Pay It Forward with Needed Training and Preventive Maintenance

by: Steven Calov, Heidelberg USA

Difficult economic conditions and depressed sales of new bindery equipment have imbued issues relating to maintenance and training with fresh urgency. Although binderies will always be production oriented, they also should understand that their ability to improve production efficiency and reduce their total cost of ownership is tied to decisions they make about preventive maintenance and the care they take to ensure their operators elicit nothing less than peak performance from their equipment.

Faulty Assumptions Can Rue the Day

Regrettably, many customers tend to regard employee training as a form of overhead instead of a mission-critical investment. It’s a logical misconception: because the equipment is under warranty already, problems must always be the fault of the machine. While this is often true, it is not necessarily the case.

Especially when – as now – the trend is to hold off replacing equipment until economic conditions improve, lack of attention to training and maintenance can have serious consequences. Say a seasoned bindery operator leaves or moves on to another position within the plant after passing on his operational knowledge to his successor in the job. Say it happens again. And again. The net effect of this progressive degradation in the expert knowledge needed to keep that piece of equipment running efficiently can show up in slower speeds and dramatically lower productivity. In fact, as well-intentioned employees pass along training from one to another, it is not uncommon for the quality of the information to degrade until it is dangerously far removed from the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Save the Live Jobs for Later

To get the full benefit of manufacturer-provided training, it’s best to hold off running live jobs until a machine is fully up and into production. While it may seem desirable and efficient to combine post-installation training with live jobs, the decision to do so could well force additional training down the line at additional cost to the customer. Training is intended to give the crew an opportunity to gain experience and achieve a reasonable comfort level with the equipment. Activities that distract operators from that goal can be counter-productive. Otherwise, the crew may run into difficulties and start pointing fingers, complicating an otherwise easy transition from training to production.

Best Trained Employees Do the Best Job

Everybody says it – “Owners must invest in their employees” – but what does it really mean? Today’s bindery employee must possess an increasingly sophisticated skillset, including knowledge of how paper moves, the principles of lean manufacturing, and the efficient use of bindery personnel. Given the range of available training opportunities, there is no reason for a bindery’s productivity and profitability to suffer for want of an appropriately skilled operator. Heidelberg, for example, provides a variety of intermediate skill and refresher training courses at its Print Media Demonstration Center in Kennesaw, Ga., as well as through its Print Media Academy. After all, a warm body can make a machine run, but it takes a well-trained professional to make it sing. These days, it is a business imperative for production equipment throughout the plant to be warbling arias.

Preventive Maintenance: Whose Job Is It?

The phrase “unplanned downtime” generally denotes a business liability to be avoided at all costs. The default position for many binderies, unfortunately, is to keep machinery running, then limping, if necessary, toward the finish line. Machine maintenance is presumed to be the manufacturer’s job when, in fact, the reverse is true. Regular preventive maintenance, performed during periods of “planned downtime,” will ensure consistent high-quality production, optimized equipment settings, and higher throughput, thereby protecting the investment and increasing its resale value.

While the largest binderies may have dedicated maintenance departments, smaller companies have the same needs, although their resources may be more limited. Busy plants of all sizes, in fact, should give serious attention to establishing a dependable rhythm of preventive maintenance.

It likely will cost more to troubleshoot than to invest in a program of regular preventive machine care. Lack of regular preventive maintenance causes machines to run at slower speeds, sacrificing efficiency and productivity for “one more day of operation” before the inevitable breakdown. In the end, neglecting preventive maintenance hurts customers because it’s more costly to fix things when they finally break. Heidelberg Systemservice currently performs about 80 percent repairs, 10 percent preventive maintenance, and 10 percent rebuilds of existing equipment. Given these percentages, it’s common sense to conclude that customers can and should do much more to prevent problems in the first place.

A Change of Focus

Over the years, Heidelberg’s service organization has sought to shift its emphasis from reactive repair to proactive preventive maintenance. Uptime can be maximized and breakdowns minimized by following a regular schedule of inspections with a detailed checklist.

The sale of any piece of equipment inaugurates a long-term partnership with the customer. Likewise, the printer who owns that piece of equipment also inaugurates a long-term relationship with that machine, which means maintaining it on schedule, servicing it when service is needed, and supporting it with manufacturer-branded parts and consumable supplies that have the same reputation for quality as the hardware itself.

Be Prepared

Maintenance and operation are both part of the training process. Customers need to invest the money in maintenance to reduce unplanned downtime and in ongoing training to guarantee optimum performance of both machine and employee. Printers and binderies should work hand-in-hand with their equipment suppliers on issues such as maintenance, training, and fine-tuning of equipment in order to optimize production speeds and capabilities and avoid problems down the road. No one knows when an economic turnaround will come, but savvy customers should position themselves now to be first out of the gate for the recovery by making sure their employees have the skills they need to take advantage of the upturn. Viewed in this way, maintenance and training can be seen as windows of opportunity to prepare for success when the economy rebounds.

Steven Calov is postpress product manager for Heidelberg USA, with particular expertise in post press stitching and perfect binding. He is a graduate of New York City Technical College, where he earned a degree in Graphic Arts Production Management. He has worked with Heidelberg for 19 years. Contact him at [email protected].