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Question and Answer

What type of system is recommended for storing steel rule dies?

by Staff

November-December, 1995
In today's competitive environment, it is important to have organized procedures for all types of graphic finishing processes. In the August/September 1995 issue of InsideFinishing, we discussed proper maintenance procedures to prevent machine problems before they happen. Another area that demands careful planning is establishing a usable system for storing and retrieving your steel rule cutting dies.

Steel rule dies can be a significant portion of the customer's cost of the job. Creating procedures to store and retrieve your cutting dies can be the difference between your quote and the quote of a competitor. Also, depending on the complexity of the die, you may save as much as three to four days on the completion of the job by not having to wait on your steel rule die maker.

Examine Your Options
Many of the finishers we spoke with have established some type of system to store dies by customer (mostly for the printers whom they work). This is a good place to start, although it may limit your ability to re-use a great number of dies. If a customer orders a die for a common application (i.e. a standard-sized presentation folder), consider storing the cutting die in a different area and labeling it as the type of folder die rather than under that customer name. Having a system to easily identify commonly used dies will help eliminate the storage of duplicate dies and provide the flexibility to offer customers a discount if they make a slight adjustment in their design. Other dies that fit this profile include die cut window dies for report covers, scoring dies for common-sized sheets, index tab dies, as well as other applications that are popular in certain shops such as trading cards or video boxes. McGraphics, Inc., of Nashville, TN has established a cross reference card system that tells the location of the die by customer and by function. If it is a commonly used die, two separate 3x5 cards are created; one filed under "function" and one filed under "customer name." "This enables us to utilize the same steel rule dies for several customer jobs," states Tommy McEwen, President of McGraphics. "Nothing makes a customer happier than knowing you have a die in stock, saving both yourself and the customer time and money."

Begin with Customers
As stated above, beginning a program that stores steel rule dies by customer is an excellent way to begin. Susan Bulleit, Production Manager for Phillips Die Cutting, Inc., of Manheim, PA, utilizes color markers to easily identify and locate customer dies. "Each die is labeled in colored marker with the customer, job name, month and year on the edge facing out - all written the same way," explained Bulleit. "Writing the customer name closest to the shelf makes it easy to scan and the color of the marker changes each year for each customer with all like colors shelved together." When Phillips Die Cutting needs a die to re-run a job, they only have to search through that particular color of the customer's dies to locate the one they need. The color of the marker used is located on the job ticket of the previous run. Curt Bennitt of Fine Arts Engraving, Oklahoma City, OK, also utilizes markers to identify his steel rule dies. "Every steel rule die we use within a specific year is marked with a certain color," stated Bennitt. "This helps us purge dies that have not been used for two years, keeping our cutting dies at a manageable number." For instance, if a Fine Arts die is identified with red for 1995, it will be disposed of in 1997 if red is the most recent color used.

Utilize the Computer
Of course, personal computers can help organize your steel rule die system as well. MGM Converters of Santa Fe Springs, CA originally started with a log entry system into a binder. Steve Meyer of MGM told InsideFinishing, "The log book worked up to a point, but the introduction of the personal computer made it slow and costly." Today, all MGM dies are set up as a separate record in a database with about 12 fields. This enables MGM to identify the die 12 different ways if needed. For instance, folder dies are set up with specific fields versus non-folder dies. If MGM is looking for all folder dies with 2 pockets, they can sort by the "# of pockets" field to find those on hand, and hopefully locate one with the dimensions and cuts the customer needs.

As we found with most of the finishers we spoke with, MGM purges its list of unused dies about once every 2 years. Phillips Die Cutting has developed a computer system designed specifically for die inventory. At the end of each year, Phillips prints out a list for each customer to look through and mark the ones that are no longer needed. "Some customers have asked that we automatically discard all dies not used in a three year period, saving the time to print reports and contacting the customer," stated Bulleit. McGraphics also sees the PC becoming a benefit in managing a steel rule die storage system. Although its 3x5 card system has worked, the Nashville graphic finisher will soon be keeping all this type of data on a computer and making it available to specific customers via modem.

Many ways exist to organize your steel rule die program, and everyone must cater their system to meet specific needs. You may find one or a combination of the points discussed in this article will help you set up a system that is easy to implement and keep in place, and most of all, increase efficiencies in your shop.