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"Traveling to an Overseas Equipment Manufacturer can be Beneficial"
[Column #55, 7/99]

It’s too bad we can’t just sit back and keep on doing what we have always done, the same way we have always done it. Instead, it is a constant struggle to keep up with the competition and find new ways to offer better products, cheaper prices, and quicker turnaround times.

While I know we trade binders have a reputation for being the dinosaurs of the industry, I want to assure you that we, too, are forever searching for the means to improve our products, our service, and our prices. The trend in the post-press world—diversify your service offerings to offer nearly everything under one roof—actually goes against most modern marketing theories that preach carving out your own niche and focusing all your time and energy on that piece of the pie. Perhaps the desire for one-stop shopping, the relatively small number of large trade binderies available to printers, and the simplicity of having a complicated job completed under one roof have fueled this trend.

Whatever the reason, trade binders live in a job shop world where each project we do is a learning experience. There is virtually no standardization and often, by the time we run from job to job (and I mean that literally) trying to figure out the best way to do each one, the work is done! While this system is a reality in our business, it does seem that some form of specialization would serve us all well—printers and binders. If every other segment of our industry (and nearly every other industry) can take advantage of specialization, surely we can do the same.

Because I know few binderies who specialize, I’ll use ours as an example. We analyzed one of our biggest departments, perfect binding, and searched for ways to streamline our processes. We found that the most common trim size (believe it or not) was 8½" x 11". Just plain old 8½" x 11"! The essence of effective specialization is to offer a key service, such as the standard-sized 8½" x 11" perfect bound book, at dramatically lower prices and higher turnaround times (without sacrificing quality) by maximizing efficiency. We realized the only way to specialize in this type of perfect binding was to dedicate one machine to completing that task without interruption. The trick in a large bindery is to free up a machine to do such a task when other complicated work involving PUR glue, layflat binding, and large trim sizes are commonplace. (Good luck!) Opening a satellite location in North Carolina allowed us to shift some of our work down south, freeing up space in our main facility. (That was just the space, not the money for the machine…)

I’m nervous and excited about the prospect of specialization. With four perfect binders in house, one will be dedicated solely to the standard-sized 8½" x 11" work. The Perfect Express binder, as we call it, will operate at peak efficiency around the clock, reducing makeready times from one and half to two hours down to 20 minutes! Mechanics will move from machine to machine setting up equipment while operators run the jobs. In a world where good machine operators are tough to find, the work is dramatically simplified and the equipment can be run with far less sophisticated employees. Operators focus on turnover and the machine is locked in at a certain speed—all the time. In addition, other efficiencies such as having the appropriate cartons and sealing machines available right there will save time.

Obviously, we have to put certain limitations on the work this machine can perform. To achieve peak efficiency and ensure availability to all of our customers, books must be between 1/8" and 3/4" in thickness and cannot contain single leaves, blow-ins, fold-outs, or kit covers. Simplicity is the key. We can handle up to 20 signatures plus the cover and we also need to cap the run size at about 20,000 as longer run jobs would tie up the binder for extensive periods of time.

It is unfortunate trade binders cannot specialize in more areas of the business but post-press work by nature is complex and varied. The advantages of specialization are startling. We estimate prices for Perfect Express will come in 25% less than our previous prices (never thought I’d see that happen)! Turnaround time will be significantly less, and the whole ordering process will be simplified. Our hope is to quote estimates over the phone—during the initial phone call. Can you imagine? The normal five or six step process of phone calls, faxes, and paperwork for a simple perfect binding job will be eliminated. In essence, specialization offers a whole new system—from ordering to delivery—the process is quick and easy.

I’m sure almost every commercial printer has some significant slug of business where they could (or already have) carve out a niche for themselves and specialize in that area. Some, Cadmus for example, dedicate whole facilities to particular types of printing. There are also web printers with constant cut-offs that take advantage of standardized work. It’s time for trade binders jump on the bandwagon, get creative, and find their own niche. This kind of program allows a job shop to implement standard manufacturing processes that drive down costs and benefit everyone.

OK, so I know trade binders truly are the dinosaurs of the printing industry and I realize that none of the concepts I mentioned are earth shattering. The idea of simplifying operations and achieving efficiency through standardization has been around for a long time. But give us credit, we’re trying.

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