Combs offers tips to help you streamline each stage of the printing process from art and screenmaking through printing and shipping.
By Terry Combs
The number of products you turn out and the efficiency with which you produce them are the lifeblood of your business. Assuming products are priced reasonably, the number of pieces you can complete over a given period will determine profits or losses for your business. How would you like to double your production volume by the end of the week? Sound outrageous? It can be done, and in more shops than you might imagine. I've seen productivity double in a facility within a very short period of time. It occurred when a company officer or manager became aware of how desperately inefficient the operation really was. Many companies accept their current rate of production and the way it is achieved. Here are some tips to help you avoid the same mistakes and double your own production in short order. Clean up the workflow Have you ever wondered what would happen if your crew actually got started on a job the minute they walked into the facility? Would production double by the end of the week? On Monday morning, are your employees staring at the schedule board, trying to decide which job is next or which job is actually ready to print? Do you catch one of your employees leaning over a staging table, trying to decipher his paperwork for the next job in line? Do you have someone firing up dryers and flash units before your regular crew actually arrives? It's your responsibility to eliminate all the roadblocks and obstacles so that you stay on track with your production schedule. The work order First, check that paperwork for a job is clear, complete, and concise. The work order that travels with any job is the key ingredient to maintaining productivity. Many of the holdups on the production floor involve questions about what your crew is supposed to do with the job. Complete paperwork is an effective way to answer those questions quickly. Your workday may not necessarily correspond with the hours of your sales department and order-entry employees. To make sure you have solid paperwork before a job hits the floor, clear up questions immediately after the job is scheduled, while the sales staff or order-entry employees are in the office to provide answers. Incomplete orders should go back to where they originated--no questions, no excuses. And when the paperwork is sent back to salespeople or order-entry personnel, remind them that the official production time clock starts ticking when the paperwork is absolutely complete and correct--not a second sooner. Getting the order right the first time will likely be your most difficult task. You know the adage "Choose your battles wisely"? This is one of those battles to choose. Don't stand for orders that are thrown back at production for not being completed on time, when in reality, the fault lies with incomplete paperwork or mistakes made before the order went to press. Instructions on the paperwork must be absolutely clear and understandable. When questions arise, note the answer and have the person who supplied it initial the paperwork. Recently, a sales rep flippantly said to me that a certain color "looked right." When I asked her to jot down her initials next to the color selection, she thought better of it, called the customer, and then corrected the color! Do not, under any circumstances, allow paperwork to move through production with the slightest question about print location, ink color, color changes, etc. Always ask sales reps to sign off on the order. Their initials on a piece of paper denote ownership and inspire absolute certainty of being correct. The artroom Check the films when they are in your art department--not further down the line after screens and prints have been made. In the haste to deliver films to the screen-prep department, employees in the art department sometimes will generate the positives, drop them in an envelope, and rush them to production, omitting the brief step of verifying correctness. An error on the films can progress all the way to press setup and, on occasion, as far as the final customer. Taking 30 seconds to check each film separation for registration, spelling, opacity, size and any special instructions, can save hours of down time and lost efficiency. If one of your presses is standing idle because a screen has to be re-exposed due to an error on the film, you lose production time--and money--while the film and screen are corrected. Screenmaking One of the most crucial requirements of the screen-prep department is to deliver perfect screens each and every time--no matter what. Like the art department, your screen-prep department should spend a little extra time to be sure each screen is right. Screenmakers must regularly check and adjust retensionable frames for proper tension. My experience has been that the majority of these expensive frames are rarely retensioned after the initial fabric stretch. All the good intentions in the world go out the window when people start screaming for screens. The need for adjustments on press because of improper tension will cost time and quality and create frustrated press operators. Make it a policy that each screen is checked for proper tension immediately after reclaiming and again prior to stencilmaking. It's important that your screen-prep staff uses the proper mesh for the ink and substrate being used. Screen prep is a high-end position with great responsibility in the scheme of production, so it should be treated that way--after all, the process is called screen printing. Be sure your screen-prep department is staffed with quality personnel who are thoroughly trained. Properly and consistently prepared screens alone can improve your production rate by leaps and bounds. After exposing screens, double-check each screen to verify mesh count, identify pinholes, and ensure that the stencil has been properly exposed. Before screens leave the screen-prep department, make sure they are taped and ready for production. Leaving the final step of taping and prepping screens to the press operators is a waste of valuable press time. Screens for any given job should be ready for use as soon as the previous job is finished. This allows press operators to set up and run the next job without wasting any time. The ink room Nothing is more frustrating to me than to see a press down while the ink department whips up one last PMS color that was overlooked before setting up a job. Inks should be mixed in volumes appropriate for the run size, and the amount of each component used to produce a given color should be recorded for future reference. It is attention to small details like this that will double your productivity in a short time. The production floor Presses, press components, and the work area should all be clean at the onset of a run. If one of your press operators stands at a cleaning station spraying and scrub-bing one last flood bar before the job can begin, the delay costs your company in both dollars and time. Absolutely everything required for a job--right down to a box of shop towels--must be at the press before production begins. Here again, attention to small details can deliver big-time savings. Finishing the job Finishing a job requires several steps, beginning with inspection. As the first product comes off the dryer's conveyor belt, it is imperative that someone double-checks that the right substrate was used and that graphic quality and color accuracy are acceptable. While the job is running, the inspector should also monitor and maintain counts by size and consistency of quality. Be careful not to overwhelm a single inspector by asking that person to inspect products coming off of several presses. Once you have enough inspectors to cover your daily production volume, you will begin to eliminate errors that previously went unnoticed. Ship the order to arrive on time! I've seen the following scenario dozens of times: A job moves through the entire production process and into the shipping department right on time, only to be shipped late or sent via a carrier that delivers it past the requested deadline. All the time and effort you spent in art, screenmaking, and production is wasted if the customer refuses to pay due to such a shipping error. Orders must immediately go to packaging and shipping upon completion, and the shipping department must know when customers expect their goods so that they can send time-sensitive orders on their way before everyone clocks out. Hire working supervisors Paperwork, screens, ink, and substrates for particular jobs must be checked and staged according to order in which the jobs appear on the production schedule. You should have all materials ready for multiple jobs at any given time, so that if an error delays one job, you can quickly adjust the production schedule and proceed with an alternate job. To manage this kind of preparation, you need effective supervisors who can oversee the production process. You don't want supervisors who run equipment; you want supervisors who keep equipment running by making sure that orders are completely prepped to proceed. Supervisor wages are far better invested in those who monitor the process, not just a machine. Good, full-time supervisors more than pay for themselves in keeping production flowing smoothly and without interruption throughout your plant. Work smarter, not harder If you're dissatisfied with the efficiency of your operation, look for stumbling blocks in every department. Consider how current procedures can be streamlined and what functions you need to add to ensure consistency and repeatability. In the end, you'll find that doubling production is simply a matter of focusing on details so that you create an unobstructed path through your production process.
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