Process Graphic Services — Need for Speed
BY GEORGE J. WHALEN
Process Graphic Services (PGS) of Grand Prairie, TX, is a finisher whose full-service capabilities and large facilities rank it as a truly "Texas-size" business. Family owned through three generations and now solidly established as the finisher of choice for many printers, packaging-makers and publishers, PGS takes pride in being able to handle virtually any kind of finishing work that its customers demand.
Whether the printed sheets coming through its doors are to be converted into folding cartons, setup boxes, books, slip cases, sports trading cards, greeting cards, game boards, point-of-purchase displays or other printed merchandise, PGS has what it takes in know-how, skilled hands and equipment to handle any kind of finishing job.
Unfortunately, the jobs PGS has been seeing far too many of are "rush jobs," in which customers want top quality finishing work delivered now or, preferably, yesterday. What's missing on more and more jobs is the adequate time to do them.
As PGS President Mitch Robertson tells it, "Printed sheets have actually come into PGS as late as on—or after—the date we've agreed to deliver finished goods! By the time jobs reach us, all of their 'slack' has been used up earlier in the print production chain."
Customers Expect More
Another factor in the shrinking turnaround time phenomenon is customer expectations. "Customers have seen the highly visible advances in sheetfed printing technology, experienced printer competition on speed of service and use just-in-time delivery," he adds.
Despite the time pressure, giving top service to customers remains the first order of business at PGS. The 135-employee company operates two shifts daily, on a six-day work week. Its two-building plant spans 225,000 square feet and has separate laser diemaking, diecutting, foil stamping and embossing areas, with an array of finishing and converting equipment that includes Bobst folder/gluers and Bobst SP-102-Es, the heart of the firm's large diecutting capabilities.
Touring the PGS plant, the custom finishing aspect of the business is clear. The job mix is rarely the same on any two successive days. Typically, from 100 to 150 different finishing jobs per day flow down its lines.
There may be toddlers' books from well-known publishers, game boards and boxes, as well as foil-laminated sports cards, foil-stamped cartons for an international supplier of fine lead-crystal glassware and other branded merchandise for leading product marketers.
"With the breadth of finishing services PGS is called on to provide, we need to constantly tune and organize our job flow," reveals Larry Patterson, plant superintendent.
"But, because actual working time per job has been shrinking to such a degree, yesterday's top speed may not be enough to keep up. The demand to complete more work in less time is with us constantly and sometimes it can leave us feeling harassed by the clock."
Why not simply go out and hire more skilled employees to ease the burden? According to Robertson, low unemployment rates have slammed that door—for now.
"Within the last year, demand for fast-turnaround finishing has been very strong, putting great pressure on our work force. Ordinarily, we would deal with that by hiring more skilled workers. But, here in Texas, there's a skilled-labor scarcity due to the full-employment (situation). We've established in-house training programs to deal with our longer-term needs. But our near-term challenge is finding immediate ways to gain more working time within the constraints of current work schedules and to improve productivity."
A key solution came recently when Robertson heard about the Total Optimization Project (TOP), a new service from Bobst, in which a comprehensive study, evaluation and analysis of customer diecutting, foil stamping and folder/gluer job changeover, downtime and machine performance lead to "best practices" recommendations.
"PGS uses Bobst diecutting, stamping, folding and gluing equipment throughout its finishing operations," Robertson notes. "Any productivity improvements in these key steps would have a significant, positive effect on overall job turnaround, so we were interested."
Getting in touch with Bobst, Robertson and his management team soon received a presentation about how the TOP program could help PGS win its struggle against the clock. The Bobst presentation answered questions about efficiencies and improvements PGS was anxious to make. "We felt that Bobst was very qualified to advise us on 'best practices' to implement in diecutting, folding, gluing and foiling," he says.
Time for Analysis
Just a few weeks later, a team of Bobst specialists arrived and immediately began a week-long "T (time) Analysis"—a time-and-motion study of job changeover and make-ready methods then being used by the company's operators on its Bobst diecutting presses. The purpose was to reveal all the minutes being lost that could add up to big time-savings if alternate practices were followed.
The team videotaped entire, actual job changeover and makeready procedures being used by the PGS operators, documenting every second consumed by each step. This was followed by an "OP (operations) Analysis" by the Bobst specialists. It focused on the running aspects of the job and included evaluations of box concepts, machine performance, tools, organization and maintenance.
All of the data gathered at PGS was then fully analyzed by the Bobst team, as a prelude to suggesting practice improvements and efficiencies. The output of the TOP program at PGS was a comprehensive report to the firm's management team, offering specific action recommendations for saving time, improving efficiency and optimizing productivity throughout the diecutting, folding, gluing and foiling processes.
Bobst field production specialist Terry Brock, who assisted in conducting the TOP, explains, "Diecutting changeover, or 'makeready' as it is commonly known, is a key area we evaluate for potential savings. In the case of PGS, the company has its own, in-house laser diemaking facility—a major time-saving advantage. However, in our study, we found that PGS was only using that facility to make the tools, while operators were actually finishing the tools as part of every makeready on the diecutting press. We concluded that this was 'the long way around' and resulted in a very significant loss of time on every makeready.
"Our recommendation was that the PGS diemaking facility actually finish the tools in advance, off-press," he continues. "We estimated that this would save approximately half the operator's time and effort, appreciably shortening every makeready."
While displaying a dieboard with two mounting holes in it, Brock adds, "Sometimes, there are other time-saving possibilities that have to do with the substrate that is being diecut. If a job is to be run on light paper, only two holes—not the usual four—need to be drilled in the board to mount it. The time saved drilling two unnecessary holes also adds up."
PGS management agrees that the TOP program has been very worthwhile in revealing time- and cost-savings, and in unearthing opportunities for improving productivity. "Since we began working with Bobst to improve our turnaround time, we have set a new goal of increasing our production capacity by 15 percent," Patterson comments. "We are putting the recommended procedures in place to help make that growth possible. Bobst is our good partner in helping us to re-engineer our process efficiency."