Survey Shows that Print is Getting Lean

PITTSBURGH—May 21, 2008—More than three-fourths (77%) of North American printing company managers have heard or read about Lean manufacturing. About two-thirds of those managers are familiar with the concepts and techniques of Lean manufacturing, and about 40 percent of printing companies are using Lean manufacturing tools to improve business performance. These are among the conclusions suggested by a recent survey conducted by Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (PIA/GATF) and Point Balance, LLC.

Lean manufacturing—often simply called “Lean”—is the term used to describe the management and production methodologies that were originally developed by the Toyota Motor Corporation. Lean focuses on avoiding and eliminating the seven wastes—defective products, overproduction, excessive work-in-process inventory, over-processing, unnecessary movement of people, unnecessary movement of products, and waiting. In the late 1980s, many U.S. companies, primarily in the automotive industry, began to implement Lean practices in order to narrow the productivity gap with their Japanese competitors.

Interest in Lean manufacturing among printing company managers has been growing for several years. Attendance at the PIA/GATF Continuous Improvement Conference—which offers a slate of Lean-related topics—has surged in recent years. In June 2007, PIA/GATF formed its Center for Lean Practices, and workshops conducted by the Center have been extremely well attended. The PIA/GATF/Point Balance survey represents the first major effort to describe the use of Lean manufacturing by graphic communications companies in a quantitative way.

In addition to measuring the overall familiarity with and use of Lean manufacturing, the survey identifies what specific Lean tools printing companies are using, which tools have been the most beneficial, and which tools have been difficult to implement and use. The introduction of Lean manufacturing practices often creates a need for new business performance measures, and therefore the survey also identifies what performance metrics Lean printing companies are using.

“It’s not surprising that printing managers identified 5S as providing the greatest benefit of the 13 tools and techniques we asked them about,” said Jim Workman, PIA/GATF’s vice president of training. “What is surprising is that roughly half of the Lean users said they have applied Lean tools and techniques to their non-manufacturing areas.”

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