Reprints of comments included occasionally in the 20/20 regular FAX-OUT
Issue 2 Issue 3 Issue 4 Issue 5 Issue 6 Issue 7 Issue 8
No. 1 - 7/7/2002
During my many visits to mailing houses round the country it never ceases to amaze me at the number of enclosing machines that are under-performing. Although true of all types of encloser this is especially true of the so-called intelligent machines. Most of this expensive equipment with advanced electronics and operator ‘aids’ is being used as basic enclosing machinery, for various reasons rarely processing more than 2,500 envelopes per hour. How it makes economic sense to run machines in this way beats me.
However to general
principles, productivity in the production area depends on 3 main
serviceability of equipment
skill of operator/setters
of equipment. To
operate effectively and reliably a machine must be looked after, it should be
kept clean, lightly oiled, regularly
maintained and repaired when necessary. It does not make sense to pay a lot of
money for a machine, neglect it and then expect it to run properly. A machine
cannot be operated effectively with worn suckers, detection bulbs gone,
detection adjusting knobs with stripped threads, frayed drive belts, bent insert
hold-down ‘skis’, hold-down strips bent in all directions, rust around the
water drain etc.etc.etc. Would you neglect your car in this way ?
of operator setters. This is an
essential element of productivity, if a machine is not set up properly and
‘tweaked’ to get maximum sustainable throughput then money is effectively
being thrown away. Skills are not acquired from mid-air, they must be taught and
re-enforced by experience on the job. It is no good taking a youngster from the
warehouse or hand enclosing section and expect them to be able to operate
complicated, dangerous and expensive machinery. Some of them (especially those
with a mechanical bent) will eventually make it but most will not and will cost
you money. It is worth investing in your operators by training them and when
they prove themselves pay them appropriately - a good operator is worth his or
her weight in gold !
organisation. This is no less
important than the other two items. Especially when processing large jobs it is
essential that work is fed to the operator and removed after processing in as
efficient a way as possible. There is nothing worse than a machine surrounded by
higgledy-piggledy heaps of boxes of material, postal sacks and envelopes,
for hindering operating efficiency and lowering morale. On top of that it
is dangerous! If you are going to run a machine with 4 inserts consistently at
4,000 per hour you will need plenty of room and almost certainly two operators.
You could probably just about get by with one but throughput would suffer owing
to hoppers running out and envelopes stacking up on the conveyor.
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No. 2 - 20/10/2002 top of page
We all know of the current shakeout of companies in the mailing business with some well-known names disappearing. It is unfortunate for everybody involved but in the long run it should mean that those which are most efficient will survive and will emerge leaner and fitter.
feature common to most failures is over-investment in equipment during the
‘good times’. Companies investing in ‘state of the art’ equipment,
especially using finance, lay themselves open to cash-flow problems when the
inevitable downturn in business
arrives – there is a recent prime example of this which we all know about.
Generally the investment is aimed at trying to achieve
extra machine throughput, however the amount of money invested to try and
achieve an extra 1 or 2000 envelopes an hour can easily be offset by an increase
in the number of operators required to run it at high speed and by increased
downtime because the machine is so complex it is not simple or quick to repair
by in-house personnel. How long do you have to wait for an engineering call-out
or spares to arrive from the manufacturer/distributor?
Why is it I wonder that manufacturers (and some re-builders) of enclosing machines are installing more and more electronics in their products? The cynical among us would say that they would only do so if it were to their own advantage. What could these advantages be ?
The main one must be the enormous increase in price they can demand by convincing the customer that 'it can only be to his advantage' – it will increase the throughput - (not necessarily), the operators will have more control over the machine - (not true), it is easier to control the machine from a screen or LCD - (not true), it will be easier to diagnose faults - (not true), with more electronics there is less to go wrong - (not true).
The fact is that operators have less control over the machine, find it no easier to control from a screen, do not need electronics to diagnose faults and with them there is actually more to go wrong!
The other main reason is that it helps to lock users into the manufacturer's maintenance and repair services. It does this by including many (unnecessary) PLC functions on Printed Circuit Boards and then by the manufacturers either refusing to supply them to users or 3rd party maintainers or by making them prohibitively expensive to purchase. So what, you might say, until of course you realize what their maintenance service is costing you and also when you come to try and sell the machine and nobody will buy it because of on-going maintenance difficulties and costs. This is why whenever we buy-in a used machine we discount any electronic so-called improvements, offer a price based on the condition of the underlying machine and then strip out any fancy electronics, before rebuilding it.
The disadvantages for the user are the converse of the above - the machines are needlessly expensive, over complicated in construction, expensive to maintain and difficult to sell.
The lessons which we should all learn from this is that ‘profits’ generated by an expensive new machine may, when examined closely, be illusory and although sustainable in good times, finance costs may come back to haunt us in the bad.
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3 - 28/03/2003 top
those of us who went to Earls Court will have seen the latest offerings from the
major (and some minor) manufacturers of mailing equipment. The most puzzling
thing from my point of view is how on earth are they going to persuade an
industry in recession, with Mailing Houses going out of business every week, to
spend the sort of funny figures they are asking for ever more expensive
machinery. From a practical point of view I cannot see the sense in installing
ever more ‘complex’ electronic functions into what is basically the very
simple mechanical operation of putting paper into envelopes!
to say the maintenance charge for any machine which uses a PLC or does complex
things with electronics has got to be high because
once you have made your decision and bought one you are
stuck with it. This is because the manufacturer is the
only source of maintenance or repairs. Why is this you might ask ?
Well, there are three reasons, firstly, some companies flatly refuse to
supply workshop manuals and spares to third parties (e.g. Mailcrafters, PFE,
Steilow, Opex), secondly, when they will cooperate and supply direct they charge
exhorbitant prices for spares, exchange units etc., and thirdly,
when there is a local distributor their profit is added onto the
‘factory’ price or they refuse to supply third parties, “because you are
a competitor” (e.g. Mailcrafters).
puzzling thing is the number of Mailing Houses which purchase ‘office
mailers’ expecting them to handle ‘production machine’ workloads. The main
attraction seems to be online folding. The trouble is that these desk-top and
office-type mailing machines are just not built to take any volume throughput.
They are flimsily made, highly electronic and generally rely on friction feed
rollers which are prone to problems caused by laser toner and ink deposits,
‘curled’ laser paper, general wear and physical damage. In addition these
machines performance is markedly affected by the quality and consistency of
envelopes and inserts - if they are not exactly ‘on spec’ there are
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No. 4 - 02/09/2003 top of page
Well, as I return to the office after visiting the second Mailing House in a week in receivership I wonder why history keeps repeating itself. It is the same old story of firms overstretching themselves financially buying highly complicated, supposedly operator friendly, electronically stuffed machines to try and achieve the illusory gains of increased production without addressing the fundamental reasons why they are not getting the throughput they should on their existing ones. The ‘reasons’ for poor throughput boil down to un-motivated or unskilled operators, poorly maintained machines, and poor workflow organization – all of which can be remedied by management.
the course of a year I visit many operations where machinery is running at half
speed or less, the excuse being that if the speed is increased then more
‘crashes’ occur. This need not be the case if machine maintenance is kept up
to scratch and the operators are positively trained to make adjustments to avoid
for operators is essential to get the best from any machine. If a trained
operator can get an extra 500 items per hour out of a machine then over the
course of a year this would add up to a considerable saving in costs. We offer
training courses at £290 per day + travel.
can also be updated to make the operator’s task easier and to reduce the
amount of machine timing to go out of sync. Take the envelope flap openers on
Phillipsbergs and Mailcrafters where timing (mechanical and vacuum) has to be
perfect to run at better than half speed. If you were to install our envelope
flap opener (£98 or £247 - a 45 minute job) then you would do away with any
moving parts (and timing) and also the need for vacuum (and timing) in this
vulnerable part of the paper path. This enables even the most inexperienced
operator rapidly (1 minute max.) to adjust flap opening to achieve maximum
throughput. Additionally if you were to install our electronic detection (£42
per arm) the time spent adjusting for insert doubles and misses can be reduced
to 1 minute or less per arm. We recently installed both items on a Phillipsberg
which was running poorly at a maximum of 1,500/hr. When we had completed the 2
updates, the speed had been increased to 3,500/hr. (name and address can be
regards maintenance it is necessary for any machine to be regularly maintained
either by a good in-house maintainer or by a contract maintainer like ourselves.
You would not expect your car to run without regular servicing!
it is essential that work is fed to the operator and removed after processing in
as efficient a way as possible. There is nothing worse than a machine surrounded
by higgledy-piggledy heaps of boxes of material and envelopes for hindering
operating efficiency and lowering morale.
the above will give those concerned in mailing production food for thought as
they consider buying a glossy new machine with ‘loadsa noughts’ on it’s
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No. 5 - 27/02/2004 top of page
Direct Mail Industry there is a lot of pressure (mainly from the manufacturers)
to invest in ever ‘faster’, more electronic machines, but what does not seem
to be taken on board by those who do so is that while higher speeds are
desirable, to benefit from the heavy investment at all, these machines must be
run at nearly full speed. Sadly, this is not the case, most only being run at
half speed or less in some cases.
recently spoke to the Production Manager of a Mailing House who had invested £80,000
+ in a Buhrs BB300 and was very proud of achieving double the throughput that he
had been getting from his Phillipsbergs. Great you might say, but when I asked
at what speed he was running the BB300 – he proudly replied 3,000 per hour.
This is a company that has been running Phillipsbergs for years apparently at
1,500 per hour. As you and I know, if you are not getting at least 4,000 per
hour from your Phillipsberg there is something wrong somewhere ! By way of comparison, a customer of ours recently bought a
Phillipsberg from us and despite not having ever seen a mailing machine before,
had it running within a week, albeit with an easy job, at 7,000 per hour!
former situation is not an isolated one, very few Mailing Houses run their
machines at anything like the speed they should. In my opinion there are three
reasons for this :-
their machines are in a poor state of repair and cannot be run
their operators are poorly trained and
throughput is not measured by management
it that (with a few notable exceptions) machines are in such poor condition when
for a Mailing House it is these machines which bring in the revenue? Would you
not think that it would be in the managements’ interest to make sure that it
is getting the best out of them. For some reason Production Departments always
seem to be the ‘poor relations’ with vast sums of money being spent on items
such as computers. There seems to be a reluctance on the part of management to
spend even modest sums getting and keeping their mailing equipment ‘up to
scratch’. This ‘penny pinching’ attitude is illustrated when I get calls
enquiring about the cost of such basic things as sucker cups (32p each) and
getting orders for 10. These are such basic items affecting the way a machine
runs, it being essential to change them regularly, that to have to worry about
spending £3.20 shows a curious approach when in comparison it costs at least £5.00
per hour to employ anybody. Just ask yourself what effect do you think it must
have on the Production Departments’ morale and enthusiasm always to be last on
the investment list, having to operate clapped-out machines, desperately trying
to keep them going to meet deadlines?
We maintain, repair & overhaul mailing equipment *******
is it the case that operators seldom receive formal training when these are the
people whose skill at setting up machinery will ultimately decide whether a
Mailing House is successful or not? The setting up of a machine is a skill which
can be learnt ‘on the job’ providing the instructor knows what he is doing
and the pupil is allowed to experiment with the multitude of possible
adjustments, so later he can decide which one will be most suitable to cure a
particular problem. These two essentials seldom come together. Motivation can
only be addressed by management, but attention to the two areas above would go a
long way to help. It should also be borne in mind that in a lot of cases operators deliberately run their machines at low speed
so they do not have to ‘run about’ too much.
We run training courses *****
in my experience most Mailing Houses do not have a clue about the throughput of
their production department and when asked at what speed their machines are run,
are wildly optimistic. It is a relatively simple, but vital task to measure throughput !
We supply combined speed & total counters *****
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No. 6 - 06/05/2004 top of page
Just a couple of points in this months issue.
Back in this column in issues nos. 3 & 4 I mentioned the cons (there aren’t any pros unless you are a manufacturer of course !) of having a PLC embedded in the workings of a machine which doesn’t really need it. Well a case in point came up a while ago when we bought a LARA polywrapper from one customer and installed it in another. Owing to time pressures we were unable even to run this machine up before collection and delivery and sure enough when we did there was a problem with the PLC. - no great problem one might hope.
of this problem the PLC had also lost it’s program. On contacting Lara’s
manufacturer in France we were told
a) that the Telemechanique PLC was no longer available and b) even if it were,
they did not have a copy of the program. Also the program and wiring had been
completely changed when they
replaced the PLC model in later Laras. The only thing to do was to try and
locate one of the original PLCs possibly languishing in a distributors stock
cupboard, upload a copy of the program from a Lara still in use and then
download it into the replacement PLC.
managed, during the course of a number of days, to locate a PLC and a user with
the old program only to find that the device for up and downloading on this
model PLC was obsolete and not stocked any more. After hours of searching on the
web and by telephone a 2nd hand device was obtained – very
fortunate we thought - and we got the machine up and running.
alls well that ends well you might say, but we managed this only after we had
spent the best part of 6 man-days and well over £1,000 on this Lara! And this
case involved a machine only about 6 years old. This is an illustration of why
we do not like PLCs and do not use them in our machines and also why it is
almost impossible for users to sell Pitney Bowes 8300, Series 9 or later, the
later floor-standing PFE machines, BOWE Systecs, to certain extent PostStars,
any AIMS systems etc. and why Phillipsbergs are still in demand and making their
owners money even though the original ones were made in the late 50s.
other point I wish to make is that I am forever amazed at the way people who
would never dream of buying a car from a 2nd hand car dealer
operating from a used car lot down the road and doing business from a mobile,
are perfectly prepared to purchase a machine from a similar ‘type’
supposedly ‘at a good price’ when the performance of the machine will decide
whether the company is going to make any money with it.
in mind that a user rarely sells a machine which is in good condition – most
of them are in a poor state not having had the tender care and money spent on
them over the years that should have been. Obviously he sells to another user or
a dealer ‘as seen’ and without a warranty for a reason, just like the
dealers I have mentioned who saddle up and ride off into the sunset with the
unwary buyers money.
large proportion of our income comes from picking up the pieces after deals of
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No. 7 - 16/09/2005 top of page
but I am still banging on about the same subject – cost effectiveness on the
time to time I speak to customers who
think that the way to cut the cost per filled envelope is to invest huge sums on
state-of-the-art machines with lovely ‘go faster’ covers, when in reality
all they need to do, at a fraction of the cost, is to maintain their existing
machines properly and train their operators similarly.
many times I see mailing houses who really cannot afford it, paying out fortunes
on modern electronic PLC driven machines in a desperate attempt to improve the
throughput they are getting on their existing machinery. Production speeds of 7,
8 even 10,000 per hour are bandied
about for these machines and this seems like the answer to all their prayers.
However, what is not appreciated is that the ‘humble’ old standard Bell
& Howell Phillipsberg when running properly can easily clock up 6,000 per
hour and some are run consistently at 8,000 per hour. To achieve this ‘proper
running’ condition all you need to do is lubricate frequently, maintain
regularly, fix any mechanical problems as soon as they appear and avoid leaving
temporary ‘bodges’ to ‘fester’.
key to making money on machine enclosing is not to spend a fortune on new,
expensive machinery but to run existing machines more efficiently. All inserting
machines are doing is putting paper into envelopes, not sending envelopes
into space. Unless you are matching and/or selecting you do not need any PLC
driven functions – they do not speed the machine up or make it more reliable.
All they do is make it more complicated electrically and mechanically. OK, it is
obviously impressive to see a machine with touchscreen controls but the bottom
line has got to be does it work faster, more efficiently with less crashes.
main thing to remember is that any machine of this nature is only as good as
it’s operator. No matter how fast it’s cycling speed is, it is not going to
run quickly if it is not set up properly. This means you need an operator who is
interested in his job and therefore well-motivated, also he/she must be
mechanically minded, able to sort out situations where, for instance,
the envelopes or inserts are not running correctly. On-going training is
essential if you want the best from your operators, even good self-taught
operators do not know everything there is to know and would benefit from
all mailing houses should measure the output they are getting from their
machines – if this is not done then how will they know whether they are
getting value for money from their equipment ?
repairs, overhauls, maintains, updates mailing equipment and trains
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No. 8 - 01/06/2008 top of page
never ceases to amaze me, when visiting prospective customers around the
country, to see the number of enclosing (and other) machines which are
under-performing. Although true of all types of machine, this is especially true
of the later more electronic machines. Most of this very expensive equipment
with so-called advanced, (mainly electronic) operator ‘aids’ is being used
as basic enclosing machinery and for various reasons rarely processing more than
2,000 envelopes per hour (a third of the speed on which the salesman encouraged
the MD to make his profitability calculations). How it makes economic sense to
run machines in this way is difficult to understand.
aside the skills or otherwise of the operators/setters and general
organizational workflow failings, the main reason for poor equipment
productivity is down to Serviceability
operate effectively and reliably a machine must be looked after, it
should be kept clean, lightly oiled if applicable, regularly serviced and
repaired. It does not make sense to pay a lot of money for a machine, neglect it
and inevitably end up not getting a profitable return on the investment.
am amazed that a lot of machinery I see
actually works at all, it being the repository of empty coffee mugs, odd
discarded inserts, empty (and full) boxes, rubber bands (some so old they have
become brittle), tools, pencils and a couple of kilos of paper dust. Some
machines have bits missing or broken, have been poorly repaired, others have
safety switches taped up, safety covers broken or missing and bare wiring
exposed. Would you neglect your car in this way?
machines are left running, but not actually producing anything, for long periods
because operators can’t be bothered to switch them off. Others, especially
folding machines, are not only left running for long periods but when actually
in use are only run at one speed – flat out! This obviously causing increased
wear to mechanical and electrical components.
repairs, overhauls, maintains, updates mailing and paper handling
equipment and trains operators
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