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"Finishing Requirements for the Software Industry"
[Column #15, 3/96]

Finishing Requirements for the Software Industry

Of all the industries we deal with, high-tech is right up there as the most demanding. Software packaging often calls for the full array of finishing processes, everything from complex diecutting, folding, scoring and gluing to foil stamping and embossing. Manuals require careful selection of adhesives and binding methods to ensure they will stand up to rugged treatment and diverse climate conditions. We have to be creative in helping designers build packaging that are attention-grabbers. And because packaging usually has to accommodate CD-ROMs or floppy disks, we must adhere to exact specifications to secure the software from slippage.

The kicker is... in addition to these demands, high-tech clients require near zero-defect quality and hair-raising turnarounds.

In other words, lots of challenges. These clients force us to use every arrow we have in our quivers to streamline product transfers and production efficiencies, and to improve our quality management systems.

Involvement from the get-go. Due to the unique combination of high-tech demands, our early participation in design and planning is critical. Killer deadlines mean that it often falls to finishers to make up lost time that occurred at the front end. If we work directly with you and your client at the outset of projects, we can help determine the best and most cost-efficient finishing method for the job. In those cases where special adhesives, diecuts, foils, etc. are called for, this front-end planning allows us to begin testing processes, so we can hit the ground running when the job comes in.

A job we recently did for one of the nation's largest makers of online services illustrates the importance of up front communication. This client mails tens of thousands of floppies worldwide. We made several diecut and glue suggestions to improve the durability of the mailing sleeve, so it could withstand the sometimes brutal handling, both by machinery and people, during shipping and mailing.

Another software developer discovered that purchasers were removing its CDs from the manual, copying it onto their systems and then returning the product to the store, claiming to be dissatisfied. Working with the printer and developer's marketing team, we helped design a special seal that, if broken, the product could not be returned.

We often participate helping design the paper sleeves that CDs and floppy disks come in. These can require intricate diecutting, since they must be eye-catching, yet protect the disk, and its particularly sensitive metal shade, from damage. We routinely tweak the dimensions of the diecut slots in the holders to make sure product remains secure. Many holders also have a cellophane window to allow the software to show through. This requires special attention to the choice and application of glues. Some holders are self-mailers, so the right stock is of concern. Others are just one element among many will be put into a box, so manufacturing to strict specifications is a necessity.

Because of their bulk and the fact that a major portion of these materials are sent for fulfillment to other locations, diecut cartons and boxes are usually finished up to gluing seams and then shipped flat.

Polybagging. High-tech projects also use a lot of polybagging, which has its own particular manufacturing properties. In addition to providing protection from dirt and weather, polybags are about twice as fast to apply as paper wraps. They are less expensive and are lighter weight than paper, so they don't add to mailing costs. Polybags also reduce risk of physical damage and magnetic corruption, if packaging is run through labeling or electronic scanning equipment.

Especially challenging are those jobs where CD-ROMs and disks are attached to the inside covers of books or magazines. Typically, the media are tipped onto the cover with a glue, which may be either removable or permanent.

The trick is how and when to apply the polybag, since covers obviously can't go through bindery equipment with the bag attached. At Bindagraphics we have a machine that opens the cover of already-bound books, applies the glue and attaches the bag . . . all in line.

Glues and methods for these processes vary widely, depending on the capabilities of the postpress house. It's always smart to check in with your finisher to avoid specifying something that's not doable.

Quality control. Meeting high-tech clients' quality expectations is another huge issue for printers and finishers. While some basic standards are generally understood, there is no industry standard used for borderline cases, those instances when a printer or bindery think product is acceptable, but the customer rejects the job based on what we consider arbitrary criteria. This can be very disagreeable, to say the least. It's important to get as detailed as you can about what a high-tech client considers acceptable quality.

The fact that many high-tech companies are themselves ISO 9000-registered has put the pressure on us to meet and exceed these stringent practices. In the effort to better serve these customers, Bindagraphics last year began the costly and time-consuming process of ISO 9000 certification. Already we're seeing benefits.

Not only have we developed a yardstick by which to measure product quality, our internal systems have become a lot more efficient, addressing the constant need to continually shorten production cycles. By formalizing procedures, we have dramatically improved productivity and the quality of customer service.

Because the program forces every department to methodically document every procedural step, we are in a much better position to take a proactive approach with clients to present our measure of what's acceptable and what's not.

Those screaming deadlines. A detailed production plan should be hammered out at the earliest possible stage. Assigning responsibility and times for pick up and delivery will make the transition between printer and finisher seamless. Knowing ahead of time who is charged with checking incoming printed material, both for quality and quantity, will also expedite back-end production phases. Detailed production planning and good communication are vital if these difficult jobs are to go smoothly.

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