Heriot Watt (from ECP)
Heri­ot Watt (from ECP)

Pre­ci­sion begins in the com­pos­ing room” was the stan­dard cry from the mak­ers of com­pos­ing room equip­ment. They claimed that with­out this foun­da­tion oth­er work on pre­ci­sion would be wast­ed. A speak­er at a BPMF con­fer­ence – Mr. Philip J Wright of Bris­tol – expressed a slight­ly dif­fer­ent view and I’ll sum­marise it here.

We do need to be pre­cise in the com­pos­ing room; but this will come to noth­ing if our let­ter­press machines are poor­ly-kept. It takes a lot of repeat­ed effort to get each forme accu­rate for print­ing; but less time to get a press real­ly accu­rate. Mr Wright sug­gest­ed start­ing with the press­es – and not the com­pos­ing room – to get imme­di­ate results. The test was to take an expert­ly pre­cise forme from anoth­er print­er and use your own machine: any ben­e­fits from this effort will be lost with a poor­ly main­tained machine, regard­less of the effort invest­ed in the forme.

So, get your machine ship-shape first.

Turn­ing then to the com­pos­ing room, we need to take a sys­tem­at­ic approach to pre­ci­sion – again to secure the great­est imme­di­ate ben­e­fit.

  • Height of Mate­ri­als
    While ‘type high’ means 0.918”, dif­fer­ent ele­ments of a forme will have slight­ly dif­fer­ent heights: type in cas­es; type cast in-house; blocks; mount­ings etc. The first step here is to be able to accu­rate­ly mea­sure the heights of these things and work out the tol­er­ances that you can work with. This might need a com­bi­na­tion of dif­fer­ent approach­es to mak­eready
  • Hor­i­zon­tal Rela­tion­ships between Mate­ri­als
    This is about get­ting every­thing in the right place across the forme. Jack Deller not­ed that wood­en reglet in a 3” square might change shape by any­thing up to 6pts under pres­sure. Lin­ing up tables or draw­ing boards can be used to assure accu­rate posi­tion­ing; but more sim­ple approach­es can give ben­e­fits: using met­al or formi­ca fur­ni­ture in places of wood, for exam­ple.

Over­all the approach needs to be defined by the type of work. For those using plates a great deal, bet­ter bases might be a quick and effec­tive improve­ment. For those doing mul­ti-colour work, lin­ing up would be crit­i­cal.

The over­all scheme, though, must be get imme­di­ate improve­ments of one sort or anoth­er and use mul­ti­ple, small steps to get bet­ter results.