The interface between design and manufacture can be a harsh, inhospitable place, not unlike the 'No Man's Land' between two great armies. On one side are your designers. Hunched over their Apple Macs, they regularly unleash an arsenal of creative skills designed to keep your clients coming back for more. Facing them across the DMZ is your production staff. Like seasoned combat engineers, they have to turn the innovative ideas into victory on the shop floor by delivering a quality product, in full, on a ridiculously short deadline, and most importantly of all, on budget.
While sometimes it might seem unlikely that these two opposing armies could stand down and perhaps even work together for the good of the company, it can happen; but only if each side understands what the other's problems are and, in particular, how their actions may exacerbate the issues.
Now, I'm not a designer, so I can't say what production can do to help design function better, but I can point out some of the simple changes that designers can make to improve the performance—and profitability—of in-house postpress.
Constructing a Profit
First up, we have the choice of materials. Each substrate has benefits and challenges, and a poorly informed decision at the specification stage can potentially have a huge effect on productivity. So, too, can a bad choice of finish and embellishment, for example choosing a varnish that causes feed problems, or resists effective ink or glue penetration.
Cut Out the Problem
The Bobst 'ABC' Guides for die cutting, embossing, hot-foil stamping and folding and gluing, can help designers avoid the most common post-press pitfalls. One such is the unintentional nick, where two cutting rules come together at anything other than 90 degrees.
It is virtually impossible for the die maker to avoid a small gap between two such knives, and the small nick created can have a huge effect later on running and stripping on the die cutter, or on other downstream processes. Redesigning the profile of the product to bring the last few millimeters of the edge up to the next edge at 90 degrees gets rid of the unintentional nick, improving overall performance.
When products are going to be stripped, waste under 5mm (or 0.2 inches) across can often have a massive effect on the length of time a job takes to makeready, and on how fast it runs. Designing in a taper, so that at some point the waste is larger than 5mm in width, helps alleviate the problem, ensuring quicker makeready and a more consistent production run.
The adding of value to a product with embossing or foil blocking is an opportunity for the printer to gain some much welcome margin. However, this can easily be lost (or even become a loss) if attention is not paid to how design and enhancement interact.
When die cutting and embossing in one pass, it is important to note that no emboss should be closer than 5mm to any cut or crease knife. This is to allow for the embossing die's mounting plate. In Europe, there are now some systems that allow embossing to run right up to the rule, but for most applications, designers need to be aware of the 5mm limit.
An exception to this is when using one of the new generation of highly accurate Braille embossing units on a folder-gluer to produce Braille products for vision impaired consumers. These can quickly and efficiently emboss right up to the crease, or to the product edge.
Of course, it is not only the initial design that matters, but any subsequent changes, too. For example, if the caliper of the substrate is changed on a foiled or embossed product, it may mean that new embossing or foiling dies are needed, because the mounting plates may now be too thin or too thick for the new material.
Stick or Fold
Being at the end of the production process, folder-gluers inherit problems from all of your upstream operations. Minimizing those created by the design itself is a very effective way of improving gluing department efficiencies without much extra effort.
While the designer may not have a direct influence on the choice of grain direction, it remains a key design element overall. To ensure optimum productivity on the folder-gluer, the fibers making up the blanks should be perpendicular to the running direction of the gluer.
The growth in popularity of 'windowed' boxes can also mean trouble for gluer operations. Most conventional window apertures are rectangular in shape, which can lead to the carton catching as it leaves the feeder.
A simple redesign of the aperture to a circular or oval profile can dramatically reduce this problem, increasing running speeds, reducing stoppages and cutting down on waste. Similarly, the dust flaps on straight-line boxes can catch as the box enters the feeder of the folder-gluer. Double knifing these flaps can prevent this problem as well.
Products with cutouts involving right angled projections have a tendency to cause snagging in the delivery section. The designer can help avoid this by bringing the edge of the projection back at an angle. Similarly, cutouts should be avoided, if at all possible, in areas where the tools of the folder-gluer will need to be applied to the blank, such as the trailing flap of a four corner box.
These are just a few of the postpress issues your designers need to get to grips with. Before hostilities break out between the two departments, it might be a good idea to get both sides into No Man's Land so they can start communicating. If you feel you need a peacekeeping force to achieve this, why not contact your equipment manufacturer to see if they have product specialists or instructors who can help find the common ground? They might even bring their own blue helmets.
Chris Raney is vice president, Folding Carton products for Bobst Group North America, Roseland, N.J. He is responsible for the Folding Carton Business Area for the North American market. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.