Says Needless Pressroom Costs Make Profits Vanish

H.W. Hacker, The Inland Printer, December 1934

The word “printing” covers a wide range of ideas and activities. Print- ing has a grand tradition as an art. It has many disciples to uphold its artistic integrity. But I am going to talk about a certain manufacturing business which also goes by the name of printing.

Most printers are printers for the sake of bread and butter. And profit. They may like it, but the main thing they want is profit. This puts them under the same economic pressure of costs and prices as other manufacturers. So the schools of industry will help them more than schools of art.

Viewed as an industrialist, the printer is a manufacturing processor of paper. He buys paper, applies a design to it, and sells it at so much a thousand.

“A thousand” tells his story. How does he produce processed paper by the thousand? Through the printing press. Printing presses constitute his production machinery. The pressroom is his real plant. Nearly everything else—art department, photo-engraving shop, electrotype foundry, composing room—are merely supply services ‘of the pressroom. A printing business will stand or fall principally on the relative efficiency of the pressroom. Typographic art has nothing to do with it except when sold as such. 

In this age of machinery, it seems rather strange to have to emphasize the machinery aspect of the printing business, and yet it appears necessary to do so because of the complacency of so many printers to a low rating in the use of their presses. This failure to realize, to utilize the production possibilities of presses can only be explained by a lack of knowledge of what is available and what can be done.

Now, recognizing the pressroom as the center of gravity of the printing business, what is the outstanding delay to production in letterpress—flat-bed letterpress? It is makeready. With all the increase in the speed and the automatic feeders, presses are still idle hours and hours on account of makeready.

The press builders have done their part, but somebody else has failed. Because of this failure, production in the printing industry lags behind production in all other major industries. The villain, makeready, is still at large. Moreover, this burden of carrying excess baggage of makeready puts letterpress printers at a serious disadvantage in competition with other processes. It deprives them of profit they otherwise might enjoy. And it is unnecessary.

Makeready is patching, shimming, skiving. Why? Because parts do not fit. Why do parts not fit? You tell me. Why don’t they? In all other important industries, the parts fit. They must. Steps are taken to insure that they do. It is simple and so elementary that engineers and mechanics from outside industries are astonished that there is any occasion to talk about it. One does not discuss the alphabet.

Men on the assembly line of automobiles have boxes of parts ready at hand. If a part does not fit, the workman discards it at once and picks up another. If he should stop to fit the misfits, the delays would lift costs and prices so high none of us ordinary people could afford to buy cars.

Men at the assembly benches in watch-making are surrounded with boxes of parts ready at hand. If a part does not fit, the workman discards it at once and picks up another. If he should stop to fit the misfits, there would be no low-priced watches and a much smaller watch business.

Pressmen receive forms containing type composition and find upon pulling a proof that some of the letters or rules or line slugs do not fit. They are too high or too low. Do they discard them and call for type that is right? They do not.

A pressman receives a form containing plates and find upon pulling a proof that some of the plates do not fit. They are too high or too low, or too high in spots or too low in spots. Does the pressman discard them and call for plates that are right? He does not. He starts in laboriously to make these misfits fit. In other words, the makeready. And this makes printing costs high and printing markets constricted.

Now, it is a rare thing in automobiles and watches that a part does not fit. It only happens when some inspector has failed. Because every single part goes through a thorough routine of inspection of important dimensions. This is done whether the parts are made within the plant or purchased outside.

It has been said that the great automakers buy more than they make. Carburetors, axles, transmissions, brakes, wheels, starters, bumpers, radiators, lamps, glass, and hundreds of other items necessary to a car, all must pass rigid inspections before being accepted and before entering assembly, in order to make sure they fit.

The inspection of unit parts, comparing them to established standards, the okaying of those that pass and rejecting those that fail, has not only made possible cheap and good automobiles and watches, it is the engineer’s way of doing every mechanical operation. He works by standard tests and tolerances. How many printers subject the form materials to standard tests and to tolerances?

How many printers check the levelness of their type composition? They inspect thoroughly for spelling, punctuation, bad letters, spacing, and so on, but they take it for granted that the letters and the rule, and the lino slugs are uniform. They are careful of the aesthetics and neglectful of the mechanics. Yet it is common knowledge that a great deal of press makeready is needed because type is not uniform.

An inspection routine for type composition is simple. All that is needed is a precision proof press. A proof from such a machine shows up the error instantly. The units that are high and units that are low can be measured. A practical tolerance is plus .001 inch to minus .001 inch. Anything outside those limits should be discarded, and if in danger of repetition, as with machine casting, should be traced back to mats and trimmers and corrected.

How many printers check the thickness and levelness of their plates? They fuss a good deal about color and etching and trim and whatnot, but they take it for granted that plates are the right height and uniform and level. Yet it is common knowledge that a great deal of press makeready is needed to compensate for uneven plates, both mounted and unmounted.

An inspection routine for plates is simple. Height and thickness can be checked on a plate gauge and the levelness on a precision proof press. Shaving, planing, or compensating underlay will put those particular plates in condition for the press- room. Evidence referred to the platemaker will influence him to give better work the next time. A practical tolerance for patent plate thickness is plus .001 inch, minus .001 inch. Half that is obtainable. A practical tolerance for wood-mounted plates is plus .002 inch, minus .002 inch and half ‘that is obtainable. A practical tolerance for surface levelness can hardly be stated in inches but is judged by the impression, front and back, of a test proof.

How many printers check the size, justification, internal alignment, and register of their page forms? They do a great deal of sighting and positioning and justifying on the stone, but it is common knowledge that press time is seriously delayed because of lining and register shifts and workups —particularly workups—all because the lateral dimensions of the forms were not accurately adjusted.

An inspection routine for page forms is simple. Size, squareness, justification, the alignment, and register can all be checked with available equipment made for the purpose. Correction at this, the original assembly, removes the necessity for a lot of later tinkering and adjusting which at best is obscure and uncertain. Practical tolerances will vary according to the nature of the run. The closest kind of precision is feasible. Lineup tables come in for their part in the general efficiency of getting the press running in the quickest possible time.

How many printers check the height of their patent bases? They discuss the relative merits of diagonal groove, honeycomb, solid, kind of metal, hooks, and so on, but in general they take for granted the important point of uniform height. Yet it is obvious that bases of unequal height cause press makeready. Manufacturers now make accurate bases. I have no doubt they can supply them to plus or minus a half-thousandth. But old bases were not all good. A practical tolerance is plus .001 inch, minus .001 inch. Anything higher or lower than that should be thrown away. The cost in makeready of keeping them would soon buy new ones.

How many printers check the impression of their presses? Measure the printing distance between bed and cylinder? Outside of setting the bearers from time to time, they take for granted the impressional accuracy of their most expensive and important machinery. But, yet, variations of impression do exist on many presses. It is slight, yet it is repeated for every run, and contributes its share to makeready costs.

An inspection routine for presses is simple. A proof made with impression gages —test blocks—shows graphically all variation. Such a proof with correcting overlay is hung permanently on the cylinder, thus restoring uniform accuracy of impression. A practical tolerance is .001 inch, since the overlay is refined to tissue thickness which averages .001 inch. All the new cylinder presses are accurate. Accidents and use produce these errors needing correction.

Now I have covered all of the major causes of illegitimate makeready. They are all, in one way or another, errors of dimension. All of them can be measured. All can be controlled by systematic inspection— preferably at the source, but certainly some time in advance of going to press.

There is abroad a vague feeling of something wrong with makeready, but the time has come to be specific. Vagueness, worry, will get us nowhere. We must be definite, get down to cases. We must name and tag the things that give trouble—itemize and specify the errors in type, plates, bases, and presses that cause makeready.

When these errors are exposed and measured and identified by name so that all can see just what they are and what they do to pressroom costs, something will be done about it. Steps to correction are fairly obvious. But as long as they are concealed and obscure, press makeready will continue. Publicity, if you please, will cure makeready as well as political corruption.

So many printers take the attitude that inspection and makeready control is a luxury, a frill which can well wait for more prosperous times. They say they need other things more. Just as long as their present presses are silent while pressmen painstakingly fit forms to them, there is no use talking about expansion. Better first take the unused capacity of present equipment by insuring forms which fit, ready to print.

Another common remark by printers runs like this: “Why should we be bothered with this thing? Why don’t electrotypers and photoengravers give us level plates and composing rooms level type? It’s their work, not ours.”

Maybe it is their work, but they do not use their own product. They only sell it. The printer uses it and takes the punishment. If he wants to protect himself he must be bothered enough to specify and define what he will accept. Otherwise, he pays through the nose in makeready. This thing is so elementary and obvious that the singular acquiescence of printers to the present situation can only be explained on the ground that they do not know what to do about it.

Buyers always get what they insist upon. Sellers always find a way to supply what buyers insist upon. When printers insist upon level plates they will get them. When they name the limits they will accept and when they themselves inspect to insure those limits, they will have no great difficulty in getting just what they specify.

Take, for example, patent plates. Electrotypers are ready now (and have been for years) to provide accurate and level plates. Some years ago there was a definite movement toward precision plates. But this movement suffered a relapse. Why? Sim- ply because of lack of demand. Printers did not appreciate precision plates.

Habit was so strong that the pressmen fussed about with makeready anyway. To be more exact, they did not comprehend dimensions as the underlying idea in all factors of impression and the printing distance, and they still made ready on good plates because of bad bases or presses or cylinder packing. Who can blame electro-typers or any merchant for providing what customers will buy? Why make fine plates if users do not know the difference?

From every point of view, the printer cannot escape his primary responsibility for makeready. The losses are his. So the rewards for reducing will be his. He holds authority. Initiative must come from him.

We are not going to entirely eliminate makeready. As long as it takes pressure ‘o print, and slightly elastic packing, erected presses, and human error, there will be some legitimate makeready at the press.

With improved equipment and a better understanding, there will be more plate treatment for color values, which is pre-makeready, well worthwhile.

With standard tolerances and orderly inspection, using some simple inspection unit, there will be less of the dimensional error which causes the unnecessary and the illegitimate makeready.

Under the average conditions, today illegitimate makeready represents by far the biggest part of the cost and its eradication offers the biggest opportunity. The means are simple and inexpensive. They do not require you to scrap your present equipment and buy new. They do require that you see the problem and go after it. The rest is easy. Illegitimate makeready has no place in a modern printing plant.

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