Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Big presses make many books

For those of you who don't know, I work in the Production department at Penguin. We are in charge of coordinating the manufacture of books (their physical selves). So most of my job is dealing with the printers, and balancing manufacturing costs and production schedules, in an effort to bring books into our warehouse on time and on budget.

I've just gotten back from my first trip to a printing plant. We went to an RR Donnelley plant in PA, where a large percentage of our hardcover and trade paperback jobs are done. RRD is a huge conglomeration, and does most of the domestic printing for all the major US publishers. They do the text printing and binding only; covers, jackets, and inserts are usually done by a different company which specializes in 4-color printing.

The presses are really impressive. So huge. If anyone's interested, Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation of offset lithography, which is the method of printing these days. Rolls of paper (they look like giant rolls of toilet paper) run through the presses at incredible speeds. It's amazing to me how fast the presses run, and still manage to turn out clearly printed pages. Everything is automated--robotic arms shifting things around, conveyor belts with components whizzing through the place. The plant we visited produces about 240,000 books per day. And they're actually one of the smaller RRD facilities.

So, very cool trip. They put us up in this really nice inn and wined and dined us a bit. And for added entertainment, we had some drama with a coworker taking a little too much advantage of the free booze. There's always one. :)

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