You Landed the Big Deal, so Everything is Wonderful … Right?

By | June 9, 2010

So, you’re one of the smart ones. Or one of the lucky ones . . . You’ve secured a big new client, you’ve got a three year contract, and the daily mail production volume actually turns out to be as much as they said it would be . . . sometimes more. You leased the latest and greatest high-speed inkjet imaging equipment with in-line finishing, and a couple roll-fed inserters, and they’re about 75% utilized by the work for this client. You’re meeting your SLAs, mostly, (there are days with big volume spikes), you’re making good money, and even getting paid for recycling the paper waste! Life is good.

You’re walking the production floor, smiling, remembering the intense, long hours and the crunch of getting the programming done to meet the client’s drop-dead start date – and then the next version came in, and then the next. The file formats were different, the documents were different, and your team just hunkered down, not sleeping much for about a month, working with the client on specs, coding, testing, proofing, and finally getting five versions into production.

As you walk, you take a look at the quality of the imaged rolls waiting to be loaded onto the inserters and are satisfied. You look around and see the paper waste in the gaylord containers for recycling. Wait – how many of those are there? You see the skids with the cores from the paper rolls for recycling – most have a couple inches or more of paper still on them. Holy cow! They’re everywhere!

You turn to the inkjet/finishing system and watch the operators thread 60+ feet of paper through it, which you are pretty sure you saw them do about fifteen minutes ago, and wonder – how good are things really – and how good COULD they be?

We see so many companies in which teams of people, having completed the hard work of getting their client’s complex projects up and running smoothly, heave a big sigh of relief and move on to the next project for the next client. Rarely is there the time or ability to plan and develop the most optimum, efficient production process out of the gate. But you can apply some disciplined methods for improvement post-implementation. Usually, there is a motivating factor, such as wanting to postpone additional capital investment.

For example, I recently worked with a client who had an ongoing group of projects, produced and mailed daily, that was growing and had volume spikes. The client wanted to ensure that they could support continued growth without adding equipment capacity. The daily production run was comprised of five separate variable data files, formatted for print and delivered to the print queue. A print operator would select a file to run on one of two high speed roll-fed two-color inkjet print devices. After printing, the rolls were moved to roll-fed inserters for finishing. The following baseline data was collected for the current state:

  1. Threading a printer required sixty feet of paper
  2. Set up time was just under one hour for each file in the print department
  3. Additional set up time was required at the inserter to set up each print roll

After examining the processes and requirements for the printers and the inserters, my team determined that with minor programming and process changes the files could be combined/stacked in the print queue and run in one continuous run without set ups between them. Two banner sheets were programmed between each file to assure separation at inserting. The solution was tested and new procedures developed and staff trained.

As a part of the process review, testing was done to determine how closely the paper roll could consistently be run to the core, without adversely affecting printer and inserter quality and productivity. Based on this testing, new standards were set and the operators were retrained. Some paper inconsistency issues were identified and were subsequently addressed and resolved with the paper merchant. Paper consistency can have a huge impact on efficiency.

Following the initial testing, additional jobs were identified where similar or the same file separation conditions existed. Metrics were developed to continue to track the Key Performance Indicators, (KPI’s), and both hard cost and soft benefits.

The results were immediately visible:

  1. Hard cost savings in terms of material, consumables, click charges, and labor costs in excess of $20,000 per month on the test job were documented.
  2. Overall production cycle time was reduced.
  3. On-time delivery was improved and;
  4. An additional four to five hours of combined printer/inserter capacity were gained per week on just the initial test job!

Getting these results does require some effort – gathering and assessing baseline data, motivating a small team to identify and test possible process improvements, and measuring results of the changes made. But, with a committed and interested management, this can become a way of doing business, not an exception effort, and create an improvement culture through all levels of the company.

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