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How to Improve Pressroom Efficiency

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Directly Effecting the Unit Cost – Why Efficiency Matters

I’ve recently had the opportunity to spend time in several large web plants observing both the pressroom and pre-press environments with the goal of increasing productivity. I of course bring a press and pre-press chemistry perspective to the table, but I also had the honor of working with two of the smartest Print Production guys, one of whom is a 49-year veteran Print Plant Engineer and a Director of Prepress who has designed and installed the most productive and efficient plate rooms in the world.  

As we walked through the plants it was inspiring to see how each mind worked and the different but equally important perspectives, we each had. The following notes are what we all agreed is necessary for an efficient, continually improving facility.

Step 1

Focus on The Low-Hanging Fruit

Every task in every industry has certain basic operations, that if done correctly, can have a profound effect on the overall efficiency of the entire operation. For instance, the most straight-forward pressroom improvements can be gained from the following:

  • Each press is arranged “in sequence” to make it simpler to get to jobs.
  • Mounted plates are delivered to the presses, straight, and positioned on the cylinder correctly.
  • Press operators are NOT mounting their own plates
  • The ink delivered by the ink technician is already color matched prior to being staged at the press.
  • Materials that are staged at the press are clearly labeled with job numbers and steps

With the most basic of improvements out of the way, next comes improvements that only can be implemented once observed. To do this, a video camera in the pressroom can reveal inefficiencies that are unnoticeable to the casual observer. Examples of this can be:

  1. The number of times an operator has to walk the length of a press and back for a specific reason.
  2. Difficult access to press-side tools and difficulty finding the right tool for the task at hand.
  3. The time required for an operator to fix a specific problem with the right tools and parts.

And so on. These films will expose things that you may not notice as inefficiencies if you viewed them one by one. It’s also a wonderful approach to demonstrate team progress in improving their pressroom procedures.

Step 2

Create a Baseline for Processes & Consumables

The starting points for press settings must be known and documented. What I mean by this is as much as possible every variable should be identified, and the setting recorded. For example, if the desired set point for fountain solution is recirculation tank temperature 52°F, conductivity 2000uS at 4% dosage and 2% alcohol sub. This should be recorded and available to the operators. Or if the plate room is supposed to be at 55-65% humidity with positive air pressure, this should be recorded and known. 

Every adjustable variable should have a current setpoint, this creates a baseline for running processes plant-wide. Likewise, key raw material specifications should be identified, so that if an incoming material has been changed or has an inconsistency, the troubleshooting party has information at their disposal. This gives supervisors data points to go back to when problems start to creep up or when key people leave or retire.  

It is ok to adjust these initial settings as needed if the reasons are documented, and a new setpoint recorded. There are so many variables involved in printing and small changes can greatly affect print latitude and quality. 

Step 3

Check and Record Key Variables

Once the baseline has been set the team should determine which variables should be monitored and how often. We set up a simple checklist and had a maintenance worker fill it out, this only took 10-20 minutes per week, but we confirmed that the press was running under predetermined settings. The team also had noticed that incoming ink viscosities were inconsistent, so we worked with the ink manufacturer and implemented a viscosity check on each batch that came in. Once we had control over our processes we could now focus on optimization and efficiencies.

Step 4

Record Issues with Details & Back-Up

It is very important that whenever a process goes down or an issue arises that it is properly documented. Details are key, save copies and plates. We looked at one press’s downtime log and they had hundreds of press stoppages noted as “complete press down”. This gave absolutely no detail on why the press was down. While we were in the pressroom we saw press stoppages for plate scratches, roll-up issues, scumming, tinting, ink feedback, web breaks, equipment issues, etc.

All items that if they occur regularly can be addressed and greatly reduced. After implementing a detailed record-keeping of issues, we found that plate scratches were occurring regularly and causing 20 minutes plus of downtime. This problem was easily addressed through the utilization of Tuff Stuff scratch-resistant plate finisher and reducing the amount of plate handling in the pre-press department. This small improvement decreased downtime by hours per week. That’s a lot of impressions!

Step 5

Setup an Improvement Team

Every company has problem makers and problem solvers. Too often the problem makers are in positions that squash continual improvement, forever finding reasons why a problem cannot be fixed. Identify a team of people who can think outside of the box and have the desire to improve and go above and beyond their daily tasks.

This team should be made up of people from multiple departments, with suitable experience levels, and should include key vendors but must be driven by someone in Top Management. It’s important to create a top-to-bottom approach of continual improvement to build a quality and continual improvement-focused organization. 

Meet regularly to review problem logs and assign tasks to solve issues, involve vendors when needed, and hold the team accountable for solving problems on a timely basis. This is not a social club but a highly motivated group with pressure to perform. 

Step 6

Watch & Monitor the Process

This is the way we have always done it“, is a common line I hear. Operators should know why they perform a certain task. Too often unnecessary process steps are being taken because of a band-aid fixe from years past. For example, I was in a plant that several years prior had been plagued with voids on plates from a plate manufacturing issue. So they instituted a “quick” check of each plate after it came out of the plate processor. 

The current operator had no idea why, but she was required to unstack and restack each plate to inspect. This process took a large amount of time, and she hadn’t found a defect since she started, but was most likely causing scratches/defects from the excess handling, not to mention the slow down in workflow. 

By eliminating this step, the plates came right out of the processor and directly to the bender and the pressroom, eliminating handling and labor. Question the process, and optimize flow while minimizing labor. 

Conclusion

All of these steps are important in achieving pre-press and pressroom efficiencies. This journey cannot be done alone and help must be brought in from experts to assist with the process. The biggest step that needs to happen is a change in mindset at all levels of the organization. A quality and continual improvement focus must become part of the culture.

Pre-press and pressroom efficiencies can be increased by following six steps: pre-planning and preparation, streamlining the workflow, automating where possible, implementing quality control measures, setting up an improvement team, and monitoring the process. These steps will help to create a quality and continual improvement focus within the organization, leading to increased efficiency and productivity.

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