Last updateThu, 23 Jun 2022 3pm

Intelligent Automation Transforms Folding Operations at Two Virginia Printing Companies from Laggards to Leaders

  • "We've more than doubled our folding productivity and substantially increased our capacity since the new folders came online."
  • "It's a case of new technology helping us do something good for our employees and our customers."

State-of-the-art Stahlfolder automation from Heidelberg has enabled two Virginia printing companies to increase their folding capacity and substantially boost productivity, yielding important benefits for customers as well as for employees.
McClung Printing, Inc. in Waynesboro, Va. is a 100 percent employee-owned, general commercial printer with established niches in the healthcare and educational markets. The company recently added a fully automated Stahlfolder TH 82 6/4 pallet-fed folder with SBP66 high capacity stacker and right angle station to handle a combination of brochure work, product inserts and information sheets printed on the company's two 29" presses, including a 5-color Heidelberg Speedmaster SM 74.
"This is our favorite folder," said company chairman Tom Trevillian. "Makereadies are down, and our performance numbers are up by 22 percent over last year," he explained. "With the power feeder and stacker, a single operator can run the new folder at production speeds from 20,000 to 26,000 folded sheets per hour," depending on run length and substrate. "We run millions of product inserts for the health care industry," he continued. "The high rates of speed are a huge advantage when we have run lengths of 150-200,000, especially when just one man can produce 200,000 pieces in an eight-hour shift."
The outstanding flexibility of the Stahlfolder TH 82 has enabled the company to keep its folders more "format-focused," Trevillian said. "By that I mean we are keeping folders specialized for certain products and formats. This reduces makeready on all folders." Moreover, because the machine has a generous memory, McClung can rerun work at the push of a button. "We run the new folder five days per week, and keep it full about one-and-one-half out of two shifts, leaving additional capacity when we need it," Trevillian said.
The new TH 82 joins McClung's existing lineup of four non-automated folders, and is part of an effort to upgrade and automate the company's bindery, as well as to offer prospective employees an opportunity to work on ergonomically sound, technologically advanced equipment with computerized controls.
"We wanted to attract more sophisticated employees to our bindery in general and our folding department in particular," Trevillian said, as well as to eliminate the need for employees to engage in time-consuming, repetitive motion. "Long-term, we see stronger backs, greater stamina, and fewer injuries. We feel that automation will keep our current employees healthier, longer. It's a case of new technology helping us do something good for our employees and our customers."
Professional Printing Center of Chesapeake, Va. is a full-service, general commercial printer offering offset and digital printing, as well as direct mail services. Both direct mail and variable data printing are growth areas for the business, which serves a customer base of private schools, local universities, ad agencies, and general corporate clients. Having recently upgraded its pressroom, the company turned its attention to improving makereadies and run speeds in its folding department. While looking to replace another manufacturer's aging, non-automated folder to perform signature work, company representatives first saw the pallet-fed, Stahlfolder KH 82 buckle-plate, knife-fold system in Heidelberg's Kennesaw Technology Center. The company quickly followed up with a series of challenging tests performed on materials the company works with regularly.
"We prefer to use a 'pain point' job for testing purposes," said company president Brian Ward. "I'm pleased to say the Stahlfolder KH 82 performed flawlessly, adjusting easily to our materials. We were impressed." Professional Printing subsequently installed a fully automated model with SBP66 power stacker. "We are confident the machine is a good fit for us," Ward concluded. The new folder's state-of-the-art automation, coupled with the pallet-feeder and stacker, means that just one operator is needed for most jobs, except on longer runs, when a helper sometimes is needed to remove folded sheets from the stacker.
Results of the testing so pleased the company that it also purchased a second folder, this one a fully automated Stahlfolder TH 66 continuous feed 4/4/4 model with gatefold device and right-angle station for general commercial folding. The modular structure of both machines means that Professional Printing can use the SBP66 stacker interchangeably on either machine.
"We've more than doubled our folding productivity and substantially increased our capacity since the new folders came online," Ward said. "Makereadies are down from 2-3 hours to around 20-30 minutes, with running speeds up to 20,000 folded sheets per hour—three times that of our older folders." As for the new folders' ability to "remember" and recall repeat jobs, he said, "The more jobs we rerun, the more valuable this feature becomes."
Professional Printing runs both new folders across two shifts, and Ward calculates the company currently has 30 percent to 40 percent capacity in reserve, thanks to the speed and efficiency of the new machines. "We've also experienced a reduction in labor hours," he said.
Smart and Flexible
The folding machines of Heidelberg's Stahlfolder TH/KH series deliver top productivity and flexibility in professional folding. Consistently modular Stahlfolder TH/KH folding machines can be flexibly adapted to changing requirements and specific business models. Intelligent automation reduces error, cuts makeready, and boosts postpress productivity. Ergonomic controls provide operators with efficient support. Complete integration into the Prinect production and management workflow ensures excellent transparency and enhanced cost efficiency.
When everything depends on your ability to get a job off the folder and into further post-production as expeditiously as possible, Stahlfolder automation can make the operative difference between having to take a chance and being able to guarantee on-time delivery of high-quality products, at a fair price, to your customers.



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