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Going lean in any pressroom

Sep 1, 2008 12:00 AM

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We hear the hype of “Lean Manufacturing” and read about it in many articles across all manufacturing sectors. After reading most of the concepts, I realized that my father must have read all the books 50 years ago. He believed in 5S strongly and hammered it in to me. He ran a very clean shop and used, in his own way, the following lean tools:

  • 5S — sort, straighten, shine, standardize, and sustain — and he even added safety.
  • Visual management and controls.
  • Value stream mapping.
  • Voice of the customer.
  • Physical layout flow.
  • Standard work.
  • Mistake proofing.

What is old is new, but just under a different name. We used to call it “Continuous Improvement,” but now we call it “Lean.” When times are relatively easy from a financial point of view, as an industry we tend to run a bit heavy on employees. Likewise, we do not concentrate on our manufacturing processes and this does end up driving our costs higher. I speak often about keeping a plant clean and — let's face it — beginning with a clean plant is the first step. That is what 5S demands. So many plants want to skip that step, and it leads all lean concepts to failure. I have been in the cleanest plant in this country and in the filthiest. You can guess which plant had the highest waste, the highest costs and the worst productivity.

If you embark on a lean journey in a pressroom — sheetfed, web or digital — realize your daily job is going to change. You will spend less time on firefighting, emergency troubleshooting, 2:00 a.m. phone calls, etc. Is it going to change the way you do things? You bet. Your time will be spent in continuous improvement and managing your people. Lean starts with clean and that is where most efforts fail. Look at your own office first and then at the pressroom.

The process will drive out costs as well as improve productivity. Keep in mind that when you improve productivity, usually quality rises. It is important to involve your suppliers and hardware manufacturers as well as software manufacturers.

Happy journey.

Raymond J. Prince is a leading expert in pressroom technical and operational issues. He is vice president and senior consultant, operations management, NAPL (Paramus, NJ). Contact him at (605) 941-1492 or e-mail