The bulk of the hands-on production work in the printing industry is done by press operators. The job is a manufacturing position that requires skills related to quality control, monitoring machine operation and complex problem solving. Press operators set up and run machines that produce a variety of printed products, including lithographic, digital, letterpress, flexographic and offset printing presses.
Training for the Job
In many plants, the press operator receives on-the-job training from an experienced press operator. You can improve your chances of landing a position, however, with training at a community college that offers a certificate program for press operators. Organizations such as the Gravure Association of the Americas also offer certification programs for press operators that provide credentials employers seek. The short training programs can give you an edge over other job candidates for positions that, in 2013, paid a median hourly wage of $16.89, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Preparation for the Run
The press operator is required to inspect the tools, ink, and machines to make sure they are operating efficiently and loaded with the correct ink and paper. A number of variables are specific to each job and must be checked before the presses start, including everything from colors and stock specifications to length of run and special instructions. The press operator inspects the details to ensure the success of each job.
Regular Checks during the Run
Once all the variables are checked and set, the press operator then turns on the presses. While the machinery may be primarily computer-operated, the press operator still plays a vital role during the process. Samples must be chosen at random throughout the press run to ensure accuracy. The press operator may need to halt operations and make corrections and adjustments, relying on experience and critical-thinking skills to make those decisions, which could range from adjusting the flow of ink to tweaking feeder controls.
Maintenance and Other Tasks
Press operations don’t usually rely on different employees to operate and maintain the presses. They should take the initiative to clean the machinery after each run to ensure the next job is clean and efficient. Part of the expected duties of a press operator include cleaning and oiling the presses, making minor repairs, maintaining dye levels, making quick changes and cleaning the plates, ink fountains and unit cylinders after each run. Press operators may be required to keep the work area clean and free of excess debris, as well as maintain safety procedures and follow company rules and guidelines.