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FLOOR-MODEL FOLDERS -- Upping the Ante

February 2002
BY MARK SMITH


When business conditions get tight, it's natural to think about just hunkering down and waiting for the market to turn around. It may hardly seem like the right time to make a significant investment in new equipment. However, doing just that can provide short- and long-term benefits.

Postpress operations are prime targets for performance improvement, since they traditionally have been labor-intensive and highly mechanical. Folding definitely falls into that category, so anteing up for a new floor-model folder with automation features can provide a big payoff, manufacturers say.

Potential benefits include lower operating costs, by enabling the use of less-skilled labor and reducing the demands on the operator, and improved performance, with faster production of higher quality folds.

As an added bonus, manufacturers typically are offering financial incentives on new purchases. The zero-down, zero-percent financing terms introduced by the auto industry probably are a bit much to expect, but this is a buyer's market.

"Printers and binders must keep ahead of their competition, especially in tough economic times," advises Stacey Porto, marketing supervisor at GBR Systems in Chester, CT. One way to do that is by embracing new technology, including automated folders, she says. Particularly when compared to manual folders, automated machines provide faster makereadies, quicker turnaround times and labor savings, while producing less waste, Porto explains.

GBR's Mathias Bäuerle SetMATIC folder offers fully automated, computer-controlled operation, she points out. To facilitate makeready, fold plates, alignment rails, delivery rollers and fold roller gaps are set via a central control panel.

These settings, along with parameters for fold speed, sheet gap, shingling of sheets, suction length, counting functions, double sheet detection and paper travel control, can be recalled by selecting one of the 60 custom-fold jobs stored in memory. This can reduce setup times by 90 percent or more, according to Porto.

Low Financing Available

In today's market, one of the best reasons to consider acquiring a new folder is the low financing rates available, which lead to smaller monthly payments and lower overall operating costs for the long-term, advises Mark Pellman, marketing manager at Baum in Sydney, OH.

"When you combine the lower monthly payments with the substantial increase in hourly productivity, lower maintenance costs and simplified operation, now is the time to consider replacing marginal folding equipment," he asserts.

Baum folders are gear driven and have combination rollers to produce consistent, tight folds, while their sealed ball bearings provide long, maintenance-free performance, according to Pellman. Newer models offer user-friendly operation with a "Learning Mode" setup function and patented "double blow bar" for the feeders, he adds. In combination with the latter, a non-contact pile height sensor improves sheet feeding, which is important because changes in the paper stocks used and printing done on a sheet are creating more curls that must be overcome in feeding at the folder, the company rep contends.

The management of MBO America, in Westampton, NJ, says it also has seen equipment suppliers being more aggressive with pricing/financing arrangements, which should help facilitate a purchase. In addition, company reps note that recent studies by NPES, The

Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting Technologies, indicate that turnaround times, scarcity of qualified labor and changing paper characteristics in the digital age are all becoming critical issues for the printing industry. Modern folders, including MBO's best-selling Perfection series, can address all three concerns, the manufacturer claims.

MBO folder technology elevates the efficiency of postpress operations by offering microprocessor-based controls for faster setup, stainless steel surfaces to minimize paper static problems, and marble-less engineering for greater production.

The introduction of the Navigator control system with a standard interface or optional 15˝ color touchscreen monitor provides an operator-friendly interface for controlling critical machine settings, including centralizing speed and sheet gap controls for the main section and accessory units. It also supports integration into a digital workflow via CIP4 and provides a Windows NT-based database system for managing production.

The Lower Run Effect

Another industry trend impacting all stages in the printing process is the decline in run lengths, says Don Dubuque, product manager for Standard Finishing Systems in Andover, MA. As this happens, setup time becomes a larger percentage of total job time. Automation features on folders can shorten job setup times, which translates into increased folder run-time and higher profits. As run lengths decrease, he adds, fold quality becomes even more critical since there is less tolerance for waste.

The current class of folders all but eliminate the need for a dedicated and highly skilled "folder specialist" to set up and run the equipment, according to Dubuque.

The Standard Horizon AFC-504AKT folder line, for example, offers advanced setup automation features controlled through a user-friendly LCD touchscreen, he notes. Up to 50 different job settings can be stored in memory, which reportedly enables setup to be accomplished in as little as 15 seconds. The feeding section combines a rotary vacuum feeder with a suction head for efficient feeding of a wide range of stocks.

During good or poor economic times, there are only two justifications for investing in new equipment—to increase capacity or improve productivity, asserts Ralph Johnson, president of LDR International in Portland, OR. Companies with multiple, computer-assisted folding machines have the possibility of achieving both of these goals, he says.

Faster Makereadies

Individually, modern folders allow operators to achieve makereadies in under 10 minutes, even on complex work, and they will usually run the job at faster speeds, Johnson explains. In addition, jobs can be stored in memory for even faster makereadies on repeat orders. However, if a shop has multiple machines it also can gain an advantage by having a lead operator doing the makeready on two or three machines and then have lesser-skilled people tending the machines during the run.

Shoei computer-assisted folders from LDR provide automatic setting of the calipers, suction head and side guide, Johnson notes. They also feature a new type of fold plate that allows the stopper to be used as the deflector, which eliminates the need to switch the plate with the deflector, he adds. Folder functions are controlled via a touchscreen monitor for operator convenience.

Offering a variation on that theme, Oliver Matas, marketing manager at Longford Equipment International in Toronto, points out that a folding "system" can dramatically cut down the number of operators needed to complete a job. Integrating other processes in-line means one machine can perform multiple tasks, thereby reducing the number of operators needed and eliminating loading/unloading steps, he explains.

An example of this concept is the Longford CF100/200 series of card folders, Matas says. These units combine two separate tasks into one machine by completing the scoring (cut or crease) and folding of cards in-line. The cards then automatically exit the folder and are shingled on a shingling conveyor for easy operator handling. The systems reportedly can reach production speeds of up to 90,000 cards per hour.

Like Longford, Count Machinery in Escondido, CA, touts the modular design of its Count-Fold 235 and 245 series suction-feed folding systems. The machines are designed to function as standalone folders or can be fitted with in-line accessory units (scoring, perforating, etc.) to create flexible, high-capacity folding lines. An optional standing delivery supports production of miniature folding jobs and the Z-Feeder pile feeder is offered for uninterrupted operation.

For its part, Heidelberg USA, in Kennesaw, GA, has been putting a lot of development effort into solutions for integrating binding/finishing operations into the broader digital workflow. Its FCS 100 (Finishing Communication System) product, for example, controls finishing operations within the manufacturer's Prinect workflow concept and can link to the DCT 2000 digital folder control system for automatic presetting. The

Compufold Workflow software module allows folding programs to be set up on screen and also creates a job-specific configuration plan for the folder with precise setting instructions for the slitter shafts to guide operators.

Digital Postpress

Heidelberg's ACC 2.4 digital controller provides control of in-line peripheral devices used for gatefolding, gluing and timed perforations. It can be used with Stahl folding machines and other makes of folders to increase the applications for folding systems.

Profold Inc., in Sebastian, FL, features a compact design in its Model 4040 vacuum-feed, floor-model folder. The company claims to have eliminated the need for a register table by feeding directly into the first parallel fold section, reducing floor space requirements by one-third. The folder is equipped with the company's patented "No-Set-Gap-Set" technology, which simplifies operation by automatically adjusting for product thickness and fold-format changes.

What all these floor-model folding systems have in common is a focus on more efficient, productive operation. That's a smart bet for any business conditions.
 

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