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May 21, 2014
United States
Pennsylvania

AT A GLANCE

Industry sector

Digital Design and Print Media learning program

Challenges
  • Need to upgrade their eight-year-old C.P. Bourg booklet making system
  • Teaching students  new finishing technology
Solution
  • Bourg BM-e Booklet Maker
Results
  • Thanks to a high level of automation, the BM-e is considered "student-friendly". It also boosts productivity and provides a safer work environment
  • Jobs produced on the BM-e are about 30% faster and with higher accuracy and consistency than before
  • A faster ROI: the customer now expects a four-year payback instead of seven years which  they had initially projected

Pennsylvania Career Center Students Gain Hard Knowledge and Soft Skills Working on Live Jobs for Real Clients

Given the need to operate economically in these trying times, striving for perfection is not how you would expect a print service provider to prosper. After all, sweating every detail just gets in the way of efficiency and reduces profitability.

But at a small print center located in the rolling Pennsylvania hillside a few miles northwest of Lancaster, micro-managing the manufacturing of booklets and other finished printed documents with the help of a new and highly automated booklet maker only adds to their success.

This extraordinary printing facility is the Digital Design and Print Media Center of the Lancaster County Career & Technology Center (LCCTC), a regional career and technology school that offers its students courses and real-world training in 50 full and part-time programs taught mainly at the school’s three campuses.

The Digital Design and Print Media curriculum is part of the LCCTC Visual Communications Program, which also offers certificates in Commercial Art and Photography and Digital Imaging. Students in the Digital Design and Print Media Program attend courses taught by state-certified Instructor Daniel McCauley that cover all aspects of graphics design and production, from job estimating and paper buying through design, prepress, print production and finishing.

In keeping with the school’s mission to prepare people for skilled, innovative and productive careers, the work performed by LCCTC students in the Digital Design and Print Media Center is “as real as it  gets,” says Craig Keener, DD/PMC manager and its only paid employee. And, with 31 years of print industry experience under his belt, including 12 years running offset presses and much of the remaining time spent in supervisory and management positions at commercial print shops before joining LCCTC in 2004, Keener should know.

Putting Knowledge to Work

Located at the LCCTC Brownstown campus, the Center and its all-student staff of 20 seniors cater to a client base of 200 non-profit, community and education based organizations in the Lancaster area. Customers include all LCCTC programs and departments, many of the constituents comprising the 16 public school districts and government agencies in Lancaster County, and a few local non-profit organizations – notably United Way and health care provider Lancaster General Health. The center’s primary role is for training purposes through a live work environment. The intention is not to compete with local printers but to prepare students for employment with them.

Students design work on Apple Mac workstations using Adobe Creative Suite and output job files digitally using computer-to-plate capabilities or directly to sheet-fed or large-format digital printers. They also operate a full-service bindery offering mounting and laminating; perfect, spiral and GBC binding; and collating and document finishing services.

Jobs produced by the students cover a broad spectrum, ranging from letterhead, envelopes, binder inserts, time planners and carbonless forms to pocket-size reference guides, course catalogs, sell sheets, brochures, posters, calendars, booklets, books, newsletters, and guides to school shows and sports events.

Benefitting from Experience

“Everything we do is 'live' work, and it’s often done for the school districts the students come from,” says Keener.

The combination of coursework and hands-on experience in design and print equips students in the Digital Design and Print Media program with the real-world knowledge and skills – qualities that are reflected in the national certification each student is eligible to receive from the Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation (PrintED/GAERF) at graduation.

While the school’s budget covers the instructor’s salary and course materials, the DD/PMC operates within state guidelines as an accumulation center, generating enough revenue to pay for the center’s expenses, materials, equipment repairs – and most recently, the cost of new equipment.

Like any competitive shop, the DD/PMC provides its customers with free estimates, FTP file transfers, excellent quality and competitive pricing, plus free local pickup and delivery of finished products.

“Some of our customers also deal with other print providers, and it would be natural to think they should go easy on us because we’re a school,” says Keener. “But we can’t look at it that way, because we want to teach our kids how to deal with competition. In our view, we’re just another print solutions provider. And like any paid service provider, we have to make our customer counts, estimate jobs properly and provide the same turnaround times our customers can get down the street.”

Tackling Technology that Doesn’t Yet Exist…

“Because graphic communications technology is moving so fast, we’re trying to equip our students today with the skills that will help them tackle technology that doesn’t exist yet,” says Keener.

To help address that goal, an Occupation Advisory Committee comprised of members from the surrounding business community further guides the DD/PMC. The committee members form a good cross section, including people in staff and management positions at prominent firms in the printing and graphics industries, Keener notes.

Although it emphasizes digital production, the school needs to comply with state standards for printing education that mandate some analog printing knowledge, says Keener. To bridge both worlds, the  Center maintains and divides jobs among three Ryobi 2-color offset presses, a 4-color Heidelberg QuickMaster DI with on-board digital imaging, and Ricoh 2090 monochrome and IKON CPP 500 color digital printers, giving students experience across a broad technology spectrum.

To benefit from recent major advances in finishing technology, the DD/PMC recently upgraded its eight-year-old C.P. Bourg booklet making system, swapping a two-tower Bourg BST-10d Suction Tower Collator for a newer BST-10d+ model and replacing the older stitchfold-trim modules with a new integrated Bourg BM-e Booklet Maker. The finishing system is the first of the shop’s new equipment to be purchased solely from profits.

Representing a fresh design four years in development, the award-winning Bourg BM-e is the first highly automated finishing system that efficiently handles even ultra-short print runs from digital printers while easily matching their production speeds. Its large format size, combined with the ability to stitch 30 sheets of 20-lb bond makes the BM-e able to produce single booklets or hundreds at a time of eight to 120 pages in sizes smaller than a CD case to a full 14.5 x 11.75 inches in landscape format, and do it with unmatched efficiency.

The Bourg BST-10d+ is a proven 10-bin collator featuring “vacuum belt” technology pioneered by C.P. Bourg to transport low-friction coated stock reliably along the document path without marking or skipping. To promote job integrity, the Bourg BM-e communicates directly with the Bourg BST, enabling each device to know what sheets or sets the BST should send and what output the BM-e has received.

“I've installed many machines during my career and the BST-BM-e was one of the smoothest installations I've ever been part of – just flawless from shipping to setup to plugging the machines in and starting them up,” says Keener.

Within a week of installing the new booklet-making system, the Print Media Center used it to produce a series of jobs totaling about 100,000 booklets. “We hit it hard early,” he admits, adding the BM-e accepted the initial heavy workload without a hitch and hasn’t skipped a beat since.

Benefitting from Operations

Although the old system was still going strong and the school was able to sell it, the new Bourg booklet maker is a better production tool and a better learning tool, says Keener.

“The BM-e is very student-friendly. It has a color touchscreen with a menu-driven operating system and offers fully automatic setup – the feature set we’re trying to get on all our new equipment.”

In addition to Bourg reliability and quality, the print center manager says the BM-e offered a number of features he found compelling.

He particularly appreciates the BM-e's ability to handle toner-based digital output – critical in an industry where run lengths continue to shrink and where digital printing techniques have made “booklets of one” not just possible but commonplace. The shop’s finishing jobs typically range from 100 booklets to 25,000 newsletters for some of the larger school districts. But if needed, students can interrupt a job in progress to run as many as 50 pieces on demand using the BM-e's touchscreen to set it up and the machine’s hand-feed mechanism to insert it.

The booklet maker also can be set to jog signatures up to three times prior to stitching to dissipate the static electricity generated by digital printing through the grounded metal chassis. Plus, he says, the students can stitch a job and then run it back through the BM-e to quarter-fold it. “It does a nice, hard fold too,” Keener notes.

Small is Beautiful

Although the BM-e offers the largest format available for on-demand booklet-making, the largest stock the Print Media Center runs on its sheet-fed equipment is 12 x 18 inches. “Actually, I was intrigued by how small a booklet we could make on it,” notes Keener, pointing to the BM-e's ability to accept stock from 4.7 x 6.7 inches for top- and cornerstitching and from 4.7 x 7.1 inches for saddle-stitching.

Even operating with the smaller sheet size, the BM-e permits a high degree of finishing flexibility, aided by an intuitive icon-driven operating system that makes it easy to set up each job quickly and fine-tune the stitch, fold and trim dimensions in 1/10 mm increments, on the fly.

While the job is running, the workflow is displayed graphically using easily interpreted international symbols, says Keener. “The run screen shows you the sheet size, where your stitch is hitting the sheet and where it’s being folded and trimmed. It actually depicts an image of the rollers at their tightest position with directional arrows and plus or minus signs available to make micro adjustments very simply on the run. That alone is a great feature I haven’t seen on other systems, and one we use frequently.

“The sheet travel also has been vastly improved, and the accuracy is much higher so we’re getting fewer errors,” says Keener, noting the BM-e automatically ejects any sets that are out of tolerance, allowing the operator to address problems and manually feed corrected booklets back into the work stream.

“In the past, we’d manually pull those sets out, re-collate and set them aside. Now at the touch of a button we can pull up the hand-feed gate, go into Manual mode, feed the problem sets through, and we’re finished,” Keener explains.

Sweating the Small Stuff

The Center does a lot of intricate work that requires fine tuning, says Keener, explaining that, unlike the popular book that advises ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ – the Print Media Center’s mantra is ‘Sweat the small stuff!’

“We look at all the details of a finished job that make our lives as printers easier in the end – from print quality and color fidelity to the crispness of folds, the placement of stitches and how well the piece is trimmed – and we try to produce it perfectly.”

The Center’s “Sweat the small stuff” philosophy extends to instilling the “soft skills” students need to succeed out in the job world – like arriving to work on time, having ownership in their jobs, taking pride in the finished product and being mindful of limiting waste.

“That’s what C.P. Bourg did with the BM-e,” says Keener. “They sweated over and improved a lot of little things that together enhance every aspect of the machine: its speed and accuracy; the mark-free paper transport; its folding mechanism; the paper path; allowing the waste bin to be emptied on the run; its stitch integrity – everything."

“And because it’s highly automated, many of these new features not only boost productivity but also provide a safer work environment,” he adds.

Keener estimates the typical job on the BM-e is being produced about 30% faster and with higher accuracy and consistency than before. He now expects the BM-e to provide the Print Center with a four-year payback instead of the seven years he initially projected – and to achieve that goal without having to raise the shop’s hourly rate.

“Although our mission is to provide our graduates with educational opportunities, I also see it as recycling tax dollars and revenues from our own operations to help the next generation of graphic communications professionals compete for jobs in a dynamically changing industry.

“And,” he adds, “we’re well on our way.”