Process Improvement — Work Smarter, Not HarderApril 2009 By Jay Foster and Peter Doyle
Most printing companies in today’s developed economies, such as the United States, build to order, not to inventory. Supply chains are tighter than ever, meaning tighter deliveries. Run lengths are often shorter than the time required to makeready the machine.
Product families not only come in more than one color, size and material, they may be so customized that your manufacturing team is likely to be printing a new product for the very first time—every day they come to work.
Yet, in the midst of trying to manage such complexity, printers today basically have the same types of manual information systems as 25 years ago. “Islands of automation” that are semi-connected with paper-based, manually entered data. “Feedback loops” within these manufacturing systems not only lack accurate data, they often experience delays of hours, if not days, before “Actuals” can be compared to “Planned” to adjust to unexpected changes in the system.
Is it any wonder that printers today are often performing at less than one-third of their design manufacturing capacity? Sheetfed presses in some short-run environments might run less than five hours out of 24 hours fully crewed, yet orders still ship late in spite of outsourcing and overtime. There is no “pull signal” from finishing to close the loop with the pressroom for optimal output of materials into the plant.
This need for real-time visibility between “Planned” and “Actual” is a first step towards optimizing today’s printing systems. Closing the feedback loop between demand signals, starting with sales and moving across the entire manufacturing workflow, makes the goal far easier to achieve—especially within a dynamically constrained system. Isn’t this a key promise of the CIP4 standards around JDF/JMF? To help frontline leaders and managers get easier access to accurate, timely data so that they can make more money—ideally with less effort?
Good Data Is a Must
Managers within printing have heard for years about tools such as Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, TQM, SPC, TOC and the Continuous Improvement Philosophy. Why haven’t these proven techniques been widely adopted in the graphic arts industry? One likely root cause is the lack of easy access to accurate, timely process data that measures true process capability. Consider for a moment:
• How easy is it for your team to identify the current bottleneck in meeting customer demand?
• If a production process is over-producing, how quickly would operations managers know?
• If you were able to “flex” your operators to a constrained resource, who are the best qualified?
• If your job costing data identified profit leaders from losers, how fast could you change?
Today’s most effective process improvement techniques utilize the basic scientific method of “Plan—Do—Check—Act.” Good data is necessary for making good decisions. With JMF “feedback loops” tightly coupled to JDF demand signals, printers have access to a key enabler for moving from an often chaotic craft to the more predictable world of a manufacturing science.
Today, the paradigms are well-known, and the technologies are well within reach. The ultimate prize will go to those frontline leaders with the vision and management commitment to usher in a new era of print manufacturing excellence and profitability. PI
About the Authors
Jay Foster serves as president of SoftSolutions Inc. Peter Doyle is workflow manager for Muller Martini.