What Happens When Stuff Breaks
Printing equipment is more sophisticated and complex than ever. This is especially true of the latest generation of inkjet presses. This technology integrates electronics, chemistry, physics, software, and mechanical hardware in a dizzyingly complex package.
The same goes for the new generation of finishing equipment. The same principles apply. You have the fundamental mechanical componentry of a perfect binder, saddle stitcher, or guillotine cutter. But underlying the mechanics are motion-control technologies driven by software. The automation is a boon to operations, since these finishing systems do more, set up quickly, and consistently turn out high-quality finished products.
Digital print runs are shorter than ever, and tight job turn times mean a down piece of finishing equipment can spell disaster. Which brings us to the question of what are the best practices used to keep your modern bindery at maximum uptime? Your first (and quickest) response should be internal. An investment in basic machine maintenance training for one or more of your operators will pay off big time. There is a big chance that operators with some system knowledge can solve many minor machine problems. This is more likely with the introduction of “remote” machine diagnosis. This is a feature which has become almost standard over the years. A dial-in connection which allows a remote tech. to see what’s going on with machine sub-systems. But, bear-in-mind, that the remote tech. can tell you what the problem is, but someone on the floor may still have to make the fix. And there are still some folks who think that connecting your system to the Internet is not the best of ideas.
For more serious issues, you need backup. This means support from either the manufacturer, or a third-party service provider. The third-party service business has been explosive. Firms like Bell+Howell, MCS, and PEAK Technologies have offered total on-site packages where they will maintain printers and all of the associated finishing equipment. The advantage is that these companies typically employ dozens (or even hundreds) of technicians nationwide so that a technical resource may be quite close. The disadvantage may be the depth of familiarity the technician has with the down machinery. Since a single technician may be responsible for many different systems, there may be some gaps in his or her knowledge. There is also the cost issue since heavy-coverage contracts can be expensive. But many printer manufacturers will provide “on-site” coverage of their printers, and for all of the associated finishing systems. On-site coverage means no delay at all in addressing a problem.
Direct manufacturer support offers many advantages, mainly due to the in-depth expertise of their technicians. The disadvantages may be response time. In any event, you have to have a plan to minimize system down-time.
- Invest In Training: Perhaps your best investment. Trained operators and maintenance personnel will spot (and correct) small problems before they become big ones.
- Invest in Spare Parts: All manufacturers have a list of the most common “failure” items based upon their spares sales. Inventory these and replenish them when they’re used. This doesn't cover every possibility, but nothing short of a spare machine will.
- Choose Your Service Provider Carefully: Do you have the availability of direct manufacturer support, or will you depend on a local dealer? What are the third-party options in your area? If you can, talk to your colleagues who have similar systems about their experiences and what worked best for them.
- Maintain The Data: You need to know what’s going on in production. What is your systems availability? Is it’s productivity measuring up to manufacturer specs? If performance is sub-par, you need to be able to figure out why and correct the issues. That means keeping accurate logs on uptime, throughput, standby and makeready time and downtime.
Keeping your finishing operation in tip-top shape means having a well thought-out plan and sticking to it. Good luck!