"Preflight for Binding and Finishing--How Did We Live Without It?"
[Column #28, 4/97]
Preflight is second nature to printers today. The term preflight is generally used to refer to the process printers use to examine electronic files upon delivery and check for any problems that could stop production. With the rapid growth of desktop publishing, printers receive an increasing number of files on disk rather than in traditional mechanical artwork form. Because designers with varied training (and with virtually no universal guidelines) create these files, there are no guarantees that they contain all the necessary information to successfully print the job. Important elements are often missing or the files may be prepared incorrectly. Preflight allows the printer to find these mistakes prior to running the job, thus saving enormous amounts of time and money in lost production and spoilage.
Ironically, the binding and finishing industry has always had to deal with a parallel problem. Our customers play a critical part in our process and we are at their mercy. Now printers have joined the club-and it's about time! We must trust that they have prepared their jobs properly for binding and finishing and that there are no glitches with their printing. Frequently, a job is already on the binder when an error is discovered. Immediately, fingers start pointing and everyone wants to know who is going to fix it and, worse yet, who is going to pay for it. We have learned the hard way that prevention is the only acceptable answer, and when we saw how well the preflight program worked in the printing world, we decided to steal their idea.
Although the binding and finishing industry does not have the same electronic formatting difficulties as the printing industry, the preflight concept can be easily adapted to achieve similar benefits. One of its greatest assets is that it helps binderies meet short turnaround times. With so little time or latitude in most schedules, preflighting catches mistakes quickly and prevents a job from sitting in the warehouse for three or four days before anyone looks at it. This common time lapse can make any printer's blood boil--and rightfully so. A problem discovered at that point inevitably will make the job late. On the side of the bindery, preflight prevents huge losses in labor and machinery (both in prep time and downtime) that occur when a job has already been set up on the bindery line before a problem is discovered.
About a year and half ago, I chose to emulate wise printers and implement a preflight program because it seemed like a good idea. (One I wish I had thought of first!) ??The concept is simple. Check every job immediately on arrival and alert the customer if any problems are found. They can then decide to move ahead with the job as it exists, make adjustments to accommodate the difficulty, or have the job shipped back to them. Oddly enough, preflighting is not the norm in the binding and finishing industry.
Implementing a preflight program at the bindery requires employing experts from the printing industry. It is then their sole responsibility to inspect each job as it comes in the door and search for any mistakes that occurred during printing or that might affect the quality of the final project or production at the bindery. The preflight monitors should then pull samples of every signature or component and build a sample book, rule-off press sheets for a brochure, and so on. The sample should closely resemble the actual finished product and, whenever possible, incorporate all the required binding applications. A rigorous checklist should be used to examine the sample.
A whopping 70% of the problems we encounter are stripping and page layout errors while the remaining 30% are related to press and folding issues. About one in 12 jobs is stopped before it ever hits the binder. I asked our preflight monitor to come up with the top 10 job stoppers--he came back with 20 in less than a day:
Stripping/Page Layout Errors
Pages stripped out of position causing type to be trimmed off.
No compensation for push-out--this is very important on text with indexes.
Insufficient bleed allowances (less than 1/8"), especially on the face trims of covers in case spine adjustment is necessary.
Bleeds masked to final trim line instead of fold line.
Misalignment of bleed indexes or indexes stripped in the wrong position.
Folios placed at random, sometimes falling outside face or foot trim.
Insufficient margins or no allowance for drill holes.
Image on first and last text page in hinge score areas. (1/4" on perfect bound and 1/2" on layflat bound)
Insufficient margin for punch holes on mechanical bound products.
Tick marks left on work.
Colorbars too close to work.
Spine thickness miscalculated on layflat and perfect bound books.
Press and Folding Problems
Wet ink, especially inks containing reflex blue or on matte stock.
Unvarnished sheets with heavy ink coverage.
Excessive spray powder on sheets to be laminated.
Offsetting from strapping or transit.
Web fold misregister.
Drag marks from either press or folder.
Poor packing causing signature curl.
On average, it takes about 20 to 30 minutes to perform preflight on any given job. Ideally, it should take place within one to two hours of delivery; no job should wait longer than a day. If the preflight monitors spot trouble areas, customers should be alerted immediately; overnighting sample books will allow them to see the actual problem. Although this program involves obvious costs, they are significantly less than the potential loss of production and labor hours resulting from errors that slip by until the job is already on the binder.
The preflight process also alleviates pressure on the bindery operators to handle unforeseen problems. Everyone working on a job sees the sample provided by the preflight monitor. This eliminates downtime caused by undiscovered or unanswered issues that occur on second and third shifts when operators have no one to contact for an answer. Historically, they either stopped the job or made quality decisions they were not comfortable handling or equipped to make.
Preflighting is a proactive program that helps prevent expensive and time-consuming problems. However, nearly all the job stoppers listed in this article can be identified and corrected at the printer through closer inspection of the customer's artwork, electronic files, bluelines, and press rule-ups--and careful attention during production. Also, check to see if the ink is cured-if it's not dry in 72 hours, it may never be! (Never mind the fact that most work is shipped out to the finisher within 24 hours off press.) I highly recommend that printers take a few minutes to assemble and trim a sample of folded signatures; especially when it is a rush job and there is no time for preflight to take place at the bindery. I'm happy to say that many of our customers are already routinely doing this. It is also helpful when skids are packed to allow the bindery to easily pull samples of each component and completed rule-ups and comprehensive purchase orders are contained in the shipment. I am keenly aware of the time crunch associated with nearly all printing jobs, but the benefits of this effort will come back tenfold.
It is hard to imagine that this program is so new to our industry. The rewards are enormous--for everyone involved.