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And you think you have problems...

(September 2003) posted on Fri Oct 17, 2003

Visit a printing facility where standard operating procedures, equipment maintenance and cleaning, and production procedures are failing.

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By Carol Swift, Peter Kiddell

Can it get worse? Oh yes it can! The company purchased a multicolor inline screen-printing system three years ago. It was designed to print three colors, but it didn't. Two colors? Yes. Three colors? No.

We asked, "Why don't you print three colors?" The reply was, "We do--we just pass substrates through twice because the second print station is faulty and it's not been fixed."

"For how long?" we asked.

"Two years."

"Bet you get plenty of overtime?"

"Oh yes," the press operator replied with a broad smile. He also had major problems with ink adhesion and tried to fix it by cleaning the components with solvent before printing. It helped, but it didn't solve the problem. The ink sometimes stayed soft and just scratched off. Recovering printed parts that had to be reprinted would sometimes take an entire shift, plus overtime.

Nobody else could use the automatic press. In fact, all the operators had their own machines. They said that the presses each had special characteristics and that \"you had to know your machine.\" The management accepted this, and everyone got lots of overtime.

It would be easy to jump on the operators and blame them, but the problem rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders of management. Over the years, the printing processes had deteriorated. The print guru had not retired after all. Instead, he left in a hurry and took whatever knowledge he had committed to memory or written down. Nobody wanted to take responsibility because no one understood printing.

Injection molding, assembly, ultra-sonic welding, etc. were all covered by some degree of expertise within management, but printing was a dirty, smelly process that consumed overtime faster than a Hummer uses gas. In truth, some portion of the blame also has to be laid at the door of the equipment and consumable suppliers who never commented on the state of the operation. But why should they walk into a hornet's nest?

Making repairs

The strategy we developed for the company was to implement key safety issues immediately, bring ink mixing under control, and repair and service the machines. Management would have gained more credibility with the work force had they done so sooner.

Next, standard operating procedures were written with the cooperation and assent of the printers. A training course was created and delivered to the operators, quality-control personnel, and members of the management team. One of the project engineers was given responsibility for printing, and his main function was to ensure that any technical issues were addressed and incorporated into standard operating procedures.

The operator who was in charge of the now fully operable three-color press spent his newly acquired free time training others on "his" machine, carrying out print and production trials, and working to reduce the level of print rejects throughout production to zero. Two press operators retired, but increased efficiency more than picked up their workload. The company went from near disaster to cost reductions in excess of $75,000 in 12 months!

None of the solutions we introduced was particularly clever. It was about standardization and control, following procedures, and most of all, understanding the processes.



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