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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Quality control for CTP

May 1, 2001 12:00 AM


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Is it possible to go from a five percent plate remake rate before CTP to "barely one percent" after? Maureen Kouwe at Fetter Printing (Louisville, KY), says it is. In fact, "our remake rate went down from the first day we started doing CTP," she says. Fetter’s 15-person prepress department currently produces about 3,000 plates a month.

The prepress manager attributes the printer’s CTP success to familiarity with the CTP workflow. "We made sure the employees processing the work were thoroughly trained," she notes. Fetter also has its most knowledgeable prepress operators doing the preflight on jobs. Before the company switched to that procedure, "we weren’t preflighting deeply enough, and at 2 a.m. on the third shift on press, production would come to a halt because of a mistake that wasn’t caught," Kouwe recalls. "Now, we put more time in the upfront process."

Dynagraf, Inc. (Canton, MA), also recognizing the need for more quality control at the beginning of the production process, dedicated a preflight operator to each shift, according to Dave Nichols, director of prepress services and technology.

At the recent VUE/POINT 2001 conference in Arlington, VA, Kouwe, Nichols and others shared their experiences with quality control in a CTP environment.

While all the panelists attested to having low plate remake rates even with a CTP workflow, they acknowledged it’s not easy. "Our 13-step check process in our conventional workflow went down to three steps with CTP," notes Tony Parker, director of digital technologies at Smyth Companies (Bedford, VA).

"When we first went to CTP, we had huge spikes in our plate remake rates," admits Nichols.

OPERATOR OWNERSHIP

Tony Ricketts, prepress technical director at The Nielsen Co. (Florence, KY), talks about "the principle of 10s" when discussing CTP: "If you find an error in preflight, it might cost $10. If you find one at RIP stage, it could cost $100. If it’s in the proof stage, it costs you $1,000. The later in the process before you catch a mistake, the more expensive it is," he explains.

The Nielsen Co. therefore tracks critical areas in every process and has instituted multiple checkpoints into its workflow. According to Ricketts, checks occur at preflight, on the monitor, with two flat imposition proofs (one for the pressroom and one for the bindery) and once the plate is developed. (The plate check is done against a checklist.) The printer images about 5,600 plates a month, in nine different sizes, with 34 prepress employees. Its plate remake rate with CTP is currently three percent, though Ricketts says he would like to see that rate fall below two percent.

"One of the keys to CTP is operator accountability," asserts Nichols. Dynagraf has documented procedures, available in a hard-copy manual and on the company’s internal website, and checklists to ensure errors don’t occur in the CTP workflow. "It’s amazing what happens when an employee has to sign their name to a piece" they’ve checked, he says.

The Smyth Companies approached the notion of operator ownership slightly differently. Prior to going CTP, the printer closed its 48-employee prepress department and rehired only those willing to transition to CTP with the company. According to Parker, "these employees then wrote the procedures and took ownership of the process."

DIALOG WITH CUSTOMERS, EMPLOYEES

Customer education, not surprisingly, helps many of these printers maintain quality control in their CTP environment. The Sheridan Group, a group of publication printers, has a digital service team that acts as a technical contact for the customer, according to Mark Witkowski, digital workflow specialist (Hunt Valley, MD). "We can be more proactive this way and open up a dialog with customers," he explains. The Smyth Companies are following a similar path, creating a hybrid prepress technician/customer service rep/sales rep position to deal with CTP issues, according to Parker.

But what happens when mistakes do creep past unnoticed? Dynagraf’s "Root Cause" quality control program documents why mistakes happen, and within two days, staff respond with a solution to prevent it from happening again. It also conducts employee counseling, if necessary, says Nichols.

Perhaps because of this, Dynagraf’s three percent to four percent plate remake rate before CTP has dipped to below 1.5 percent. Not bad for a company that produces about 3,000 plates a month, at five different sizes and on seven types of plates.