Organizing for Production

Machine Room at T A Constable (from ECP)
Machine Room at T A Con­stable (from ECP)

This is a copy of an art­icle by E A D Hutch­ings in the 1960 volume of Print In Bri­tain: this art­icle is about using a scaled-down plan to cre­ate the best pos­sible print­ing sur­face to use on much lar­ger machines.  If you are a ‘small’ let­ter­press print­er today this is essen­tially describ­ing some parts of your set-up: great equip­ment, low-volume work and an emphas­is on qual­ity.  I’ve presen­ted it here to give you some insight in to what the ideal set-up for a small print­ing office was in the 1960s.

Pre-press tech­niques are now an accep­ted prac­tice in all the lar­ger, and many of the smal­ler firms in this coun­try; but what of those small firms who have not yet fol­lowed this trend?  It is the small firms who form the bulk of the industry, yet a very large num­ber of these have no pre-press organ­iz­a­tion with­in their works. This slow­ness to adopt new tech­niques often springs from a mis­taken idea that pre-press means a large cap­it­al out­lay for spe­cial­ist equip­ment, that this in turn requires re-equip­ping the machine depart­ment in order to obtain the max­im­um value from the pre­ci­sion mater­i­als and equip­ment which have been installed, and that such large scale re-organ­iz­a­tion will require the firm to branch out into new fields of print­ing and com­pletely change in char­ac­ter in order to keep all this new equip­ment in pro­duc­tion.

This is a com­pletely false assump­tion.  Basic­ally, pre-press and pre­ci­sion tech­niques are meth­ods of redu­cing or elim­in­at­ing waste: waste of pro­duc­tion time on the machine, of con­sum­ables and mater­i­als, and of the capa­city of machines.

The aver­age small firm equipped with three or four auto­mat­ic platens, two small auto­mat­ic cyl­in­der machines and a double demy Wharfedale or sim­il­ar machine and engaged in the nor­mal run of loc­al job­bing print­ing sup­ple­men­ted with work from one or two lar­ger cus­tom­ers, can prof­it­ably install and run a small pre-press sec­tion with very little cap­it­al out­lay. Ini­tially this is a mat­ter of re-organ­iz­a­tion of exist­ing equip­ment and man­power rather than of cap­it­al out­lay. Re-organ­iz­a­tion on the lines sug­ges­ted in this art­icle should show a sav­ing in mater­i­als waste as well as giv­ing increased pro­duc­tion.

The first con­sid­er­a­tion when intro­du­cing a pre-press sec­tion into a works for the first time is one of staff­ing, for it is import­ant that the work car­ried out in this sec­tion is con­trolled by one man. Many small firms employ a work­ing fore­man in the machine room. He is the seni­or machine print­er, and in addi­tion to work­ing a pro­duc­tion machine him­self, he is required to issue work to the oth­er machines, pass work for pos­i­tion and for run­ning on, ensure that there are suf­fi­cient sup­plies of clean­ing mater­i­als and lub­ric­at­ing oils, and to issue and keep in order the stores of ink, solvents, driers etc. This means that he will often be required to switch off the machine on which he is work­ing while he car­ries out these oth­er duties. This res­ults in a com­plete waste of pro­duc­tion time on that machine.

When organ­iz­ing a pre-press sec­tion for the first time it is sug­ges­ted that this per­son is the one who should run the pre-press sec­tion and that his place on the pro­duc­tion machine should be taken by a machine print­er who is solely con­cerned with the pro­duc­tion of prin­ted work. He can then con­tin­ue to devote him­self to the day-to-day run­ning of the machine depart­ment while the remainder of his time is spent in pre­par­ing work for the machines. It is of vital import­ance that the pre-press sec­tion is staffed by someone who is both keen and sym­path­et­ic to new ideas and imbued with ‘pre­ci­sion-minded­ness’.

Siting the section

Where pos­sible the pre-press sec­tion should be sited between the com­pos­ing and machine depart­ments so that formes, spa­cing mater­i­al etc, can pass freely through from the com­pos­ing room and on to the machines. A great deal will, of course, depend on the build­ing in which the firm is housed, but when pos­sible the best pos­i­tion for a small sec­tion sim­il­ar to that envis­aged will be at that end of the machine depart­ment which is nearest to the com­pos­ing room.

Equipping the pre-press section

In addi­tion to the amount of cap­it­al out­lay inten­ded, the size of the firm and the nature of the work which is nor­mally car­ried out are the decid­ing factors when con­sid­er­ing the type and amount of equip­ment which is to be installed in the first instance. The cost of this can range from tens of pounds up to thou­sands, but a small firm should be able to equip and work an effi­cient sec­tion for a total out­lay of less than £100 provid­ing that an effi­cient proof­ing-press and a reas­on­able amount of pre­ci­sion spa­cing mater­i­als and met­al plate mount­ing base are already installed.

A suf­fi­cient area must be alloc­ated to the sec­tion to install shelving to carry a week’s sup­ply of paper stocks, an ink cup­board, a cup­board or cup­boards for consum­able mater­i­als and one for roller stor­age. A pre­ci­sion proof­ing-press and an impos­ing sur­face togeth­er with a stand for mak­ing mech­an­ic­al over­lays and a table or desk with a top large enough to carry the largest sheet which can be prin­ted on the pro­duc­tion machines form the remain­ing stand­ing equip­ment.

The impos­ing sur­face takes the place of a pre­ci­sion register table, and the desk is in place of a revis­or and line up table which is the equip­ment which would be installed if a great­er cap­it­al out­lay is inten­ded. A more effi­cient altern­at­ive to an ordin­ary table, which would cost only a little more, is a glass topped light table. This should have a 14″ opaque ground glass top, illu­min­ated from below by one or two low power fluor­es­cent tubes. Such a table could eas­ily be con­struc­ted by a loc­al wood­work firm to spe­cific­a­tion at little cost and its use will con­sid­er­ably sim­pli­fy the regis­tra­tion of col­our formes, and check­ing the per­fect­ing of sheets. An 18″ steel square and a 3′ steel rule or straight edge will also be required for use with this equip­ment.

A great deal of the shelving, cup­boards and oth­er stand­ing equip­ment can be con­struc­ted from met­al angle sec­tion. Two forme racks will also be required in this sec­tion, one for formes wait­ing to go on machine and the oth­er for formes wait­ing to be checked. In a small firm it will often be use­ful to have the platen and cyl­in­der dress­ing sheets stored here as well. This stock should be cut to size for the indi­vidu­al machines and kept sep­ar­ate accord­ing to the machine size and the type of stock so that pack­ings of dif­fer­ing char­ac­ter­ist­ics can be quickly chosen for vary­ing classes of work.

Mechanical overlays

Whatever the type of mech­an­ic­al over­lay it is decided to install the over­lay bench should include shelves for stor­ing a sup­ply of over­lay stock and mater­i­als and a range of hard stock in vary­ing thick­nesses for under­laying and bring­ing to type height any wood moun­ted plates. The top of the cab­in­et should be large enough to carry any appar­at­us which may be neces­sary to pro­cess the over­lay pull, and to take a type high plate gauge.

The four types of mech­an­ic­al over­lay which are in com­mon use at the present time are the 3M, Primaton, Chalk Relief and Lacolite sys­tems. The first two are the more expens­ive to install ini­tially, 3M requir­ing a spe­cial heat­er to fuse the over­lay pull while the Primaton meth­od requires some source of dir­ect heat to pro­cess the pull also. Of the remain­ing two meth­ods the chalk relief over­lay is prob­ably the more suited for pre-press use, although the Lacolite has some advant­age in that it can be made on the press and run imme­di­ately.

The proof­ing-press can be any one of the many excel­lent pre­ci­sion machines which are now avail­able. It need be no big­ger than the size of the largest pro­duc­tion machine and, in many cases, need not be as big. If it is inten­ded to pur­chase a new machine it is as well to con­sider the mer­its of some of the powered presses. These machines are cap­able of print­ing small runs of up to about 200 with great­er eco­nomy than on a pro­duc­tion machine of con­ven­tion­al type in many cases. A firm who retains an old Wharfedale press for a lot of short run poster work, for example, will pos­sibly find that the pur­chase of a press of this type will give them a pro­duc­tion machine for this type of work in addi­tion to its use for pre-press, and thus enable them to dis­pose of the old machine and use the space it occu­pied to bet­ter pur­pose.

Pre-makeready duties

A sec­tion organ­ized on the lines sug­ges­ted, and with this min­im­um of equip­ment, will be cap­able of cut­ting down makeready time on the pro­duc­tion machines by quite a reas­on­able fig­ure. Formes will be taken from the com­posing room and locked in pos­i­tion in the machine chase. Accur­acy and register can both be checked, using the straight edge and set square and also by using sheets of thin acet­ate. These can be obtained squared with a grid, or plain. Many small auto­mat­ic machines now have register devices which use these sheets. These devices are pegged on the machine chase, and sim­il­ar devices can be made and exist­ing machine chases adap­ted to take such a register device by any com­pet­ent engin­eer at quite a low cost. Where work in two or more col­ours is being run these devices can save a tre­mend­ous amount of time on the machine as each forme can be accur­ately registered in a second machine chase while the first col­our is being run.

All plates should be sent to this sec­tion before they are placed in the forme; it is sug­ges­ted that plates should be ordered flat, or unmoun­ted and that met­al mounts should be used through­out. The cheapest meth­od of mount­ing on met­al when no pre­ci­sion mounts are already avail­able, will be found to be the wood-filled quad. These can be obtained in vari­ous heights for both ori­gin­al and duplic­ate plates. The plate and mount will be lev­elled in the pre-press sec­tion and over­lays or inter­lays made as they are required.

Ink and colour matching

The ink cup­board should have a top which will carry an ink mix­ing slab, weigh­ing equip­ment and palette knives, wash-up mater­i­als etc. Accur­acy and eco­nomy are best served by hav­ing one per­son respons­ible for the ori­gin­al match­ing of proofs and for the sub­sequent batch mix­ing for the run itself. Both of these tasks are best car­ried out with­in the pre-press sec­tion. In the course of time a record book of mix­ings should be built up and retained in this sec­tion. This record is best retained in loose leaf form with index tabs to sep­ar­ate each sec­tion into domi­nant hues ; tints, shades and greyed col­ours will each fall with­in their own sec­tion. A pull should be taken on a stand­ard col­our bar and the details of the mix­ing togeth­er with the customer’s name and the date should also be shown on this sheet.

This record will not only make it easy to match accur­ately a col­our for reprint work but will also greatly assist the match­ing of oth­er col­ours. If the record is con­sulted a col­our will often be found which, if not an exact match, will often be close enough to give only slight alter­a­tion to the exist­ing for­mula. This record will also serve a use­ful pur­pose when a cus­tom­er requires col­our work to be done.

Such a record book can be star­ted ini­tially by tak­ing a print of all the col­ours nor­mally car­ried in stock, to­gether with a series of two or three tints, shades and greyed col­ours of each of these col­ours. These col­ours alone will often be chosen for work and will give a good indic­a­tion of the range from which a mix can quickly be made. An addi­tion­al advant­age is that any weak­ness in the range of col­ours nor­mally car­ried will be read­ily exposed and the range of inks car­ried in stock can even­tu­ally be amended.

Very little spe­cial equip­ment is required for ink mix­ing; a mix­ing slab, ink knives and a simple set of weights and scales are the basic require­ments. A small mix­ing mill is a valu­able addi­tion to this equip­ment when the mix­ing of col­ours is an almost daily, or a weekly occur­rence. A simple mill con­sist­ing of a bowl and stand and fit­ted with a hand oper­ated mix­ing paddle is adequate for quant­it­ies of up to sev­er­al pounds weight. (Details of all ink mix­ing equip­ment are to be found in the BFMP ‘Pre­ci­sion aids for Print­ers’ book­lets.)

The ink slab on which the col­our will be mixed in the first match­ing is best made from 14″ plate glass. This should be painted white on the under­side and secured to the top of the ink mix­ing cab­in­et at the corners by met­al corners of the type used for some pic­ture frames. Opaque white glass can also be used for the slab when this is obtain­able loc­ally and this will often prove more sat­is­fact­ory than plain glass.

Col­our match­ing and mix­ing requires good nat­ur­al light­ing if accur­acy is to be main­tained and it is as well to con­sider the mer­its of a spe­cial col­our match­ing light­ing unit for this sec­tion. An excel­lent unit of this type is avail­able which can be installed for less than £30 all in.

So far only the pre-press duties which are to be under­taken by this sec­tion have been con­sidered but there are many firms where these duties alone will not be suf­fi­cient to keep a man employed for the whole time, even when com­bined with the day-to-day run­ning of the machine room. In these cases it is sug­ges­ted that the duties of this sec­tion should be exten­ded to include the con­trol of the machine room stores- This will include such items as the lub­ric­ants and con­sum­able mater­i­als such as clean­ing rags, par­affin, etc, in addi­tion to the ink stores. In some cases the con­trol of cut stocks pri­or to print­ing can also be con­sidered.


Paper is the mater­i­al which com­prises the bulk of the fin­ished product and which forms the single greatest ele­ment of mater­i­als cost. To reduce the wastage of paper to a min­im­um and to reduce trouble on machine and in the bind­ery it is of the utmost import­ance that the paper which goes on the machine is stable and cor­rectly matured.

An ana­lys­is of troubles on machine will reveal that those caused wholly or in part by imma­ture paper can exceed 50 per cent of all stop­pages. Under cer­tain con­di­tions paper with an uneven mois­ture con­tent or a mois­ture con­tent out of bal­ance with that pre­vail­ing in the machine room can cause or be a con­trib­ut­ory factor in such faults as slur­ring, creas­ing, register faults, pick­ing, pluck­ing, chalk­ing, poor dry­ing of ink, and set-off. When paper has too little mois­ture con­tent com­pared with the atmo­sphere in the machine room it can also become charged with stat­ic — a con­di­tion which, even in mild form, can cause untold delay on the machine and in the sub­sequent bind­ery oper­a­tions, and can cause a high spoil­age rate.

Ideally paper should be stored in a ware­house with an atmo­spher­ic tem­per­at­ure and humid­ity identic­al with that in the machine room (65° F and 65 per cent rel­at­ive humid­ity are ideal con­di­tions). This require­ment of equal and bal­anced atmo­spher­ic con­di­tions for both paper stor­age and machin­ing is more eas­ily achieved in open plan works where store and machines are vir­tu­ally in the same room and only sep­ar­ated by a par­ti­tion or gang­way. Unfor­tu­nately, in many small works the paper is often stored in anoth­er part of the build­ing, if indeed it is not in a com­pletely sep­ar­ate build­ing, often with totally inad­equate heat­ing.

Where paper can­not be stored in con­di­tions which are con­sist­ent with those in the machine depart­ment a sup­ply of the stock, suf­fi­cient for a nor­mal week’s work, should be retained in the racks put up in the pre-press sec­tion and stock for machine taken from this sup­ply, which should be renewed daily so that all paper will have matured in the machine room for a week before being put on the machine.

It will often be pos­sible to have a great deal of this stock already cut to size for work before it is stored, so that the sec­tion is able to issue the cut stock to the machine print­er when the jobs are alloc­ated.


Many firms do not have a sep­ar­ate ink store, the ink that is car­ried being stored in a cup­board in the machine room. These are then taken and returned by each machine print­er often with no super­vi­sion what­so­ever. This lack of sys­tem often leads to a great deal of waste, sev­er­al tins of the same ink being opened and returned to store half empty, tins of new stock being used before older stocks of the same ink have been used, and partly used tins of ink being kept on the machine instead of being retained in store. A look round many a machine room will often reveal half empty tins of ink under machine benches, often in a state when they are no longer fit to use, and oth­er tins in store with a thick skin over them which must be taken off and thrown away before the ink left in the tins can be used. The pre­ven­tion of this waste alone could show a sav­ing of many pounds in the course of a year.

When there is no prop­er ink store, ink, togeth­er with ink solvents and driers, etc, should be stored in the pre-press sec­tion, kept sep­ar­ate by col­ours and types. This ink should be issued with the job and the sur­plus returned when the work is com­pleted. Record cards should be kept show­ing the job against which ink, solvents and driers, etc, are issued; the min­im­um stock to be kept in hand, and in lar­ger stores, the loc­a­tion of each par­tic­u­lar item should also be shown.

Ink returned to store should be inspec­ted to make sure that the tin is clean, par­tic­u­larly round the top so that the lid is easy to remove and replace. The sur­face of the ink remain­ing in the tin should be flat and level. It is a good idea to pour about a quarter of an inch of water on the top of the ink before repla­cing it in the store. This will pre­vent a skin form­ing on top.

Stor­ing the ink in this way under super­vi­sion is also a safe­guard against the improp­er use of driers or redu­cers which can often lead to the spoil­ing of work.

Tins of ink are marked with the date of man­u­fac­ture but when reas­on­ably large stocks are car­ried it is advis­able to intro­duce an addi­tion­al code of mark­ing so that stock pur­chased at dif­fer­ent times can be quickly seen. A rub­ber stamp or simple label stuck on the lid or on the back of the tin will usu­ally be suf­fi­cient and will act as a fur­ther check against new stock being used while older stocks of the same ink remain in the back of the cup­board.

Consumable stores

Waste can again be reduced or elim­in­ated by hav­ing all con­sum­able items stored in this sec­tion and issued under prop­er super­vi­sion. Under this head­ing will come such items as anti-set-off spray powder and spray flu­id, clean­ing cloths, machine oil, par­affin, makeready tis­sue, paste, etc. With items such as clean­ing cloths a simple sys­tem of exchan­ging an equal num­ber of clean cloths for dirty cloths returned will usu­ally prove suf­fi­cient. The main value of retain­ing the oth­er items enu­mer­ated is in

14 ensur­ing that a suf­fi­cient stock is always on hand to meet all require­ments. Send­ing the juni­or appren­tice round the corner to get a gal­lon of par­affin seems of little import­ance per­haps but it all adds up to a sub­stantial loss of pro­duc­tion in the course of a year when run­ning out of par­affin is a com­par­at­ively reg­u­lar occur­rence!

Oth­er items which the pre-press sec­tion should be able to check and main­tain is equip­ment such as mech­an­ic­al quoins and num­ber­ing boxes. A stock of good mech­an­ic­al quoins rep­res­ents a cap­it­al out­lay which can­not be ignored, and simple and robust as their con­struc­tion invari­ably is they still require a cer­tain amount of main­ten­ance if they are to give use­ful ser­vice for the max­im­um length of time. Each quoin will find its way into the pre-press sec­tion in the nor­mal course of events as formes are passed from the com­pos­ing room and passed on after check­ing on to the machines. A touch of oil or grease on the work­ing parts and a clean up of any dried ink, etc, on each quoin as a peri­od­ic ser­vice will take up little time at this stage and will pro­long the use­ful life of these items almost indef­in­itely.

Num­ber­ing boxes, if they are to give trouble-free work­ing, require to be kept clean and slightly oiled. This task again is one which can best be car­ried out with­in a sec­tion such as the one envis­aged. Formes should be made up in the com­pos­ing room with accur­ately cut blocks, the exact size of the num­ber­ing box, and the box itself is not put in the forme until this is sent to the pre-press sec­tion. As formes are returned from the machine the boxes are removed and the blank blocks replaced. The boxes are then cleaned and a spot of light oil intro­duced into the mech­an­ism before they are replaced in store. When stored the box is best kept in a small tin, lined with felt which is lightly oiled.

Machine rollers are anoth­er item which are best retained in this sec­tion when not in use on the machine. Stor­ing them cent­rally in this way will enable a check to be made on their con­di­tion and a peri­od­ic examin­ation and atten­tion which rollers in store require to be giv­en. Rollers being returned after recov­er­ing will be checked for accur­ate cent­ring of the stock and cor­rect dia­met­ers. This exam­in­a­tion can eas­ily be car­ried out using two blocks of the cor­rect size on the impos­ing sur­face or sim­il­ar flat sur­face. If a pair of blocks are made accur­ately for each size of roller car­ried there will be no need to use a pair of cal­ipers for meas­ur­ing the dia­met­ers.


To sum up, reor­gan­iz­a­tion on the lines men­tioned will res­ult in a cent­ral inspec­tion sta­tion where work can be checked, alter­a­tions or cor­rec­tions made, and a great deal of the pre­lim­in­ary work car­ried out before the job goes on machine. It will provide a cent­ral store for all machine accessor­ies and mater­i­als and a check and main­ten­ance unit for the many pre­ci­sion pieces of equip­ment which print­ing to-day demands.