New Technologies in a Printing World – Lean Manufacturing
Lean manufacturing is one of the most important and transformational business developments over the past fifty years. By applying some basic principles and utilizing various planning tools, a lean initiative puts into motion practices that strive for added customer value, improved quality, and faster turn-times with the intention of reducing or even eliminating waste and all forms of inventory: WIP, raw materials and finished goods. The practice of empowering an individual production operator with the skills, tools and authority to make decisions and add value on the manufacturing line was a dramatic change from the existing “efficiency-based” assembly line model developed by Frederick Taylor and others in the early 20th century. The goal of this model was to make as much product as cheaply as possible with less concern for building inventory since it was all going to be sold anyhow.
Like any other industry, packaging has had its own unique struggles in the attempt to implement lean practices into its manufacturing (and administrative) processes. One such struggle has been in trying to reduce press setup times. The common definition used for setup includes the labor and costs involved from pulling the last sheet from the preceding order to achieving an acceptable sheet on the succeeding order. The reasons for focusing on press setup times are because of the large capital equipment expense of a printing press, the length of time it takes to set them up, and the amount of wasted material (aka make-ready) that it takes to get the sheet to color and register. All traditional printing methods, offset lithography, flexography, and gravure experience the same problem of high setup costs.
In its simplest form, a typical make-ready consists of hanging a printing plate or some other fixed image carrier, putting ink in the fountains, and setting the material feeds and delivery. Advancements in press automation, color management systems, consumables, and just basic equipment technology have made significant improvements in setup time. Taking advantage of lean principles can also cut down on setup time. Having the changeover tools marked and organized, all of the materials available and close in hand, and performing some routine advance tasks for the next job in the queue are some examples of lean practices currently performed. A simple fishbone diagram displaying the variables by category is a proven method to visually demonstrate the problem which then allows for generating ideas from all of the process owners.
To summarize, in the printing world the process of setting up a press is known as a make-ready, and all of the associated costs are built in the unit price of the finished package. In the lean world this same process is known as waste, and lean has taught us over time that waste is a cost that cannot be passed along to the customer anymore.
The next entry will provide more background on these business principles, and possibilities on how advanced technologies such as digital printing can help realize the goals of serving the end customer.