Passion for Excellence
Keough Update #10: LABYRINTH SUBLIME
Coating almost Complete — March 7, 2011
I have returned to Altona where the morning temperature is -27°C. Even the hearty Manitobans say enough is enough! This is March after all, and spring should be around the corner. Since I started working with the pressmen early Thursday, each day has been bright, crisp, and sunny... so different than the soft mists and grey skies associated with winter along The Inside Passage where Pat and I have our home. As I stick my head out the Emergency Door near the Heidelberg press where the aqueous coating of LABYRINTH SUBLIME is being applied, I leave the chug-a-chug sounds of the presses and the smell of fresh inks and coatings to relish a few moments of brisk, fresh air and to enjoy the sunshine or evening stars and moonlight. As of 2:15 am Sunday morning when I left the plant, I had completed a marathon 65 hours with just 10 hours of sleep total. Having accepted the fate of but another 12-hour shift and then yet another followed by yet several more — until we literally ran out of sheets ready for coating — I found it was not too hard to rise to the occasion and keep focus with humour. Each of the several pressmen I worked with through six consecutive shifts were all so polite, attentive and energized. The politeness was definitely outstanding, because we did incur numerous production issues some of which would have tried the patience of a saint. In fact, one of the senior journeymen pressmen with whom I worked two day-shifts, will forever be known to me as ‘Saintly Bill.’
In January through February, LABYRINTH SUBLIME was printed on 43 sheets with four unique pages per side, two sides. All sides of all sheets require a sealant for reasons we’ve shared in an earlier missive. I’m pleased to report that since Thursday the gloss aqueous coating process is now 3/4 complete. As of the Sabbath, observed by Friesens, there are just 21 back-sides yet to go, plus both sides of the endleaves. I’m awaiting Production Management’s decision as to when LABYRINTH SUBLIME can be scheduled to continue. I hope to hear that I’ll be back press with the balance of the coating by Wednesday.
My role is to inspect the coating applied to the sheets. During runs, the head pressman pulls two consecutive sheets which I scan quickly for problems, followed by a very close inspection. As soon as I’m done, I’m given the next two sheets, throughout the run. At first I’m not focussing on colour, rather the evenness of the gloss coating. Thus I study the glare on the sheets, from top to bottom, and side to side. I’m stretching and bending so that the glare hits different parts of the sheet on the viewing table. Then I hold the sheet upside down or sideways so as to view it again with different light. I’m looking for blisters, scuffs, ledges, skips, anything that interrupts the smooth, almost pearlescent coating applied to the sheet. If a problem is spotted, we stop the press. The experience for me is rather like running a race, you go hard with full concentration right to the finish. Between runs, I inspect sheets and point out problems in the test pulls until the pressmen eliminate all blemishes. While my primary attention is the coating, I also check that both sides of the sheet are smooth, and that colour of the images is consist throughout the press-run. I check for ghosting of an image atop another and any inconsistencies that might be created on the back side while we are coating the front. Then there is drama which I’d rather not experience ever again as when a coating blanket is SMASHED in mid-run by a scrap of extraneous paper pulled up from where it was lurking under the press or between spoils to be compressed momentarily between the expensive release blanket (that applies the aqueous to the sheet) and the metal back cylinder. Instantly this scrap embosses, scrapes, or pits the blanket surface. Even a little smash renders the blanket incapable of giving a smooth coating, and thus must be replaced. We have had more than our share of smashes, three in fact, when normally a blanket lasts for several months.
In the photo below Steve is moving sheets that have been finished coated on one side. His helper Toby is cleaning the coating unit. The huge machine you see here in its entirety is the Heidelberg Speedmaster 740. Sheets are fed into the press at the far end of this photo, run through 5 units to remove all printer’s powder lying between sheets (applied during printing so sheets with wet ink don’t stick together); the 6th unit adds compression which completely smooths the rough finish to our photos formerly evident on one side of each sheet (we’re all delighted with this simple and effective solution), and where Toby sits, aqueous is applied, followed by the heaters/driers and then the sheets exit the press to be stacked neatly on a pallet.
Every time the press is stopped, problems are introduced. This is inherent in working with aqueous which air dries and hardens on the press within five minutes. In the photo that follows, Matt wipes the aqueous release blanket using water and sponge or rag. Any residual aqueous could result in a blister or bump in the coating on all sheets subsequently run through the press. Any excess water left on the blanket could result in a ledge or splatters Thoroughness rather than speed in cleaning is necessary.
There was much time spent wiping and scraping blankets and cylinders during our job.
Below Matt inspects the silver back cylinder which has twice the circumference of the blanket cylinder. Our sheets pass between the rubber blanket (pink in this photo) which applies the coating and the back cylinder. The two, together with viscosity of the aqueous, regulate the thickness of the coating. If the smallest bit of printer’s powder or hardened aqueous is anywhere on either blanket of cylinder, the coating on the sheets will be blemished. If the problem is on every sheet, the source is on the blanket; if it is on every other sheet, the source is on the back cylinder. This is why we always inspect two consecutive sheets.
Understandably, during the wee hours of Sunday morning, over 60 hours into this job, there were times while the pressmen were occupied with cleaning cylinders (5 to 15-minute stretches) when I would slip into a meditative state. My mind became immersed in one of our photographs on the viewing table taking me far away. I’d snap back to full alertness as soon as my pressman returned. Then we worked full out, side-by-side evaluating sheets as they came off the press. We have become quite a team.
Ever wonder how the sheets are flipped so that the back sides can run through the press? Here’s a wonderful machine that turns a palletized stack of paper upside down. Toby wheels a stack of sheets from LABYRINTH SUBLIME into position for turning.
The machine is a hydraulic clamp that can roll a pallet of paper 180° with the press of button. Nifty!!!!!
I’m still waiting to hear from the scheduler as to when we continue. Today is passing along quickly as I write to you. I think I’ll soon head out for a refreshing walk. One thing is certain, I’m not working any night shifts for a while... I need my sleep.
Best to you all,