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Technology Focus

It’s All About Time : Optimizing Production Efficiencies

by Chris Raney, VP Business Unit Sheet Fed, Bobst Group North America

August-September, 2010
In today’s high pressure environment with ever shorter lead times, the focus on production efficiency has never been higher. However, how many of us can honestly step back from the production floor and say that we are working in a proactive, rather than reactive, way? When the pressure is on, it is easy to throw planning and organization to the side and just concentrate on getting the job done. Unfortunately, for the long-term success of a business this is not a winning strategy. It is a fact that the better you can plan and the more efficiently you can organize your production area, the more successful you will be. This is especially critical if you take on new processes or complex designs – they may look interesting and profitable but are you equipped to produce them?

An integral part of establishing an efficient operation is to measure and record. After all, if you do not measure your performance you have no chance to improve it and if you do not record what you have done, you cannot set targets for the future when a job repeats. Both of these directly impact your costs and may lead you to make the wrong decisions on the tooling that you buy or even the machine on which you run a particular job. So, an important element of any job is the job ticket as it relates to the machine settings. If you do not have one, make it a priority to create one so that all the critical setting elements of a job can be recorded and stored for reference when the job repeats.

Diecutting Efficiencies
Looking first at diecutting, how do you plan your tooling? If you can control the layout of the job, then your decisions are critical. Choosing multiple layouts to increase run lengths will certainly mean you will compromise on tooling costs, based on the argument that the layout will never repeat. Often, it is better to split up the run into single jobs and buy good tooling, assuming the job repeats. You should then focus to minimize makeready time and maximize the running speed.

Whether made by a diemaker or in-house die shop, good communication on tooling requirements is critical to ensure a good and fast makeready. Press-ready tooling is not a dream, it is possible to order tooling and take it out of the shipping container or transport rack and run. If you cannot do this then you need to work more closely with your tooling supplier to reach this goal. Make sure that the patch-up sheet is drawn on the CAD system – do not do it on the machine! The die should be pre-nicked – this should not be left to the skill of the operator, and this can be planned in advance. There is no reason why 95 percent of the nicking cannot have been done in advance, saving valuable time on the machine and avoiding damage to the rubber. The type of creasing matrix should be calculated from the press manufacturer’s formula. It also should be used in the calculation when using dedicated counters or milled plates.

Do you ensure that your cutting knives are seated correctly before starting the patch-up? If you do not seat the knives, you will be patching up too soon, which will take much longer and use many more sheets before it is right. Have you heard of the Zero Point method? If you are not using this method, you will be damaging your tooling and reducing its life. During the makeready, think about the number of sheets being used. One sheet can be used to check the cutting and align the central stripping board and the lower blanking frame. Thinking in this way saves waste and time.

Is the environment around the machine optimized? The operator should have all the tooling he needs on the platform, including supplies like patch tape and area makeready sheet, etc. Is the waste system designed for the machine and the volume of waste produced?

At the end of the job the tooling must be inspected and repaired as necessary before being stored until the next run. Keep the makeready sheet and remember that the sheet is unique to the machine and not the job! A job sheet should be completed by the operator so that all the relevant parameters of the job are kept for the next time it repeats.

Folder-Gluer Efficiencies
Moving to the finishing department, let’s look at the folder-gluer efficiency in another way. As jobs become more complex, require the insertion of a leaflet or similar item or use different surface finishes or varnishes, etc., both challenges and opportunities are created. The challenges are clearly to achieve the required result in as few passes as possible; the opportunity is for the supplier that can achieve it and offer something no one else can. As always, mastering the complex can bring added margin and differentiate you as a supplier.

While the use of Braille is widespread in Europe, it is not a requirement yet in North America; however, many units that have been manufactured to apply the embossed Braille in-line during the folding/gluing process also can also be used to emboss on the folder-gluer. The advantage is that you need only one tool and the makeready is simple, so this can be an easy way to provide added value to a customer for a very low cost. What is more, should Braille become a market requirement, you will have the right equipment already installed!

If you run a significant volume of crash-lock cartons, you probably wonder why, so many years after the style was invented, you still have to use hooks to pick up the flaps to make the folds? Today, there is an alternative, the Bobst Speedwave. This is a patented device that folds crash-lock boxes without using hooks. Not only does the system allow much higher speeds, up to 100,000 cartons per hour, but the makeready time also is significantly reduced since there are fewer parts to set up. If you couple this with an automatic packing solution for crash-lock boxes, you will really be able to benefit from the speed that is achievable.

Different substrates or varnishes also can be tricky to glue in order to ensure a reliable bond. The use of plasma treatment is widespread in many industries for bonding different surfaces; however, this process only recently has been applied in the packaging industry. Plasma treatment increases the surface tension, which can greatly enhance the conditions for glue adhesion, thereby significantly improving bonding results. With the right kind of varnish, if you plasma treat the surface, you could even flood coat a job and still ensure perfect bonding. This reduces cost and time on the printing press since you do not need a dedicated plate for a particular job.

Whether it is a window applied in-line, a leaflet, a DVD or a voucher, there are several different application devices that can be mounted on the folder-gluer, allowing all this to be done in one pass. Since quality is key in such a process that combines different steps together, it is important to ensure that the appropriate detection device is linked into your quality control system and that defective pieces are removed by the flipper ejector or a similar ejection device.

Year after year we continue to be amazed at the creativity in the market and it is absolutely unbelievable to see all the different carton styles that we have been presented with and are asked the simple question, “Can you fold and glue this?” If you ever find yourself in this situation, I strongly suggest that you contact your press supplier, who should have hundreds of special devices to allow the most complex of boxes to be produced. There are solutions out there on the market that can enable you to win a piece of business and run it efficiently without buying a new machine!

In conclusion, competitive pressure at the consumer level drives innovation. This innovation typically requires something new that has not been done before. If you can become a supplier that is capable of taking on the challenges that are put forward and finding solutions for your customers, then you can win customers and increase margins. Use the depth of knowledge of your suppliers. Many of them are global companies that can tap a vast database of experience in different markets around the world and help you. I wish you success!

Chris Raney is vice president of business unit sheet fed for Bobst Group North America. He became part of the Bobst SA organization when he joined Oscar Friedheim, the UK agent, in 1989. In 1999, he joined Bobst SA as area sales manager for Bobst Champlain products, focusing on the USA/Canada and several other markets around the world. In his current role, he is responsible for all the Bobst product lines sold for the folding carton industry in the North American market. For more information, contact Chris Raney at christopher.raney@bobstgroup.com or visit www.bobstgroup.com.