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Boosting Pressroom Productivity -- Pocketing More Profits

April 2005
by chris bauer

Managing Editor

Productivity equals time and time equals money. Obviously, sheetfed and web offset printers want to get the most out of their expensive equipment. And, just as obvious, is the fact that printers want to be as profitable as possible. The opportunities to become more productive in the lithographic pressroom are numerous.

"The trend in pressrooms across the country is toward more and more automation, both in material handling at both ends of the press, as well as more closed-loop control processes on the press itself," notes Edmond Kelley, executive director for the National Council for Skill Standards in Graphic Communications. "The challenge this brings is in the training and education of the existing and future workforce."

Kelley sees material handling processes and systems as the technology having the most immediate impact on productivity, followed by register and color control systems and automated press setup options.

The training issue is echoed by Raymond Prince, senior technical consultant at Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (PIA/GATF). He feels that production-raising tools can only be utilized to their full potential if the press operators are fully educated on how to use them.

"Today, pressroom training is the key to boosting productivity," Prince stresses. "You can have the best equipment available but, without proper training, you would do better with (your) money in the bank."

In the recent past, pressroom productivity has been affected primarily by bigger and faster presses, reduced makereadies and better personnel procedures. But most printers have covered these areas by now, reports Dennis Mason, president of Mason Consulting.

"From here, the next significant improvements will most likely come from process standardization and management practices—the type of productivity improvements that come primarily from the corner office rather than on the pressroom floor," Mason advises.

Hardware and software technologies have become more automated to provide faster, better and cheaper performance. This is being accomplished through computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), advises Steve Suffoletto, senior training specialist, industry education programs, at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). However, important industrial engineering and quality improvement initiatives can do just as much to bring real productivity and profitability, he says.

"The two most common are Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma," Suffoletto points out. "This doesn't require purchasing expensive equipment—just working smarter, not harder."

Technology doesn't necessarily have to be "new" to be effective and to provide productivity opportunities. Suffoletto admits there is a learning curve that follows after implementing a new technology—it takes time and practice to learn how best to use it.

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