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Dickeson--Lift, Pull and Other Dirty Words

November 1998
"Lift" and "pull" are dirty words in the world of commercial printing. When you "lift" a form or job, you "pull" it off the press, binder or other process before it's completed.

You do this because you must put some other job or form in its place, in order to meet a promised delivery time. The practice impairs productivity, compromises quality and zaps profits.

"Well, if it's that bad," you say, "then why would anyone do it?" We do it because we've promised a delivery date we can't keep unless we interrupt the completion of forms or jobs already in process. Next question: "Why do we promise delivery dates we can't keep?"

First, we have expensive plants and equipment, creating a productive capacity we must fill in order to be profitable. So when the sales manager or CEO enters the production office and says, "Can you squeeze this job in?," we demur for a moment, but then yield in order to keep the peace—and maybe our jobs. This practice is commonly called "bliviting" (or forcing two pounds into a one-pound bag.)

Second, experience teaches us that we routinely lose perhaps 20 percent a year of existing business and must replace it and increase it if we're to grow. As a result, schedules become filled with work that may fall out and prospective jobs that haven't yet matured to order status (and may not). Call this the scheduling A&R (attrition/replacement) factor. We blivit to compensate and grow.

Third, we overlook the "Law of Chaos" probability in printing. This theory teaches us that small changes in input cause major changes in output. There are five clusters of variables in the printing process: materials, people, machines, environment and form sequencing. Minor variances within, and between, these clusters make process performance unpredictable. To these five internal clusters add a sixth—an external variable: customer schedule maintenance and specification compliance.

Fourth are the plants that operate on a 24-hour, seven-day week plan. There's no weekend or holiday to provide some "slack" in the schedule to accommodate problems that inevitably occur.

What's the answer to eliminating pulls? A Black Box—a computer! Magic! Yeah! "Let's buy that scheduling software from Merlin Inc. and put it in a PC in the planning office. We know that run lengths are getting shorter, that our customers are demanding shorter lead times and lower prices, and that we're compromising more delivery dates every week. We must have an answer."


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