Hopkins Printing Sees Many Benefits from Continuous Improvement
Toward the end of 2019, I had the opportunity to interview Roy Waterhouse, president of Hopkins Printing. Under his leadership, this commercial printer (about $19 million in sales) has been devoted to achieving higher rates of improvement through Lean practices. Below are some of Waterhouse's thoughts on Lean and continuous improvement.
- Tell us a bit about Hopkins Printing and what it does.
Roy Waterhouse: Hopkins Printing was founded in 1975 by Jim and Arnie Hopkins. The company started as a quick printer but eventually moved into the commercial printing world. Hopkins is a sheetfed offset, sheetfed digital, and wide-format printing company serving approximately 350 Central Ohio customers. With just over 100 people, we are a three-shift operation serving financial, manufacturing, associations, colleges, retail, and nonprofit segments.
- What is the continuous improvement strategy at Hopkins Printing and what methods are being used?
Waterhouse: Hopkins began with continuous improvement in the 1990s with the teachings of W. Edwards Deming and the application of statistical process control (SPC). That same thinking has evolved into a primarily Lean management focus. We have worked with outside consultants and have also developed programs internally. We try to utilize many of the Lean tools like value stream mapping (VSM), kaizen events, 5S, plan-do-check-act (PDCA) experimentation, and 2-Second Lean. On the other side of the coin are the Lean culture activities with training and coaching so we can share the concepts with our people. One of our most recent themes has been to save one second, one step, or one dollar based on a similar Toyota concept.
- What benefits have you seen accrue at Hopkins Printing as a result of the company’s improvement activities?
Waterhouse: Hopkins has seen many benefits from Lean. From a culture perspective, we have seen more involvement when teams work on VSMs or from doing kaizen events. One of our primary Lean tools has been our job checklist. The checklist is a multipage document that follows every job through the plant and is used as a guide to make sure we do not skip any processes in order to develop quality at the source. A financial benefit has been a reduction in house error. Historically, our house error was more than 1.5% of sales, but we are now under 1%. This house error is factored with a full cost-center rate including a full burden of labor, machine time, and material.
- What is required of you personally to sustain and accelerate the rate of improvement at Hopkins?
Waterhouse: Hopkins management has a focus on Lean and is pushing the ideas and tools to the entire company. A large obstacle is getting buy-in from the entire team, and this only happens with large amounts of training and the setting of high expectations. Once a month, the management team reviews all house error occurrences and works on process improvement to reduce the chance of a particular type of problem occurring in the future. The management team also spends time monthly reviewing improvement ideas from the team and working on ways to implement the various ideas.
- What are the biggest challenges you face leading the improvement initiative at Hopkins?
Waterhouse: The biggest challenge with Lean is the buy-in and getting everyone to believe that Lean is a better method. Lean also takes a large amount of time to work on with training and Lean activities. The fifth S (sustain) sums up what we see as the biggest challenge.
- What do you know now about continuous improvement that you did not know when the company started on its improvement journey? What have you learned? What would you do differently?
Waterhouse: When we first started with continuous improvement, we did not fully grasp that continuous means never ending. Having a never-ending program is tough to wrap your head around. We have learned that some of the tools, like Deming or SPC, may change, but the concept of a never-ending series of improvements is what drives the thinking. In hindsight, we should have had a full-time continuous improvement manager. We have done continuous improvement and Lean with consultants and some internally, but it would have gone smoother and faster with a full-time person devoted to the task.
John is owner and principal of Compton & Associates, a consulting company dedicated to improving the people, processes, and profits of its clients. He is professor emeritus of the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he taught quality systems and process improvement while serving as director of the Center for Quality and Productivity in the Graphic Arts. Most recently, he served as vice president of quality and training at Vertis Communications and prior to that, he served as vice president of quality and organizational development at Fort Dearborn Company. John has authored and co-authored several books dealing with quality and productivity in the printing and imaging industry. He is a Master Lean/Six Sigma Black Belt and a senior member of the American Society for Quality. John has served as a consultant to the Continuous Improvement Conference since 2010.