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Living in Low-Budget Land

(March 2012) posted on Tue Mar 20, 2012

How to survive the current economy as a printer

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By Andy MacDougall

Old equipment
A pet peeve of mine is the amount of money companies will throw at new digital presses, which have a useful life of maybe three to five years, yet they won’t spend much if anything on new screen-printing equipment—even though it’s 10 or 20 years old and continues to crank out jobs on a daily basis. If you have to fix a machine constantly, or if it stops in the middle of production, or the work it produces is not up to your standards consistently, then either step up your maintenance, invest in a major overhaul, or look for a replacement.
New equipment can deliver faster production, more accuracy, easier setup, and energy efficiency. All these things will save you money. If the machine is not used regularly, with no prospective work in the near future, then sell it. There’s nothing wrong with shrinking your footprint, especially if you are contemplating relocation.

The way jobs flow through a shop and savings from workflow changes are linked with your equipment and your workers. Take a real hard look at your operation, and be honest in identifying anything that slows down a job or takes away from a technician being able to complete tasks in a timely manner. Many shops could grab the low-hanging fruit in the form of a cleaner workspace, with all tools organized and at hand. Save aggravation and 10 or 15 minutes a day with the clutter and dust gone. That’s an hour a week. Multiply that by every worker in your shop and you have not only saved expense, but also gained billable hours.

The business mantra in the age of McDonald’s has been to simplify a job until it can be done by an unskilled, replaceable, minimum-wage worker who can learn the task in a few hours. The problem with that philosophy in screen printing and specialty graphics is twofold. First, we run custom jobs on machines doing complicated tasks that, in many cases, require cumulative knowledge only gained by on-the-job training over a period of time. The second part has to do with the materials we print and the attitude and attention required.
Make a sloppy burger or overcook a French fry—odds are the customer just inhaled it in their car and didn’t notice because the evidence was covered up by salt, sugar, and a second burger at half price. Screw up one little thing on a print job and the whole run can be rejected, costing you double, eliminating any profit, and damaging your reputation with the customer.
You can look at a slowdown as a gift. Every business, unless it is a one-person operation, eventually finds itself with workers who, at best, are perennial second stringers—at worst, disruptive to the team and never capable of or wanting to up their game or skills. Take the opportunity to lay them off and give the work to the people who demonstrate they want it.
Look at all options that allow you to retain your most productive and skilled workers. These might include flex time or job sharing. Investigate any programs that would allow you to train or retrain workers under government employment initiatives.
There are lots of ways to control cost, and these are a few that work in our industry.



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