we have a meeting which I chair and then we review the jobs done last week," says Pedley.  "That’s to close the loop on any learning coming back."


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