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Manufacturing. That's a difficult concept for some print managers to grasp. As proud as we all are of our arts and crafts roots, times change and so must we.

Printers procure raw materials, expedite them through specific equipment and processes and then package and ship the end products. Effective manufacturing requires efficient, economical and cost effective managers.

Progressive print managers understand that manufacturing is a process. When it comes to problem solving, they don't let personal or personnel biases cloud their judgement.

Technology blinders

One of the primary ways industry management has addressed production problems is by purchasing new technology. When new or faster technology came along, large printers would buy it and grow, then the rest of the industry would try to keep up. This approach seemed to work for decades.

Due in part to increased global competition, throwing money at problems and hoping it sticks is no longer the only answer.

Too often, print managers assumed that new equipment and technology, being faster and more productive, solved a problem. Unfortunately few printers optimized their new technology. Many ran their new equipment at factory optimum speeds. There was practically no unscheduled downtime; setup/changeover time would always be equal to or less than what the manufacturers claimed it could be; and there would be a fraction of the waste and spoilage that occurred on the older equipment and technology.

How could this be? Printing management, especially in the commercial segment, generally track equipment and technology performance ineffectively. Printers either are not using the right metric formulas to differentiate between new and old technology capabilities, or they are not measuring at all. Simply put, the printing industry is not able to determine if it is getting the biggest bang for its buck from new technology.

Production blunders

Managers often look at everything from an art, craft and personal viewpoint. Historically, they've been taught that print production is made up of independent processes that should be optimized based on the highest cost equipment. Because of this archaic perspective, the same chronic problems have persisted for decades.

There are specific issues, constituting waste, that managers have difficulty understanding. These wastes happen daily and are referred to as the printer's “hidden factory.” To begin, there seems to be a lack of knowledge about what is really going on with equipment and processes: capabilities, performance, quality, and methods/techniques. Known as “ignorance of the current state,” printing management many times seems to assume that processes, equipment or components are operating within specifications, leading to sudden process failures and quality dilemmas. Due in part to current print industry training and thinking, these issues all seem to be accepted as the cost of doing business.

Overproduction is another fundamental waste issue. It is not unusual for printers to overproduce jobs. Raw material surplus and jobs spend long periods of time in work in progress (WIP) areas. The resulting dollar cost of raw materials and WIP inventory is enormous.

Keeping equipment and processes at an essential state of reliability and performance is another challenge. Some printing managers perceive equipment preventive maintenance as an annoying occurrence rather than an essential segment of production operations.

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