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Dickeson--"Ground Truths," Sound Advice

August 1998
During the 46th Annual PIA Web Offset Conference in Toronto, William L. Davis, chairman and CEO of R.R. Donnelley & Sons, gave a speech titled "Ground Truths." But I prefer to call the speech the "Davis Manifesto."

I term the speech a manifesto because within it Davis speaks plain truths about our industry and describes intentions for his company. I've reread it several times. Each time, I find it as refreshing as a cool glass of lemonade on a hot Texas afternoon. I do hope it will be reprinted in full somewhere for all to read—including the United States Department of Commerce.

Davis came to Donnelley a year ago, he notes, from another industry entirely. We must listen and take serious note. Davis speaks from a "bully pulpit," as leader of the largest printing company in the United States—one of the largest in the world.

He views printing with fresh eyes. Those eyes see things we've all known but haven't yet fully accepted. He bespeaks a vision for our industry, a vision that he resolves to translate to reality.

In summation, Davis finds us a decade behind best manufacturing practices. He points to the teachings of Toyota's Taiichi Ohno of years ago that printers have not yet grasped.

No Longer a Craft
There are far too many printers according to the Davis Manifesto. The evolution of rapidly changing electronic media is but dimly perceived. Printing is no longer a craft, it's a business—a manufacturing business of conversion of paper and ink to communication instruments. In that business there is a need for far more standardization.

Products must become more flexible to meet changing customer demands and needs. Printers must develop partnering relationships with customers and suppliers.

Changeovers that we call make-readies must be shortened by orders of magnitude. Inventory turnovers must be drastically reduced.

It never ceases to shock me, for example, that printers store paper supplied by publishers. By and large, publishers appear to have scant regard for low turnover—a costly application of scarce capital resource. They pile up stocks of paper worth millions of dollars in printers' warehouses.

Printers accept the occupation of scarce and precious warehouse space for this stockpiling—mostly without charge to the publisher—to retain the printing contract. Printers thereby encourage the practice.

Paper manufacturers sell publishers on nightmares of historic scarcities. They disregard the demand imbalances thereby created for themselves. This is all sheer foolishness. It must stop now, Mr. Davis, or electronic screens, without wasteful stockpiles, will eat our lunch!

How shall we shift this industry paradigm? How shall we bring the supply chain for our basic raw material to a semblance of balance?

You're right about neglect of manufacturing processes, Mr. Davis. We don't even acknowledge limits to our process capability. We're politicians. We promise anything—whether we can deliver it or not.

We deal with processes involving three ink colors: cyan, magenta, yellow. Black we toss in for contrast. We can only print a limited spectral range with that limitation—far less than the human eye can distinguish.

Those inks are "filtering" out wavelengths of white in the paper. The properties of the paper define the color response. This is a limitation on our process we must concede honestly. We don't.

"We can match that lipstick," we cry. We can't. We lie. We decline to submit to the capability limitations of our process. Television and our computer screens transmit all their color using red, green and blue phosphors as their process limitation. But the television deception is so ephemeral on a flickering screen that the limitations are not perceptible.

We claim our presses and binders will deliver uniform product. T'ain't so. They are susceptible to mechanical/chemical fluctuation—another process capability limitation. True? Well why don't we measure the limitations of mechanical/chemical capability of our process and state them as standards? We must measure first and then accept—or change.

Emerge and Adapt
The willingness to measure the process and the courage to submit to measurement are lacking. Do you agree? So what do we do about it? I join you, Mr. Davis. It's time for printing to emerge from the heritage of Gutenberg and enter the age of Gates.

Another major peeve: "samples." It ties back to our basic hypocrisies about process capabilities. The public (our customers?) think samples are representative of our process. Wrong! "Samples" in the print world mean copies we select, and touch up if we must, to supply the customer's impression of virtual reality.

Are there "too many printers" as you state, Mr. Davis? Sure, counting all the copy shops and corner offices with Macs doing creative stuff, maybe so. But 50,000 you say? Where'd you get that number? From the Commerce Department?

As you say, the U.S. Department of Commerce has its own set of myths. They classify us a "service," rather than a manufacturing, industry. Yet we work with people, big materials and complex machines in dedicated, specialized plants.

Keep the vision you've given us, Mr. Davis. Shift the paradigms of the past. Continue to do so with your own company. Don't let encrusted legacy barnacles slow you down. We want to believe.

If you can lay your hands on a copy of "Ground Truths," get it, reread it and pass it around. It is a manifesto for a changed world of printing.

—Roger V. Dickeson

About the Author
Roger Dickeson is a printing productivity consultant based in The Woodlands, TX. He can be reached via e-mail at or; or via fax at (281) 362-7572.


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