At the Argos Inspiration Days 2018, Operational Planning & Solutions Manager James Belton gave a great speech about investing in finishing equipment in order to avoid pitfalls.

Right. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Really large audience. Right. My name’s James Belton, and I am the operational planning and solutions manager for The Harrier Group, U.K.

Just to define exactly what that is, basically I’m responsible for capital equipment sourcing, justification, installation and workflow. I’m also responsible for process control, development and quality assurance within the business.

I’ve been asked today to speak to you about finishing. As you’ll know, finishing is a massive subject. So, what I’m gonna try to do today, is give you my thoughts on what are the essentials behind successful finishing? I’m happy to answer any specific questions, after the presentation.

So, before I start, let me give you a bit of an overview of who The Harrier Group are. So you understand where I’m coming from and whether I know anything about finishing. Right, so. Who is The Harrier Group? So, we are the U.K. division of the district photo group, and we offer print fulfillment throughout the U.K., the U.S., and Australia.

What type of print do we finish? Pretty much everything you could think of. So, we do ink and toner based in digital print-

I can live with that. Silver halide, dye sublimation, wide format, inkjets, UV as well, to mention the larger ones that we produce.

What sort of finishing equipment do we run? Similar to a lot of you, we run what you’d expect, the right machine to do the job. This includes machinery from Kolbus, Renz, Argus, Horizon, Heidelberg, any number of different vendors. If it’s the right piece of kit for the job, I’m pretty much brand agnostic.

And finally, what sort of product do we produce? We produce products for both the B to B and B to C industry in commercial and photo. So, we’re producing silver halide prints, books, cards, calendars, flat sheets, that sort of thing.

So, what am I gonna talk to you today about finishing? We’re gonna look at what is finishing? Then, why is it important? When should finishing start? A general overview of workflow and what you need to think about when implementing a workflow. Standardizing finishing, layouts and then, just some tips on purchasing from personal experience.

Right. So what is finishing? The definition of finishing, that I can find everywhere, is finishing is the value added processes that are carried out after ink is applied to paper. We’re all in the print industry, that sounds really simple, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, it’s not, ’cause when you start looking at things, you need to be able to understand the detail behind this. The paper, the bind types, everything that’s there that makes finishing actually quite complex, and not as simple as adding a little bit of value. One of the examples we’ve got with this, is if you look at paper, and you look at PUR binding. To make PUR work, you need moisture. You need time to cure it. However, if you inject that moisture at the wrong time, you end up with everybody’s hated favorite thing, which is wavy pages. So, it’s finding a balance between one and the other. And it’s a fine balance. Your environment has to be right, everything has to be correct to make finishing work well, especially at high volume.

So, why is finishing important? Three simple reasons. It creates the profitability of the end product. You get it wrong, you’re gonna lose money. The finished product is your shop window. A great product gets you noticed. And finally, the finished product defines your reputation. It’s a fickle industry. You’re only as good as the last job you did. Especially within the commercial marketplace.

So, at this point, I’d like to redefine what finishing is. Not the Wikipedia version of it. So, finishing is the complex value added process that defines the capabilities of your business to deliver great quality, profitable product, on time, every time, which drives repeat and new business. That’s what I truly believe finishing to be.

So, when does finishing start? At the beginning. No point thinking about it later, it’s got to start at the very start of the product. Why? It makes up a huge percentage of the cost of what you’re making. Whether that be in capital depreciation, whether it be in labor, whether that be in impact on other production workflows, or the production workflow you’re gonna put in. The better you plan your product … turning me off … the more profitable the product will be.

So, I’d like you to think about some questions. Do you, as a business, know what your finishing really costs? If not, how can you agree a sale price? It’s a very simple question. Sorry.

Does your finishing define the output of your printing device? If you’re gonna look at, for example of this, look at a sheet of paper. Most printers will go, how many up can I get on that sheet? If you add that extra one up on that sheet, it’s gonna save you ink and paper. Am I correct?

However, what happens, if that then means your first cut of that sheet moves from three cuts to five cuts? Do you know whether those two extra cuts cost you more money than the ink, and the paper that you save? If you don’t, then you’re losing money.

Do you continually redefine and question your existing finishing paths? Or do you put a finishing path in and just leave it there?

Do you know what your finishing equip can actually do? Are you maximizing its potential? Have you read the fine print, have you looked at whether the bar code reader makes it go slower, faster, those sorts of things? And before you invest, do you understand the impact new equipment’s gonna have on all your existing workflows?

So that leads me, quite clearly into workflow. So, I’ve got another definition for you. I did enjoy looking at the internet for these, ’cause they were quite amusing. So a workflow consists of an orchestrated and repeatable pattern of business activity enabled by systematic organization of resources, into processes that transform materials. That’s an absolute mouthful. So, what do you need to consider? What is in that to consider as you go through?

The specification. You need to know exactly what you’re going to produce, from end to end. What compliance it has to be, and you have to document it. So, I’m talking about knowing about which paper you’re gonna put it on, all the way to what it’s gonna be packed in. And you need to know that before you start considering what your workflow’s gonna be for that product.

Your production performance requirements, your service level agreement, how many units per hour do you need to come out of that workflow? What are your internal and your external quality expectations? When I say internal and external, external is what the customer will accept. Internal is what is commercially acceptable to you as a business.

What resources are needed to make that workflow work? That’s your material, your equipment, your labor. You have to think about all of these things.

Your work instructions. So, how is your job gonna be defined? How are you gonna get that? Is it a job bag, a traditional job bag? Is it a bat sheet? Is it a slab print? How is that gonna be defined? And once you define that, you have to keep it consistent throughout everything that you do.

If you’re running some jobs on this job bag, and this is on a bat sheet, it creates confusion with your labor force.

Routing options. Everybody looks at their, what route and what path is this gonna take in the workflow? Now what you have to consider here, is firstly, your primary routing path. This is how is it gonna go down the majority of the time? But what a lot of people don’t take into account is the backup work flow. What happens when that lovely shining machine doesn’t work, and you need it to work?

And the third area that a lot of people forget as a whole, is your rework. If you get one item damaged within a batch, do you really want it going through your primary line? Is it gonna make that workflow slow down and have a negative impact on everything else? So, look at your rework, and if you have to take it down a different path to keep your workflow consistent, then think about doing it that way.

And if it’s a new workflow, then you really need to understand how it’s going to impact all your existing workflows. It may be great to put in a shiny new machine to do one job, but if it means you’ve gotta go around everything else in your business to make that happen and break every other workflow, then it’s not a workflow.

And the final thing is, you need a standard operations sequence. So, how do you standardize? Which way and how can this effectively work for your business? So, when you’re standardizing finishing, you need to keep it consistent. What we find in our business, is one of the most effective ways of doing this is a standard operating procedure.

Now, this has come out the military, which is called a standing operating procedure, which basically tells you exactly how to do things. So, an S.O.P. is a set of step driven instructions, created by a business to help your staff carry out simple and complex routine operations.

Why is it needed? It’s needed for a number of reasons. Very importantly, and certainly within European legislation, it creates a safe system of work. It defines the PPE you require, the safe working practice, the product compliance. It defines and standardizes every step of the production process. This makes your finishing consistent. It also make your costs consistent. Because it’s being made the same way, every single time. It removes miscommunication. If there’s only one way of doing it, there is only one way of doing it. The operator can’t decide to do it a different way, that may only cost you an extra two pence a unit, but if you’re doing 250,000 of those units, it’s a lot of money you just didn’t make.

It deskills previously skilled tasks. The obvious benefit to doing this is a reduction in labor cost. You don’t have to pay a skilled operator to do a task that’s been simplified for them. You can reduce the level of that operator, and in turn, reduce your product cost.

Defined processes, mean it gives you uniform performance, it gives you consistent costs. Apologies, repeating myself a little bit at that bit. It sets and defines your quality standards. Within our business, our quality standard is part of our standard operating procedure. So, every single member of staff that’s producing that product knows what is acceptable for that product to be sold.

And it takes the standard of equipment care to ensure consistent finishing and longevity of equipment. Now, for those of you who bind books, you know glue gets everywhere. If you do not clean your machines, you will have problems. If you define in the S.O.P., how they clean it, what it’s supposed to look like when they’re finished cleaning it, then you have a standard to audit your machines, and you will get a benefit out of that in the long term.

So, once you know the requirements of your workflow, and you put your standardization in, your layout is what brings these together. And the key to an effective layout in standardized finishing is the physical machine layout. So, there’s a few pointers I’d like to put in here for the layout of the business.

Firstly, create and maintain your layout offline. I don’t mind how you do this. Whether you buy the fancy CAD programs, 3D drawing, whether you just print your floor plan and cut out your machines on pieces of cardboard. Have the ability to see the whole area of your business, and don’t be afraid to move it around. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

Each process must physically follow the last. If your product’s going backwards at any point, it’s costing you and your business money. Reduce the touchpoints to an absolute minimum. As I said earlier, SOP’s create standardization, so they will help in doing that. If your machinery is near or offline, reduce the distance between the processes to an absolute practical minimum.

And when I say that, a lot of you will be doing your layouts in your non peak periods. If you leave a meter between the end of your coater and your guillotine because it works in off peak, when you hit peak period, it is gonna absolutely destroy you. If that means you take your carts for your paper, and you shove them in between it to measure how much that distance is gonna be, then do it.

The next bit is time. Take the time to watch your products being produced. Take five minutes to stand in the back corner of your room and watch what your operators are doing. Does it make sense? If you’re not adverse to a little bit of hard work, roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. You’ll be amazed what you can get out of it.

If you’re adding machinery, you need to consider the entire layout and not just how to fit the kit. It’s very, very important. And you need to involve all stakeholders in any changes. You can have your management team deciding what the final layout is, if you can get buyout from your operators, sorry, buy in from your operators. They want to be part of it. They feel part of it. You will get a better performance out of them.

So, purchasing. What’s the right finishing solution to buy? It’s quite simple. I’m not gonna teach you to suck eggs. You want one that does the job first time, every time. You want one that meets or is lower than the budget and provides acceptable ROI to your business. You want one that can be integrated to a standardized workflow. It needs to allow improvement of your existing workflows. It needs to offer a level of service, parts and maintenance that is acceptable to your business and your customers. It’s very important. You can go and buy a machine from anywhere in the world. If you can’t get a part for that machine quickly when you need it, there’s no point in having that machine.

Sorry. And very finally, you need to have a financially secure supplier or manufacturer. They will credit check you. Do it backwards. Make sure that they’re not going anywhere, and that you can get the service you need for the machine for the period of your return of the investment.

So, finally, purchasing tips, and these are purely what’s coming out of my head. So, don’t just buy another of the same machine without doing your homework. Do your research. There will be things that have come out since you last bought it, technology’s moving on so fast, it’s worth going out there and seeing what’s happening.

Think outside the box. Don’t just look at the job print finishing. Push the boundaries into other industries. Combine technology. I have a folder, and a creaser from two different manufacturers that shouldn’t work. But it works, and it does the right job for me. I’ve looked in textile industries, I’ve looked in a number of different industries to make things happen that just don’t exist. Your suppliers will work with you.

Always have a minimum of three options. You’re gonna buy something, don’t just have one option, have three. You might rule out one of those within 20 minutes of it. But it may be that third option, that you didn’t think you wanted to see, that is the perfect machine for you.

Make sure you see the machine running your work. Preferably in an operation environment. Showrooms are lovely. Using their lovely images. But put your own work through it, and let’s find out what it actually looks like.

Make sure you understand all the options available and bundle them. If you think you can use it in the future, you’re always gonna pay less for it if you put it with the purchase to begin with, and you are bolting it on later.

Always question your manufacturer’s specification. It’s absolutely essential. They will tell you that it will do a thousand sheets an hour, on 80 gram paper, which is perfect for them. You wanna know what it’ll do on your stuff. Not on what they think is the right thing to do.

And finally, price is always negotiable. They will say, there’s no negotiable in that price, if there isn’t, someone else will negotiate. Don’t be afraid to say no. What’s the worst that can happen?

And finally, ask your peers. Talk to each other. We’ve all got the same problems. Pick up the phone and say, “I’m doing this. Have you got any ideas? You know anything?” We might see something.

So, to summarize, understand the details of the finishing you require and what impacts the processes. If you get finishing right, you’ll make more profit, and you’ll give your customers no excuse to go anywhere else.

Remember, your finishing starts at the beginning, not at the end. Know your workflows, standardize that finishing, and remember that your workflow and standardized finishing drives your layout. And finally, get the right machine for your finishing, then maximize its potential.

Thank you.