The Consequences of Moving a Prepress Department
Thinking about moving your shop to a new facility? Coudray's advice can help you avoid some jams that you might not expect.
Business has been good at my shop for the last two years. I decided after 24 years in the same location to move into a much bigger space. Finding a building big enough took almost five months, plus another 15 months with city planning, architects, contractors, delays, permits, and the assorted details that make construction such an unpleasant affair. I had truly forgotten just how distracting and aggravating a move can be. This month, I’d like to share with you some of the things that brought more balance and efficiency to the shop’s new screen-prep, coating, imaging, and reclaiming areas. I will also talk about some of the consequences of moving equipment to a new location—things we generally never think about until it is too late.
A fresh start
Our new facility is approximately 16,000 sq ft. We built 5000 sq ft of new production offices, imaging, reclaiming, and so forth. We had a blank canvas, so it was relatively easy to design exactly what would be the ideal production layout and workflow. Many of you have read about our transition to CTS over the last couple of years. That was a tremendous boost for us, but it led to other bottlenecks in the process. In production planning you quickly learn that unless you balance the entire system, you end up outstripping one area and burying another. That was the case with CTS. We were able to image so efficiently that it created bottlenecks in reclaiming while we turned the orders that had just been printed.
From the design perspective, I wanted to create a work-flow that was compact and circular. All of the coating and imaging happens in one room. The screens are racked and then rolled into the production staging area, where we stage them by press and position on the press. After printing, the screens are deinked and the tape is pulled off. We then return the screens to carts for the trip back to the reclaiming area, where we desolublize ink residue and strip emulsion. The screens are then retensioned if necessary and degreased before returning to the coating area for another round. We commonly reclaim screens completely within ten minutes of the job coming off press.
So far, everything is working great. We’ve consolidated the amount of movement to about 40 ft or less for any given transport. What makes this work so well is that reclaiming and coating have their own rooms with a pass-through between the two. Each room also has double doors that open to 6 ft for easy transport of the screen racks in both directions if necessary. In practice, we’re only going into the reclaiming area and coming out of the screen imaging area. The doors are solid core with heavy-duty hardware because they see a lot of traffic.
All that moving about can cause some serious dust-control issues—especially right after the construction. There is no end to the sources for unwanted dirt: sawdust, drywall dust, paint flakes, you name it. Both rooms have very strong evacuation ducting to suck out excess moisture. Humidity is the devil when using dual-cure emulsions, so the exhausts are designed to lighten the load on the air conditioning. We change the air 10 times per hour in reclaiming and imaging, and the movement of the air is strong enough to suck a door shut. In the process, we also sucked in foreign materials. The first few weeks were pretty bad. No matter how careful we were, no matter how many times per day we mopped the floors, we still had dust. The solution was to tape furnace filters over the make-up-air vents. The velocity of the air coming through those inlets was substantial. We captured an amazing amount of dirt with those $1.00 filters.
We have 20-in. fans inside the coating room that help evaporate the water from the coated screens. We don’t use drying cabinets yet. Furnace filters prevent dust and dirt from entering the fans and blowing onto wet screens.
Moving equipment is another story. We have two Agfa drum imagesetters, RIPs, a film processor, computer-to-screen system, metal-halide exposure units, and a whole bunch of computers and printers. Most of these devices have been in one place for several years. In fact, our first Agfa Select Set 5000 has been in the same room for more than 10 years. It was very happy there. No problems.
A word of caution: Make sure to use vehicles with Air Ride suspension when you move anything electronic. These are special air shocks on the moving truck that minimize bumps and shakes. We quickly learned that the older the equipment, the more sensitive it becomes. Solder connections tend to become brittle and crystallize over time. The more hot/cold cycles they have, the worse the situation. When equipment is not moved, these expansion/contraction cycles may go unnoticed for years, if they are even detected.
If you are not intimately familiar with everything about your equipment, do not attempt to move it on your own. This is especially true of any imaging device that moves on a carriage. These machines are incredibly delicate. Their precision stepping motors are very easily damaged if you do not know how to secure them properly. Even something as simple as setting the machine on an uneven surface can have very bad effects on the carriage assembly. The last thing you want is for the carriage to freely shift back and forth during a move. Most imagesetters have a specific sequence of how you lock the heads and carriage for transport. If you do not know precisely how to do this, spend the money on a tech who does.
Disconnecting equipment causes it to cool to a much lower temperature than normal, an effect that is magnified when your move is in the winter (ours was in January). Millions of tiny fractures and fissures can be stressed beyond the breaking point. Any movement or vibration of rolling the machines over concrete, up a loading ramp, or with a forklift can reap havoc. Add to this the thumping and bumping of lift gates and driving over rough asphalt with potholes, and you have a recipe for big trouble.
The older your equipment, or the longer it’s been in continuous service, the more problems you can have. I once tried to move an older drum scanner two miles on a road I drove everyday. No big deal, right? Wrong! After powering down a perfectly good scanner, in perfect running order, I was never able to bring it back up. The careless move had created thousands of tiny fractures to the circuit-board connections and other electronics. When the scanner would come up and online, it was only useful for a few minutes. As the temperature of the machine increased, the fissures expanded and caused all kinds of short circuits and other anomalies. It was a very, very expensive lesson.
I highly recommend you hire professional movers who are familiar with electronic equipment. This is not something you want to learn by doing. Besides the Air Ride trucks, skilled movers use forklifts with pneumatic tires and secure the equipment with padding to minimize vibration. They may even use special pallets with cushioned bumpers to minimize transport vibration.
And one more thing: Make sure you inform your insurance agent that you’re moving your production equipment. Make sure you have coverage for lost revenue in the event something is damaged. You can permanently cripple your business if you lose a critical piece of equipment. Let the insurance company know who is moving the equipment and to add the coverage riders necessary, given the added risk of the move.
Your insurance must be adequate enough to cover the replacement cost of the equipment if it is damaged beyond repair. Find out what the deductibles are in the event of a loss. Also keep in mind that some of the equipment we use today is no longer manufactured. Parts and technicians can be hard to find. Don’t wait until you need to call them to learn this lesson.
The tech transition
Thankfully, my shop’s big move was completely free of any kind of electronics problems. All of our scanners, imagesetters, printers, and computers made the move without a hitch. So did the newer CTS equipment. We installed filtered power for all the areas where we have delicate electronics, and each piece of equipment is on a dedicated circuit.
We also put together a properly engineered gigabit network with new Cisco routers and switches with Cat 5E wiring. What a difference in stability! Our old network was a cobbled together collection of old routers and multiple switches of 10-Mb, 100-Mb, and a few 1000-Mb devices—none of which was auto-sensing. We had to be really careful about what we connected. Throughput was always an issue, and file-transfer speeds were miserable, especially when the file sizes were greater than 100 MB, which they were quite frequently. The new network transfers 100-MB files in less than 10 seconds. Everything is auto-sensing, so there are no problems with mixed devices on the network.
Ready to make the move?
My advice, given the 15 months of construction on my new facility, is to hire a project manager who knows construction and what is BS and what isn’t. He looks out for your best interests. I learned that no matter how good your architects, engineers, and contractors are, a lack of communication between the parties leads to big problems. A project planner can help to reconcile all those loose ends and minimize the change orders and production snafus. My shop’s move is thankfully over. Now we can get down to business again.
Mark A. Coudray is president of Coudray Graphic Technologies, San Luis Obispo, CA. He has served as a director of the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association Int'l (SGIA) and as chairman of the Academy of Screen Printing Technology. Coudray has authored more than 250 papers and articles over the last 20 years, and he received the SGIA's Swormstedt Award in 1992 and 1994. He covers electronic prepress issues monthly in Screen Printing magazine. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.