The Full Moon

December 7, 2006

Gravity is always bringing me down.

The full moon has an effect on tides, people and machinery! It’s really hard to explain, but things sometimes go badly awry around the printshop as the moon becomes full.

We had two critical projects going into last week. The first was a challenging, but not unusual trifold brochure for one of our best customers. Heavy ink coverage, process color with some color critical builds on a cover stock; it should have turned in two days. The second was a run of 7500 booklets, color cover plus 16 text pages. This one should have taken 3 days in press, plus a couple of days in bindery and another one to mail. That’s what should have been.

But that was before the change in the force of gravity. The full moon doesn’t negate all of Newton’s formulas, it only offsets them a wee, wee bit. Enough to make Rickie, the pressman, decide that he’d work on Thursday morning despite a 102 degree fever. Enough to kill a Xerox color machine. Enough to combine with high humidity and turn our smoothly performing Hamada 452 press into a paper shredder. And just enough to make AlphaGraphics look really bad to a couple of good customers.

I’ve written before about machinery problems. Before I became a printer, I thought that this was just Item #1 in the standard list of printers’ excuses. It’s not. Printing machinery is precisely tuned. When it gets out of tune, the printing becomes . . . imprecise. We don’t do imprecise. Add into that equation a human being with a fever who wants to battle the machinery into submission and the result can be disastrous. What started last Tuesday as a small scratch, stripe, and redo on Project #1 above, ended up with ink problems on Project #2, two days down time and a visit from Bob the Press Magician.

It’s expensive to call in Bob the Press Magician, but it’s even more expensive not to call him in. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to write about Bob. He’s one of the more amazing characters I’ve ever encountered. Bob’s over 50 now, but has retained the energy of a 3 year old on a chocolate high. I am entirely convinced that there is nothing that Bob cannot fix. His sense of machinery is uncanny. He helped me fix a press once by listening to it over the telephone. He’s that good.

Bob came in with his brother Steve. Steve’s just moved in from the West Coast to join his brother’s service company. The two are not really alike in appearance or personality. Bob talks incessantly. Steve eats incessantly. The common heritage seems entirely accidental; they could easily be brothers born of different mothers and fathers. I think Steve’s going to be a real asset, though. If Bob the Press Magician understands the mind of the machine, brother Steve relates to the zen of the monster.

We’ve enjoyed a long run without a major breakdown. This one made up for it. Two days ruined printing plus two days down. It took the Magician and the Zen Master 12 hours to track down all of the problems and fix them. We were back up and running this morning, but basically 4 days behind.

We’ve been in communication with the customers. Customer #1 (the color piece) is OK. She would have liked the trifold last week, but they’re still on schedule. Projects for Customer #2 are always on a tight timetable. The due date is usually the day before we get the order. We had set a tentative timetable with them last week when the problems looked minor (and recoverable). Then we discovered a problem on one of the sheets that had already been printed. We talked again on Friday, when we thought we’d be up and running on Monday. The project finally came off press today. It should have gone into the mail today. We talked again this morning. They’re not happy with us.

I wish I really could blame it all on the full moon. Maybe we could just take a couple of days off each month or something. Unfortunately, printing problems are far more unpredictable than the phases of the moon. We try our best. We do our best. We pray a lot. Maybe we’ll take a cue from the Zen Master and talk to the machines.

“Shall we print something now, grasshopper?”