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Jun 1, 2010 12:00 AM

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Manufacturing. That's a difficult concept for some print managers to grasp. As proud as we all are of our arts and crafts roots, times change and so must we.

Printers procure raw materials, expedite them through specific equipment and processes and then package and ship the end products. Effective manufacturing requires efficient, economical and cost effective managers.

Progressive print managers understand that manufacturing is a process. When it comes to problem solving, they don't let personal or personnel biases cloud their judgement.

Technology blinders

One of the primary ways industry management has addressed production problems is by purchasing new technology. When new or faster technology came along, large printers would buy it and grow, then the rest of the industry would try to keep up. This approach seemed to work for decades.

Due in part to increased global competition, throwing money at problems and hoping it sticks is no longer the only answer.

Too often, print managers assumed that new equipment and technology, being faster and more productive, solved a problem. Unfortunately few printers optimized their new technology. Many ran their new equipment at factory optimum speeds. There was practically no unscheduled downtime; setup/changeover time would always be equal to or less than what the manufacturers claimed it could be; and there would be a fraction of the waste and spoilage that occurred on the older equipment and technology.

How could this be? Printing management, especially in the commercial segment, generally track equipment and technology performance ineffectively. Printers either are not using the right metric formulas to differentiate between new and old technology capabilities, or they are not measuring at all. Simply put, the printing industry is not able to determine if it is getting the biggest bang for its buck from new technology.

Production blunders

Managers often look at everything from an art, craft and personal viewpoint. Historically, they've been taught that print production is made up of independent processes that should be optimized based on the highest cost equipment. Because of this archaic perspective, the same chronic problems have persisted for decades.

There are specific issues, constituting waste, that managers have difficulty understanding. These wastes happen daily and are referred to as the printer's “hidden factory.” To begin, there seems to be a lack of knowledge about what is really going on with equipment and processes: capabilities, performance, quality, and methods/techniques. Known as “ignorance of the current state,” printing management many times seems to assume that processes, equipment or components are operating within specifications, leading to sudden process failures and quality dilemmas. Due in part to current print industry training and thinking, these issues all seem to be accepted as the cost of doing business.

Overproduction is another fundamental waste issue. It is not unusual for printers to overproduce jobs. Raw material surplus and jobs spend long periods of time in work in progress (WIP) areas. The resulting dollar cost of raw materials and WIP inventory is enormous.

Keeping equipment and processes at an essential state of reliability and performance is another challenge. Some printing managers perceive equipment preventive maintenance as an annoying occurrence rather than an essential segment of production operations.

Next Page: Fire prevention

Fire prevention

It's a common refrain: “I don't have time to improve things — I have too many fires to put out.” But we must move away from being firefighters and become fire preventers. Many new managers fail to make the most of people's knowledge, creativity and teamwork abilities. I frequently hear, “Most of the problems in the plant are the people.”

One common pitfall: Dealing with people issues as a motivational vs. an ability challenge. Production and quality problems typically are far more process related than a reflection of personal shortcomings.

Rather than blame an individual, take a neutral approach. Consider both the process and the capability. You might find the problem stems from:

  • Insufficient knowledge and skill to do the job or task.
  • Poor or inaccurate information, resulting in misunderstood job instructions.
  • Poor machine/equipment conditions or materials outside of the manufacturer's specifications prevented the job from being completed.
  • Poor cooperation and communication between processes and departments.

Print managers must think globally. For decades, other industries have been proactively optimizing their manufacturing processes with key continuous improvement tools, total quality management (TQM) statistical process control, ISO 9000, lean manufacturing and six sigma methods. Owing to current industry thinking and education, printing management has avoided using these tools and fallen far behind.

There is hope. Let's look at fundamental fire prevention management skill methods that are often overlooked. Printing management must learn to employ these methods today to optimize their administration, prepress, printing, and postpress operations.

QUALITY AT THE SOURCE: Everyone, regardless of title, position or duty, becomes responsible for output quality. This is management's job, and it will encompass a significant portion of management's day.

Management must see to it that everything needed to operate and run a process is:

  • Correct | All specified job information, materials and components are right.
  • Functioning properly | All specified job information, materials and components work effectively.
  • Easily accessible | All specified job information, materials and components are handy.

Quality at the source is a way of thinking, and process excellence becomes the guiding principle for every process. The quality-at-the-source formula is based on X inputs and Y outputs. X inputs are everything needed for a process to produce output (people, equipment, tooling, materials, information, methods and environment); Y outputs are what internal and external customers really want from the process (quality product, on-time delivery, correct amount and competitive prices).

The fundamental “Management 101” equation is: A process's Y outputs are dependent on the function of the process's X inputs.

Y = f × X

Any time there are issues causing processes difficulties or processes to stop, quality at the source has failed.

Continue to Next Page

ERROR PROOFING: the development and implementation of methods and techniques that put limits on how a task or process can be performed, to force the correct and consistent completion of the operation. Error proofing methods become a significant part of standard operating procedures known as standard work. Error proofing tools and methods include:

  • Instruments and gauges.
  • Limit switches and scales.
  • Standards and specifications.
  • Procedures and checklists.
  • Aim points and tolerances.

STANDARD WORK (STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES): the documented description of agreed upon methods of how operations are to be carried out within specified time frames. Standard work procedures and instructions are documented to be clearly understood by the people who follow them. One way to help accomplish thorough understanding is to have the people who work in the processes and equipment contribute to the development and writing of the procedures and work instructions.

Standard work instructions and documentation:

  • Are developed by teams.
  • Must be understood by everyone.
  • Implement best known practices for the process.
  • Make continuous improvement possible.

Standard work, when effectively applied:

  • Improves safety.
  • Enhances training.
  • Avoids errors.
  • Streamlines processes.
  • Decreases variation.
  • Reduces costs.
  • Accelerates throughput.

To ensure continuous effectiveness, management and operator teams must audit standard work periodically. People must be able to explain and demonstrate how the standard work methods are done.

VISUAL SYSTEMS: Also referred to as visual management systems, these are clearly displayed visual communications of all needed standard work information, procedures, work instructions, performance expectations and quality assurance activities to production tracking and RR shipments. Process applications for visual systems include planning, prepress, printing, postpress, warehousing and shipping.


  • Posted at the processes, user-friendly planning, setup, quality assurance, maintenance, procedures and work instructions.
  • Color-coded tools, machines and job tickets.
  • Painted aisles and floor marking for point-of-use-staging locations.
  • Lines on the floor to delineate raw material, WIP storage locations and process work areas.

OVERALL EQUIPMENT EFFECTIVENESS (OEE): OEE is a powerful tool for measuring efficiency and effectiveness of equipment and processes, including measuring machine performance.

When equipment is scheduled to operate, OEE takes four key metrics and places them into a formula to provide a performance ratio:

  • Downtime.
  • Setup/changeover time.
  • Production per hour.
  • Quality rate (total product run minus spoilage).

Streamlined OEE formula for equipment and processes:

OEE = good product (total minus spoilage)
Total hours scheduled (downtime + setup + run) multiplied by the factory optimum speed

Example OEE:

710,000 sheets
120 hours × 15,000 iph (factory optimum speed) = 1,800,000

Result = 39.5% overall equipment effectiveness

To improve process or equipment performance, management targets the various OEE metrics (downtime, setup time, cycle time, production per hour, spoilage rate). Improving one or more of these will result in producing more sellable product and raising OEE ratio.

Next Page: When too much is more than enough

PROCESS CONTROL: the periodic monitoring of process specifications and production quality in administration, prepress, printing, and postpress areas must be carried out using manufacturer and industry-accepted specifications and techniques.

Frequency for process control monitoring must be based on accepted industry quality practices and the customer's specified requirements.

MANAGER AND OPERATOR TRAINING: Training and education enables people to achieve knowledge and skill through a formal program of instruction. The components of effective training are:

  • Knowledge acquisition | Lectures from experts, and reading books and reports helps provide knowledge of how and why things work the way they do.
  • Skills attainment | Performing hands-on exercises and demonstrating what they have learned verifies training effectiveness.
  • Standard work | Implementing standard operating procedures and work instructions for process operations, setup, maintenance and quality assurance reinforces knowledge and skills.

Quick tip training seminars and articles, which focus mainly on typical problems, will not improve the system or eliminate frequent fire fighting. Fundamental management methods and skill sets require print industry education.

Unless printing management learns and applies them, management skills will remain stagnant and this industry will continue to lag behind others in both production effectiveness and efficiency.

Kenneth Rizzo is director of technical and lean services, Center for Technology and Research, Printing Industries of America ( Contact him at

When too much is more than enough

Typical results of the overproduction mindset include:

  • Extra inventory planned to protect from inefficiency and problems in production.
  • Pulling jobs off a machine in the middle of a production run to make room for another job.
  • Jobs accumulating at a resource (bottlenecks).
  • Warehouses filled with finished goods inventory faster than they can be processed.
  • Production overtime that customers don't pay for.
  • Floor space clogged with skids of WIP.
  • Process bottlenecks caused by efficiency in insolation, created by reward systems and focusing only on the highest cost centers.

Sound familar?

Typical production problems include:

  • Processes waiting for other processes.
  • Time spent retrieving information, tooling and materials.
  • Frequent valet of raw materials and work in process (WIP) around the plant.
  • Numerous adjustments to equipment during setup and operations.
  • Extra processing due to poor job planning, mistakes and inadequate equipment condition.