Do Printers Believe in Continuous Improvement?
For the past several months, the Lean Manufacturing forum has been relatively quiet. There are, of course, several possible explanations for this inactivity. Perhaps the recession has caused many printers to shift into "survival" mode and perceive that there are more urgent issues than process improvement. Or perhaps printing company leaders and managers are simply too busy these days to take an active role in the forum.
That being said, I participate in a number of lean discussion forums, and I have not noticed a significant drop-off in activity in those forums. So, I'd like to ask a few basic questions. Is continuous process improvement (whether using lean, six sigma, theory of constraints, or another process improvement methodology) seen by printers as an important business priority? If so, are printers actually implementing process improvement programs? If printers do not view continuous process improvement as important to business success, why not? Such a view would seem to put printers out of step with leading companies in a wide variety of industries. And finally, what should be done to increase the value of this forum to both readers and participants?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and suggestions.
G. David Dodd
Point Balance, LLC
I think the majority of management in print production shops focus almost entirely reactively. At least this as been my case in my 7 years. Many are afraid of emerging technologies, write them off as too expensive or simply do not possess the knowhow and/or lack employees with the drive and/or drive. The current generation of management and workers that I have encountered in multiple shops seems to still think that moving from camera to CtP and having a mediocre MIS implementation are the end-all-be-all and are "process improvement". Absolute necessity or system failure seems to be the only motivator to improve anything in my experiences. Buzz words get some excitement followed by a week or two of more buzz words then things die back down. It is surprisingly very much like a political campaign that just doesn't have any election scheduled.
Maybe I have just been in the wrong places or maybe it is just systematic. I have encountered only one printer that seems to get the message and from the last time I talked to him he was not only maintaining but growing quite successfully in this economy.
Ritter - I don't really disagree with your view about the fear of emerging technologies, but I think it's important to make the point that technology is not always required to make significant improvements to business processes. In fact, many lean gurus argue that it is critical to understand and simplify business processes before you use technology tools to automate those processes. What about the many process improvement opportunities that don't require significant technology investments?
Originally Posted by Ritter
G. David Dodd
Point Balance, LLC
I should have elaborated more. I use the dictionary definition of technology that it doesn't have to be something physically tangible.
I don't draw a line between software, hardware, machinery, employee training, or simplifying business processes. All of this is technology and all of it requires an investment whether it be in dollars, euros, brain power, clock time or will power.
I assume you are talking about the ideas like eliminating multiplication of effort, leveraging schedules to your advantage, eliminating slack times etc. Many are just so buried in their cave that they haven't heard terms like Kaizen, TOC, Six Sigma. I think many printers two have heard these words think they are simply too small to benefit from these techniques that the likes of Toyota or GE implement. You have to realize that most of the management today was in school (if they even attended business school) in the 70s and 80s when these were emerging in America with the Japanese influx starting with Toyota in Kentucky. Furthermore you don't see much of that generation participating in these online forums regarded as silly. They'd rather pay $500.00 for the quarterly PIA conference.
Last edited by Ritter; 07-01-2009 at 03:48 PM.
There is technology stifled and down right trying to be buried by major consumable and press manufacturers. They have seen and participated in the studies and are afraid of what will happen. I cannot elaborate because of nondisclosure agreements. The technology will come out and it will have major impact on this industry.
I noticed that all traffic on all of these forums dropped off significantly following the move to website-only access. Once the ability to track and respond to the forums in one's email inbox was removed, all the forums I subscribed to came to a screeching halt.
Originally Posted by David Dodd
I believe the majority of printers do believe in continuous improvement, or at least want to. I also agree that we are in survival mode right now, and the only action we are taking is when its a reaction to something necessary to getting the job out the door. I love learning new processes, new ways to improve, but in my role I don't currently have the time. Most days I'm back into a production role more than he manager role, that needs to change if processes are to move forward. There is testing and research that needs done, let alone the training material and training time for production people. I think its a good time to start investing in changing those processes so that when the economy turns around we are ready and on the cutting edge rather than one step back and still having it on our "to do" list. How we find the time to move ahead, while getting the work done in front of us is something I think we all need to find a solution to.
I offer a somewhat bias view, because printing companies contact and hire us for help when they are already interested in implementing continuous improvement or what we call “Lean Printing Office”.
The printers that we work with understand the value of a continuous improvement or lean printing office project. They know if they invest xx dollars on implementing lean, the ROI could be at least 3 times the implementation and training investment cost.
I agree that most companies are in “survival” mode and have reduced staff and expenditures. Because there are fewer employees, they are doing more work and do not have the time outside of their daily production responsibilities to implement learn or continuous improvements.
Laying off employees does not necessarily reduce costs because overworked staff can lead to more overtime costs, more production problems and downtime, more spoilage and waste costs, degradation in customer services, and lost customers or business.
But if you take the time to improve processes and eliminate non-value added activities (waste), then you could process the same or more work, more efficiently and with the same or less staff. It’s a catch-22.
I remind you (not you David) that the 2008 survey conducted by PIA/GATF and Point Balance concluded that more than 77 percent of North American printing company managers have heard or read about Lean Manufacturing. And about 40 percent of printing companies are using Lean Manufacturing.
To survive this down economy, printers must do everything they can to reduce costs including cutting UNNECESSARY expenses and improving efficiencies with lean and continuous improvement. They cannot afford not to!
I think more case studies and examples would increase the value of this forum.
Craig L Press, President
Profectus Printing Industry Business Consultants Since 1993
I can agree with many of the comments already made that the bottom line is being looked at more closely then any continuous improvement initiatives. The company I work for cut jobs, temporarily reduced pay and has instituted furlough days. However, there is a significant issue that I also wish to address relating to that.
Business model. The company saw this recession coming last year probably around June. Instead of trying to figure out what we could do to better serve customers, stay productive, create more opportunities that might not have been there we barely did anything. Sales was given no guidance or new directions to go forward with, no support was given from management to create certain improvements, and "quick" ideas fell on the wayside.
I was the leader in trying to develop lean within my company. Now all I am is analyzing data and giving tedious work to keep me busy. Not the best of situations, but lean has been completely abandoned. One of the reasons why I haven't been able to contribute because I'm buried in spreadsheets.
In any case, @craiglpress my company is probably a part of that 77% "thinking" about lean, but either doesn't want to or can't for whatever reason that might be. Times are tough and when I look at a selection of printers in the area, I can see which are going to survive and which are not. And its not because of bad quality or horrible interaction for customers, but the vision and business model of the company.
I can understand your frustration but I would suggest that the percentage is much higher than 77%. I have said for a long time, there is a cultural problem in the industry. Not only printers but graphical arts educational institutions and technical institutions have failed to move in a direction that leads to understanding of the process that can be used to develop predictable and consistent technology.
Originally Posted by mattf
In good times or bad times, the industry does not want to look at ideas unless they are products from some supplier or they look at the process in the ususal way, which does not lead to any fundamental understanding.
Lean is a useful tool but it is sadly not capable of getting to the core problems that hold individual printers back. Gathering data is pointless without understanding what the fundamental problems are. Sure, Lean can help in reducing wasted movements and other areas but it will not fundamentally change the messy situation printers are in.
There are lots of issues in the process. I understand very well a particular area that leads to consistency and predictability of density control on press. If an industry does not want to understand the fundamental causes, then they are always going to have a problem that will be frustrating and wasteful.
Changing the culture is THE biggest problem and the Lean consultants are not leading in this direction. They are just skirting around fundamental issues and working the Lean formula.
When you get a process to work better in a fundamental way, lots of side benefits result. Less training required, predictable and consistent results, less waste, easier to schedule and plan for. These become marketing weapons because they are measureable quality and delivery performance that can be shown to customers and lower costs that will show up on the bottom line that also support pricing strategies.
The quality movement of the 70's and 80's stressed the reduction of process variation and increase of predictability. That is the main value of SMED. To get to a very short makeready, you have to be consistent and predictable. You have to know what fundamentally causes variation and the lack of predictability and then take steps to fundamentally correct the process. That is the whole point of SMED.
I think the modern view of Lean has strayed away from the earlier Quality movement in a very serious way and provides no future options. It seems to only provide an improvement in what you have now which will lead to a slow decline.
Measuring colour bars and making adjustments is not the goal. It is a sign of failure. But the industry wants to continue to lie to itself and still put the view forward that measuring and correcting is the right thing to do. It isn't. It is backwards and prevents progress. Lean is preventing progress.
Making fundamental change is messy. It has risks. Risks can be greatly reduced if you have knowledge. But an industry that will not take the slightest risk is stuck with what is available and has not control of its future.