Do I Have the Right Equipment?

By | October 1, 2010

As I write this, I am preparing for the Graph Expo Show. One of the questions I hear all the time at shows is, “do we have the right equipment?” Like so many questions it seems simple, but like so many answers it is much more complex. If asked during a seminar, it is tough to go into the level of detail required to be thorough. As a result, the answers are often abbreviated. Here is an example of an abbreviated answer, that talks about some but not all of the issues in an equipment decision.

How well is your equipment aligned with your product mix?

I like to understand and compare the capabilities of the equipment to the type of work done. The capabilities of the equipment is easy but the type of work done is not. Most companies offer a mix of products and services. The question becomes what do you do most and most profitably? That requires an application analysis. If you’re lucky, you may be able to find that information with an application analysis using a print MIS system.

Where are your bottlenecks?

Bottlenecks are places where work gets stuck. There are two types of bottlenecks – static and moving. A static bottleneck is always in the same place while a moving bottleneck moves through a plant like a snake eating a rat. New equipment does not address a moving bottleneck.

What is your utilization rate?

Utilization is how busy do you keep your equipment. Considering step up times it is often tough to exceed 75% utilization rates or 6 out of eight hours. But that’s only utilization for one shift. For two shifts that would be 12 hours and three shifts 18 hours. Considering the cost of capital equipment these days it is almost always cheaper to run it for more shifts than to buy another one.

How well are staff trained?

Another important consideration is staff training. When I say this people always look at me like I have two heads. It’s simple really. If staff are not trained well, then what looks like an underperforming piece of equipment may just be poorly trained staff. After you improve staff performance then we can assess the increase in productivity you would get and calculate an ROI for a new equipment purchase. Otherwise you’re just moving from an underutilized piece of old equipment to an underutilized piece of new equipment.

What do you think is missing? What else do you think about when considering new equipment?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

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One thought on “Do I Have the Right Equipment?

  1. Eddy Hagen (VIGC)

    That is indeed a very important question. And not an easy one, as you correctly stated. And one that will have a different answer for each and every company. There are no easy answers. But the answers are essential to survive, to prosper.

    Last week I was moderating a session on inkjet vs toner vs offset (“where should sheetfed printers go”). Near the end one of the attendees said he was dissappointed: he didn’t hear a clear answer which one of the three he should choose. I tried to explain him that it’s not that easy just to pick a general ‘winner’. It depends… As you already stated: the equipment has to fit the product mix. And that product mix should be the starting point when considering investments. The product mix that you have or that you are confident to be able to have in the very near future.

    Technology as such is just a mean to provide customers with the product that they need. Technology is not the goal. So people need to choose the technology that fits their needs, even if it is not the popular one.

    And all the other questions are also very relevant: investments are so huge these days that you really need a high utilisation rate (I know people that change there sheet fed presses every 4 to 5 years…). And you really need to train your staff: otherwise the investment will not be profitable. It doesn’t make sense to put somebody in a Formula 1 car when he doesn’t know how to change gears.

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