Production: Exploring the Best Time Savers

By: Jerry Simpkins

Production is truly “a service department.” It’s the responsibility of production to turn over every rock to find operations related solutions that help serve other areas of the organization. With the challenges we all face in advertising and circulation, our organizations are constantly seeking alternative avenues to increase revenue and hold our position in the communities we serve.

Giving our newsrooms, advertising departments and circulation departments all the help we can is not only necessary to continue growing our franchises, but it’s the duty of production, plain and simple.

Working with other areas of the operation to provide additional time may increase sales, improve coverage of critical news stories and community events, plus help us get papers into the hands of subscribers earlier, providing potential opportunity to grow circulation.

Providing extended deadlines by improving operational efficiencies and trimming off minutes here and there can produce positive results and later ad deadlines, expanded coverage of sports and community events, improved home delivery times, and increased single copy sales.

Many of my previous articles have focused on the importance of team building, and this one will be no exception.

Long gone are the days when production was an island of its own, turning away late ads and filling late news pages with house ads if deadlines weren’t met. It wasn’t fair then, had no value or purpose and from what I’ve seen was just a bullying technique by a small minority. It didn’t help anyone then and wouldn’t help anyone now, but we’ve all seen this iron fist management in the past. I, for one, am happy that there seems to be a renewed understanding today that we’re all on the same team, working for the same purpose and sharing one common goal—putting out the finest product we can in the most efficient manner possible.

Hopefully, you are one of the newspapers that constantly assess your operation to ensure efficient production procedures and provide other areas with all available time. I’ve always found it odd that when editorial misses a deadline by 20 minutes on the front end, the press often finishes right on time and operators still hit the door home at their normal time. I do realize that you perhaps can’t (or shouldn’t) run at the absolute full-out maximum press speed each and every night. I realize web breaks are going to happen. I realize blankets are going to get smashed. But I also realize that many of us tend to build-in time to the schedule as if these events are going to occur on a daily basis, and I don’t think this “unwritten insurance policy” is necessarily a great plan, nor do I feel it’s fair to other areas of the operation.

Let’s take a quick look at some procedures that we can utilize to limit the time spent daily printing the paper and possibly return some of this valuable time to others. It doesn’t always work that way and possibly you’re running things as efficiently as possible right now, but one thing I can guarantee is that if you don’t constantly explore new processes that can possibly improve your operation, nothing will change on its own.

 Leafless Plates

At some of the smaller papers I’ve worked with, it’s a nightly ritual to have a press operator go through a stack of aluminum printing plates and one-by-one remove each slip-sheet by hand. Not only does this take a ridiculous amount of time and labor, but unless they gently remove the slip-sheets from between the plates, you can actually create scratches in the plate emulsion that will show up on press and require re-plates, causing unnecessary downtime.

Many larger properties have automated systems to remove slip-sheets in which stacks of plates are loaded, and the machine (known as a deleafer) one-by-one lifts a plate, draws off the slip-sheet with vacuuming sucker cups and drops the slip-sheets into the trash while stacking plates neatly in another pile. Although these units are automated, they are not trouble free. The challenge I’ve seen with these units are that like any machine they’re not perfect; occasionally crunching plates or missing slip-sheets that don’t pick-up properly, obviously creating an issue later in the platemaking process.

A single missed slip-sheet in a pile of plates can stop your CTP dead in its tracks. If you’ve ever seen a fried slip-sheet, it’s not a pretty sight and depending on what it wraps around, the damage to your CTP unit may lose you cost quite a bit of time.

So, why are there slip-sheets in the first place? Vendors will tell you that these lightweight sheets of paper protect the plates from scratches throughout the shipping process, yet there is one plate manufacturer that has apparently solved this shipping challenge and offers leafless plates to our industry. Southern Lithoplate, Inc. currently sells their Liberty NXP no process newspaper plate and ships very successfully without slip-sheets, thereby eliminating the need for labor and time removing these sheets. As far as I know, they are currently the sole vendor with an established and proven track record for providing leafless plates to our industry.

The benefits of a leafless plate are many. First of all, there is a tremendous savings in labor expense on the front end, eliminating the time needed to remove slip-sheets. Also, these plates are normally less expensive than competitor’s plates simply because slip-sheets and packaging costs money and that expense will be passed down to you, the consumer.

Perhaps the most significant benefit is the fact that if there are no slip-sheets in the first place, there will be no chance of wrapping one up in your imaging unit and losing time in the all important deadline process. 

Tool-less Lock-ups

No-Tool or Tool-less press lock-ups have been around for a long time and are wonderful timesavers. They are available for just about any press and come in single and double plate sizes.

As the name implies, these lock-ups fit into your press plate cylinders and allow fast and easy mounting of plates without wrenches typically used to snug-up plates. Different vendors use different systems, but for the most part, thruster mechanisms/clamps snug-up the plates and work with the centrifugal force through the rotation of the cylinder to hold plates firmly in place.

Pins located within these lockups correspond with the punches on the platemaking end of your operation to ensure quick and accurate registration on press.

As many of you know, working with manual lock-ups can be a time killer. Looking for the lock-up tool (wrench) can be frustrating. It seems to have a mind of its own and often, thanks to other operators on your crew, never ends up being in the same place twice.

Tool-less lock-ups are tremendous timesavers. Snap the lead edge of the plate in, inch the press, snap in the tail edge and you’re done. The time saved in this operation allows for quicker plate-ups and can shave time off the production process.

A deleafer uses suction cups and a vacuum line to separate slipsheets from between plates, depositing plates in a neat pile and dropping loose sheets into the trash.

Piping Ink Directly to Units

Most press operators have used a large putty knife many times in their career to scoop ink out kits and fill ink fountains. It’s a slow and messy process that when done several times throughout the run takes time away from other more productive things you could be doing on press.

Setting up a system of totes and purchasing a few good used Lincoln ink pumps is a great alternative to manually scooping ink, and if you have someone in-house who can run pipe can be done on a budget.

Running ink directly to the ink fountains for all your ink can save a tremendous amount of time, money and effort. At the very least, black ink should be something you never have to scoop from a kit.

Once you figure out the correct pipe layout, valves/cut-offs, etc. setting up your system isn’t rocket science and depending on the number of units you’re plumbing can usually be done over a weekend.

Bring ink right up to the fountain with a faucet and system of valves to control flow, then run ink into the fountain and smooth out with that reliable old putty knife. The time you save can then go back to other areas of the operation.

And then there’s automated press systems/registration and ink setting. Obviously all of us can’t have the latest and greatest equipment on press. But for those who do, take full advantage of these systems, keep them tuned and fully operational at all times, and maximize the time savings wherever possible.

Solid Management

Some common and simple practices that can shave minutes off of your press run, like making sure the CTP units are full of plates; staging rolls; presetting paster patterns on rolls (don’t do this too far in advance or your tape can dry out); keeping up on maintenance to minimize breakdowns; keeping a clean area void of tripping or slip hazards; staging plates for the next run by units; pre-webbing the press when possible; management of labor through common good practices like staggering lunches; staggering crew start times; start-ups with all hands on deck; starting with full rolls when practical; washing blankets prior to each start-up; running press tests in off time to ensure faster start-ups and minimize waste; setting presets—the list goes on, but that’s just some of the things you can accomplish in the pressroom.

In the distribution area, you should set-up inserts prior to each run. If you have zoning software, the zoning should be set-up and headers ready. Sure this may sound like a no-brainer, but how many times have you seen an operator who likes to get the actual product in hand and set up the machine? If the mainsheet is 24 pages, grab a few old 24 page papers from another day and set the machine up. Have each inserter head set, tested and ready. Confirm the correct inserts are staged, open boxes, cut strapping, prepare skids, etc. Just as soon as you think all this is common sense, someone will prove you wrong.

Strappers should be warmed up with a backup roll of strap close by, underwrap machines the same, and stackers set-up and counts confirmed.

I’ve seen numerous times when drivers leave the prior night without filling their delivery vans and end up losing 15 minutes at the start of their shift, filling up before they can leave for their route. Manage the entire process and take absolutely nothing for granted.

Hopefully you’re way ahead of things and not only have all the equipment running like a finely tuned Swiss watch but also have your processes in place and working equally well. If you do, congratulations!

If you don’t, have the operation perfectly aligned. Each one of the things mentioned in this article can save you a minute or two and when combined, it can make a significant difference on deadlines.

Fifteen minutes on the front end can extend that ad deadline just enough to bring in a few more classified liners or maybe even squeeze in a last minute display ad. Fifteen minutes can help the newsroom to get in that last update on a trending story, or sports to hold for one last late score. On the back end, a carrier getting papers 15 minutes earlier might just get that drop to the convenience store to sell a few more copies or even get into the hands of a home delivery customer as they head out the door to work.

Some of the things we used to do simply don’t work anymore. Competition with other media is fierce and late deliveries, incomplete coverage and poor results for advertisers isn’t going to get us anywhere fast. We’re losing customers and losing advertisers and spending more time whining about how unfair it all is rather than shaping up and doing something about it. While 15 minutes here and there may not sound like a lot to you, I see it as a small move forward, and any move forward sure beats laying down and accepting the status quo.

Jerry Simpkins is vice president of the West Texas Printing Center, LLC in Lubbock, Texas. Contact him on LinkedIn.com or at simpkins@tds.net.

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Published: September 26, 2018

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