Bridge Publications Case Study

Bridge Publications, Inc. Digital Book and CD Production Plant

As a basic orientation, the Manufacturing facility at Bridge Publications is dedicated to producing L. Ron Hubbard’s printed and spoken works.  The main product lines are conventional hardcover books, softcover books with “French flaps” and recorded lecture’s delivered by Mr. Hubbard.  The last one, recorded lectures, is housed within custom packaging was designed from scratch.

When the facility first started the concept had been for it to produce all small foreign language versions and continue to do the large print runs externally at offset printing facilities.  However as they got the internal line up and running they found that they could produce a better product, significantly cheaper and a lot faster.  For example Bridge Publications were turning around 20,000 hardcover books in approximately 3 days from start to finish (with page counts up into 800 pages). A comparative offset schedule was closer to 3 weeks depending on the facility and its capabilities.

Bridge Publications decided to move all book volumes in house we immediately experienced difficulties with labor intensive steps of the process. This was mainly applicable to hardcover books in the beginning, as that was the first major production runs they started internally.

Some examples are:

1. THUMBNOTCHING
This was being done as a two step process – the first was the notching itself, which was being done on 1940s vintage equipment.  They used to place the index labels by hand.  This was taking up to 30 people for 3-4 hours to do daily.  In the end, they designed a simple machine that notched and placed the label in the same motion.  This machine was easy to design and execute and it only took 3 months to develop and deploy. This reduced the workload down to 4 people notching and labeling compared to the 30 people.

2. INSERTING BUSINESS REPLY CARDS
Inserting the cards into the books was done manually. Most books had 3-4 cards inserted into them. This was all done by hand and was a relatively slow process.  They worked out a simple handling with the company Streamfeeder whereby Bridge Publications purchased four small friction feeders and devised a very simple opening mechanism. This then eliminated the card insertion as a step on the line.

3. RIBBON INSERTION
The process was done by hand and was very slow.  One person inserting ribbons by hand was capable of doing 60 per hour as an average.  Multiple ribbons then slowed that down significantly. So for a run of 20,000 books you could spend up to 333 man hours to insert ribbons.  The problems was solved by implementing a ribbon inserting machine from Muller Martini. They worked with them to get the machine to insert 3 ribbons at the same time.  This runs in-line with their hardcover casing in machine and eliminated this production step.

4. RECORDED LECTURES
On the production of the recorded lectures, this had been previously done at Golden Era Production (another division of the Church) until the rate of sales surpassed their production capacity.  Bridge Publications was asked to incorporate the lecture production into the existing Bridge book production facility.  They took the information on the current method of manufacturing and located where to automate the process due to excessive manual labor.

The goal was to go from the existing manufacturing capacity of 3,500 lecture binders per day to 17,500 and reduce man power.  The existing facility at Golden Era Productions had approximately 65 people.

The major reductions were in the following areas:

1. CUTTING
They eliminated the majority of all manual (guillotine) cutting as it was a small process by systematically walking through the process and solving each step.  For example, all text used to be printed on Xerox Docutech 6115s in a four-up imposition. This was then cut down manually into four sections.  The Bridge book facility already had Xerox 1050 continuous feed printers with in-line cutter/stackers. So they transitioned printing to these devices and eliminated the cutting step entirely. Similar solutions were thought of throughout the process.

2. COIL BINDING
Used to be done on a Spiel Coil Master, which is a semi-automated machine, requiring that the text and covers be pre-punched (done off-line).  The components are hand assembled and then placed into the machine by the operator.  The process used to look like this:

  • Print 4-up
  • Cut down to size
  • Corner round (text and covers)
  • Hole punch (text and covers)
  • Collate text and covers
  • Coil bind and crimp

The new process uses a Bielomatik coil binding machine configured for our product and the steps are as follows:

  • Print on continuous feed press, which automatically cuts in-line
  • Collating, Corner Rounding, Hole punching and coil insertion and crimping are all done in-line on the Bielomatik.
  • In terms of man power, reduced process from 25-30 people down to 4 people.

3. LABEL MANUFACTURING AND APPLICATION
The custom lecture packaging has 3-4 labels produced for it – front label for the large binder, back label for the large binder and one or two smaller labels for the case that holds the CDs.  These labels used to be produced on Xerox 6060 sheetfed presses and then put through foil stamping, lamination, UV coating, embossing and kiss cutting as separate production steps.  Placing the labels on the injection molded binders was a manual process.  A team of two people who were very good at placing the labels (and who used a custom designed jig) could label 75 binders per hour.

Bridge Publications looked into methods to make this way more efficient and ended up changing the process from a sheetfed based process to a roll based process. This enabled consolidation for the overall production flow and automate the label application (the most labor intensive part). The basic comparison is as follows:

Existing manufacturing process:

  • Print
  • Foil stamp
  • Laminate
  • UV coat
  • Emboss
  • Kiss Cut
  • Hand apply

The new process we worked out and successfully implemented is:

  • Print
  • Foil, Laminate, UV Coat, Emboss & Kiss Cut (one step/one machine)
  • Automatically apply

This automation decreased the process from 7 steps (also make readies) to 3.  In terms of man power it saves approximately 52 people labeling binders.

Additionally, their process time decreased significantly. To produce 35,000 labels (17,500 front and 17,500 back labels) would have taken approximately 36 hours. It now takes 8-10 hours.  This reduced production time more than a day.

3. CD INSERTION
Each lecture package typically has anywhere between 18-32 CDs in it.  These CDs are housed in custom sleeves designed as part of the packaging.  Each CD used to be inserted by hand as no machine existed that could handle this format.  With an average of 3,500 binders selling weekly it meant an average of 87,500 CDs being inserted by hand every week.  With the volume increasing the labor increased.

They ended up working with a company to custom build a machine that inserts the CDs automatically at a speed of 12,000 CDs per hour.  This machine takes two people to run.  For 17,500 binders and using an average of 25 CDs per binder it would be 437,500 CDs to insert.  The automation saves 25 people having to hand insert CDs.

4. FINAL ASSEMBLY & PACKAGING
They eliminated hand assembly by automating the final assembly and packaging steps.  This reduced approximately 30 people in the final assembly step.

Summary

In total, they reduced man power required by 159 people through automating the most labor intensive parts of the process.  In terms of ROI, the entire facility (inclusive of the automation) paid itself back within a year of implementation.

This was achieved through many factors, a main one being that Bridge Publications had better control over run quantities and could print less and store less. This was very applicable to their foreign language versions (some publications are translated into 50 languages). However to bring the workload in house, they had to automate the process as otherwise the personnel requirements alone would have prevented them from implementing an internal production facility.

Dissemination & Distribution Center Offset Production Facility

They modeled the offset facility off our experience with implementing the Bridge manufacturing facility. This was a new function for them, so we didn’t have comparative information of previous personnel/time requirements.

They planned the facility with the idea of leveraging as much digital information as possible. In other words, they wanted to utilize JDF/JMF presets and data transfer.

Bridge Publications also specified a lot of automation in the actual equipment configuration itself, such as:

  • SHEETFED PRESS, we chose Heidelberg’s XL 105 as the most automated press in the market. They included in-line spectrophotometer for color control and readings, automatic plate changes and software to preset ink keys, paper width and thickness and about 11 other preset options.
  • WEB PRESS, auto-transfer units for on the fly black plate changes, auto-plate, and closed loop color control and register. They also specified software for automatic ink key settings, paper width, etc.
  • SADDLE STITCHER & PERFECT BINDER, they chose Muller Martini equipment for their AMYRS capabilities. Using JDF, they can preset a number of aspects of a job automatically.

The other main advantage they have seen utilizing automation and JDF/JMF technology is the learning curve for new operators. The more automated the device is, the less time it has taken to get the people up to speed on the machine. On all of their equipment we took people who had never operated that type of machine before and trained them from scratch.

Published on Monday, April 18, 2011 (updated 05/30/2014)