Anne Lander takes a look at how and why a pressroom audit could improve your output.
Did you know that taking a few simple steps to improve your process can hugely affect your printing output? Something as simple as decreasing prep time by thirty minutes a day can save over fourteen days a year from the perspective of a single employee. Now imagine the impact that could have on a larger scale! Our first thought when it comes to increasing productivity is often that we’ll need to purchase the latest technology or add new machinery, but that’s rarely the case. I’m here to tell you about the one thing that I think you should be doing first to stimulate greater efficiency, improve processes, and meet higher productivity goals: pressroom auditing.
In a nutshell, a pressroom audit is simply taking a look at your printing process as a whole rather than looking at the individual pieces of it. Think of your pressroom as a puzzle: auditing the pressroom is an overview of the entire puzzle, while, for example, an anilox roll audit is just a piece. It’s very helpful to understand the individual pieces, but your process is not going to make complete sense until you view it as a whole. Only then can you begin to see where the issues are stacking up.
In an industry that is moving toward Just In Time manufacturing, understanding where bottlenecks and time deficiencies are happening is becoming increasingly important to stay ahead of the curve. Taking a look at your process from start to finish will highlight where the slow downs are occurring, how the setup, prep and transition into a new job is being managed, how long it takes to clean after the job is complete, and what happens to efficiency when things are being shifted regularly – think changing the ink every new job, changing the anilox or sleeves, doctor blades and plates, etc.
A pressroom audit is a way of finding out the best questions to ask about your process and gaining a better understanding of how it’s truly working overall. And keep in mind that an audit can be used for many other purposes, too – converting other finishing options, logistics, or even material management. Now that we understand why auditing is important, let’s take a look at how it works and how it might help your business.
If there are any issues with a part of the pressroom, on press or off press, in the ink lab or plate making or material handling, for example, an audit will reveal where those problems are and lead you to the cause(s). By identifying these problem areas and providing opportunities for improvement, you will also be highlighting areas of success. While this might not seem as important in increasing efficiency, it helps the morale of pressroom operators to see that some things are going well and not everything is a problem.
Audits also allow you to spot waste reduction opportunities. Many of the changes and improvements overlap with ideas from lean manufacturing and six sigma. Consider how much more efficiently a process could run if the impact of each working element was fully understood. Having the figures in hand and seeing the effects of every piece of the process would remove any guesswork and become the new determining factor in your process decision-making. These figures would provide you with the ability to see things like where your production team struggles the most, how to better schedule your jobs so that you wouldn’t have to change out anilox rolls or ink quite so often, just how much longer it takes the new guy to change out a plate than his more experienced predecessor, and so forth. These options may not be viable for every company since it truly depends on the customer’s demands, but this can be a starting point in the journey toward greater efficiency for any printer.
Because each company is different and therefore every printing process is going to be unique, the approach to handling an audit should leave room for individuality. Once the problems are identified, however, the process of implementing change can begin. With that said, I would advise a word of caution here: take it easy. What do I mean by that? Well, because auditing reveals issues in any part of the pressroom, on press or off press, it often leads to uncovering more than one problematic area that needs to be addressed, and too many changes at one time can often result in even more issues. Start small and work your way through the changes one at a time. Allow for the changes to set in so that they will be lasting ones.
An example of this type of easy progress would be to simply make sure that everything press side has a place and nothing is left in the press – no bolts or screws that can fall down into the machine during startup – and everything will be easily found when needed. Knowing where everything is allows for a quicker job change.
In terms of getting started with a pressroom audit, I generally recommend using a common job as a sample. Note when the job begins, what your steps for setup are, running the press, cleaning, maintenance, and so forth. What are the requirements and demands from the customer? How long did it take to bring the ink from the lab or stockroom and prepare it for press? How long did it take to bring the plates to the press and mount them? What about the anilox changeover? And, of course, you must take into account things like rush jobs that push times around and deplete material stock out of order.
Lastly, let’s look at that data point I gave you to start: saving fourteen days in a year for one employee? That sounded good! How does that work? Well, by decreasing your prep time thirty minutes a day through something simple like better ink management and cleaning in the ink system, you’d be saving that employee two and a half hours a week. Extrapolate that out, account for some holiday time and vacation, and you would save around 119 hours a year – roughly fourteen days. That is two weeks of production time by changing something that wasn’t efficient or was problematic.
And that’s just one employee. Imagine the possibilities! If you found during your pressroom audit that you were not utilizing a machine to its best capacity or found that your waste was much higher than expected, you could easily add these productivity numbers to the employee production improvement and start to see a big difference.
In the end, your printing process is like running a race: you’re able to run much quicker if you aren’t jumping over productivity obstacles, hurdling employee problems, or leaping through machine difficulties. Make a pressroom audit your starting line – let us help you find and eliminate the slowdowns so we can get you running at top speed.