"Why Do Estimate Variations Occur Among Binders and Finishers? - Part I"
[Column #58, 10/99]
Why Do Estimate Variations Occur among Binders and Finishers? Part 1
Recently, a page on the Binders and Finishers Association (BFA) Web site caught my eye. It was entitled, “Why Do Binders and Finisher’s Estimates Vary?” When a printer receives estimates that vary widely among those binders bidding on a job (a common occurrence), it undermines the printer’s confidence in those companies and creates a frustrating and difficult situation for trade binders. I immediately scanned the page hoping to glean some useful information.
The article briefly addressed seven factors that may contribute to estimate variations among binders. For space reasons, I will discuss the first three factors in this month’s column and the remaining four in next month’s column. The following variations were identified:
Specifications quoted on.
Plant efficiency and size.
Estimates of time required.
Hourly cost rates.
Quality of work.
Prices of outside purchases.
1. Variation in specifications quoted on.
Graphic arts lingo doesn’t always mean the same thing to all people. Ideally, written specifications followed by a phone call for clarification is the preferable method for thoroughly understanding the task at hand.
A frequent problem area concerns the terms “4-up or 4-out” (to me, “up” means sheet-wise imposition and 4-up refers to 2-up, 4-out, work-and-turn imposition). We have received jobs that were printed 2-up but were imposed in such a way that they could not be folded 2-up. Other troublesome communication problems occur when customers refer to the number of leaves but they are really talking about the number of pages, when they request spiral binding and actually want plastic coil, or when they ask for gold stamped but really mean foil stamped. There is also some confusion over the definition of “barrel” fold. Is that an over and over and over fold, an up and up and up fold, or a roll fold?
The definition of trim (as it relates to size) is also unclear to many of our customers. An upright book binds on the long dimension, and an oblong book binds on the short dimension. The last dimension is the spine length. Understanding this terminology ensures we won’t give you an oblong price when the book is upright. Still another communication gap occurs with the definition of scoring. When printers say they want something scored, does that really mean they don’t want cracking on the fold? We can score paper four different ways at four different prices.
As a result of these problems (and these are only a few), we prefer to get specifications in writing, have a chance to digest them, and call the customer for clarification. When a price is worked up, we like to call back and explain any options or conditions, and then follow up with a faxed confirmation.
2. Variation in plant efficiency and size.
If a customer calls a binder or finisher that has only one piece of equipment to run the job in question and is operating on a single shift, the printer cannot expect that company to be aggressive on long or difficult runs and the job will be priced accordingly. Some binderies have specialized or faster, more advanced, equipment that gives them an advantage over conventionally equipped binders. For example, one of our perfect binders has 36 pockets allowing us to produce thicker books in one pass and to do so faster than a binder operating a perfect binding machine with only 24 pockets.
Another wide variation in machinery among binders occurs with automatic versus semiautomatic drills. The type of drill being used for a given job can make a big difference in pricing or the ability to perfect bind long-run jobs 2-up instead of 1-up. All binderies are not equipped alike, and even if they were, they most likely would not run or man the equipment in the same way. Therefore, prices will vary.
3. Variation in estimates of time required.
We are in a custom-manufacturing job shop environment, and often by the time we figure out how to do a job, the job is done, and we are off on another learning experience. Even when the project is monthly, for example, we will experience labor variations of up to 40 percent. These variations occur for many reasons including job marking, paper curl, paper static, the unavailability of the right crew to run it or the decision to make it a trainee-run job, intermittent mechanical or electrical problems, the unavailability of the proper cartons—goodness knows, I’ve heard them all and some of them I can’t even print!
Generally, the more complex a job is, the more guessing there is. Sometimes we are thoroughly familiar with the difficulty in doing a job and will price accordingly; whereas, a binder who hasn’t done a similar job may underestimate the price of the project and take a bath in the process.
There is no way to completely explain or alleviate variations that occur among binders estimates. Careful communication is key, and in fairness to the vendor, extreme high or low variations should be confirmed as critical information may be missing or there may be a misunderstanding. In next month’s column, I’ll tackle the remaining four issues listed at the beginning of this article.