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The Butterfly Effect

April 2007 BY Steve Musselman
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AS GRAPHIC communications professionals, we must work within a global supply chain. In today’s industry, is that a problem?

Not all the time. But, even under the best conditions, there can be slight alterations in the chain, particularly with regard to material composition, that will create minor glitches or delays that affect the quality of the projects that come off-press—or, at least, the costs and the timing involved in moving those projects through the printing process.

It’s the graphic communications version of the Butterfly Effect, also known as the Chaos Theory, which holds that a small change in the manufacture of one component in, say, China, can have a negative impact on the print production of a product in New York.

The Butterfly Effect was coined in 1972 by American mathematician and meteorologist Edward Norton Lorenz. Its applicability to graphic communications requires no stretch of the imagination, considering that prepress shops and printers use chemistry, ink, paper, plates, exposure units, software and other components from all over the world.

Without the necessary expertise in prepress and the press room, wider operating latitude, and tighter process control to achieve and maintain the highest quality, the Butterfly Effect can certainly weaken a product by the time it comes off-press.

There are basically three ways to avoid those supply chain glitches and delays. One, be flexible in your decisions to acquire the right products and technologies for your specific needs. Two, drive out as many variables as you can, so you render minor alterations in your processes insignificant. And, three, brush up on your knowledge of lithography. Press operators should consider themselves lithographers because, unlike some other processes, printing, with its increasingly higher speeds, is not getting any easier—it’s getting more complex all the time.

In addition, training must be given a top priority because all graphic communications professionals must truly understand how the entire process interaction affects their work and their business.

Let’s take a closer look at just one aspect of the global supply chain, aluminum, which of course has long been an integral part of the printing process. China is a major supplier of bauxite, which is eventually turned into aluminum. But China wanted to reduce the exporting of products that have high energy consumption, so the country reduced and, in some cases, eliminated tax rebates for exported goods. That affected their aluminum supply. Similarly, Guinea is also a major supplier of bauxite. But that country’s recent political unrest, which required Marshall Law to be imposed and spawned general strikes, caused massive production delays of bauxite.

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