NAPL/PIA/GATF Sheetfed Conference 2006

ImageThis 14th annual gathering of sheetfed printers drew over 250 to Chicago June 11-13 to hear leading case studies of print technologies and innovations.

Jointly organized and planned by the Natianal Association for Printing Leadership, the Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation and an advisory board of sheetfed printers, this conclave continues to benefit from new formats and techniques to get attendees involved, while presenting stimulating content to help improve their profitability.

Candid and pointed attendee round table discussions and the four different tracks of production, operations, supervisory excellence and leadership, gave each participant the chance to get specific issues answered and take home actionable new ideas.

To have the same basic equipment and technology run by experienced operators might imply that the total amount of production time to produce an identical printed piece ought to be relatively close. Would 25 percent variation seem outlandish? How about three times the amount of time from most efficient to least? And even five times the range in spoilage? The 2006 sheetfed benchmarking study conducted by PIA/GATF with nearly 40 volunteer print producers, showed a marked improvement over a similar comparison done in 1998, but there were still staggering variations across the spectrum of plant participants.

The participants' profiles were $10-$50 million in sales with 50 employees and mostly general commercial printers. Each was provided with a CD of the same image either as a PDF or InDesign (their choice) and a press sheet to match. Eighty percent chose PDFs. The 20 percent choosing the native files took the most amount of prepress time to prep files, RIP, trap, image and check plates.

The group averaged 110 minutes total in prepress to process the four-over-four poster imposed to 19" by 25" with the top guns taking about 70 minutes. The laggards took three hours. The 2006 prep throughput was a noticeable improvement over the 138-minute average of 1998 when most participants were handling film rather than CTP output.

There were four different press manufacturer models used, though most were 40" and ranged in age from new to a decade old. Hence, automation varied considerably on the presses chosen by the plant participants. Make ready averaged 60 minutes, which was a 50 percent reduction from 1998. The best performer took 35 minutes while two plants came in at 90 minutes. Each plant was allowed to use any paper and their house inks. Press spoilage averaged 850 sheets for the 1,000-poster press run which was a 30 percent improvement over the 1998 spoilage average of 1,250. The best performers had both low times and low waste.

The total manufacturing time ranged from 120-300 minutes with an average of 180 minutes. Printers using perfector presses performed the best as would be expected. This was a 25 percent improvement over 1998. Dr. Mark Bohan, who coordinated the PIA/GATF study, concluded that a third of the printers had waste issues while another third had prepress issues. Each participant was given a report showing his or her results against the average and the overall range of performance.

The digital press manufacturers should be most giddy over this study, since their entire portfolio of equipment could produce this same job in a fraction of the time of the best litho performer – much less the average offset plant – with a modicum of waste. However, the run length of 1,000 (two-sided) was selected by PIA/GATF to provide a relative benchmark for prepress, press make ready, start up spoilage and to be the least out-of-pocket cost burden to each participant. George Ryan, PIA/GATF Chief Operating Officer, said that the test could be taken by any printer on an ongoing basis to determine overall efficiency. This additional information, in turn, would increase the database, which will make the overall study more statistically significant.

The Director of the Chicago Manufacturing Center, Mr. Larry Gess, discussed the principles of "lean manufacturing." Succinctly stated, lean is "a systematic approach to identifying and eliminating waste or non-value-added activities through continuous improvement by flowing the product at the pull of the customer in pursuit of perfection."

For example, 95 percent of all lead time is non-value-added according to Gess. Further differences are highlighted in this table of assumptions.

A printer in the audience, Terry Remaly, who is Plant Manager of Columbus, Ohio's Hopkins Printing, described their recent successful implementation of lean manufacturing initially in their bindery. Considering the outside consultants to be too expensive and with no experience in the printing industry, his firm of 105 total employees approached the Mechanical Engineering Department at the local Ohio State University for help. Hopkins Printing ( ended up hiring a recent graduate who implemented lean manufacturing in about six months.

Tina Berg-Boldt, Associate Director of the Graphic Arts Training & Consulting Group ( of Davenport Iowa, offered a primer on "How to 5S your plant."
5S is a proven system of behaviors and activities that prepare and maintain the entire physical plant for lean operations by "simplifying the workplace and making it easier to distinguish wasteful from value-adding elements."

The "Ss" are actually the first letter of a series of Japanese words, where the practice has been perfected. In essence it's comprised of these five segments; 1S) separate/sort & scrap; 2S) straighten out/set in order; 3S) scrub/shine/sweep; 4S) spread & maintain (standardize) throughout the plant; and 5S) systematize and sustain. Berg-Boldt showed before-ond-after photos of plants that followed this structured approach to simplifying and cleaning up each employee's workspace. The result was a visual, safe, uncluttered workplace that allows products to flow on the most direct route through the plant and allows each employee to do his/her job in the most effective way each day.

Key performance indicators measured and monitored by printing profit leaders were presented by Tim Fischer, NAPL's Vice President of Finance & Member Services. Each of the separate functional areas had 4-6 indicators that allowed the management team to watch their "dashboard" to assure that the operation stayed on course. The following chart highlights a few of these tools and the range in which print profit leaders typically fall.

There is an interesting and seeming contradiction between these benchmark performance indicators and those recommended to be followed by the advanced manufacturers of other industries, as defined by the lean manufacturing concept previously described.

At this conference, the Sheetfed Executive of the Year is named. The eleven past executives are certainly a distinguished group of print CEOs. These gentlemen have given their time, served on print trade association boards and have been leaders and role models in their respective communities. Readers of my articles have seen a few names of executives repeatedly sharing their experiences on printer panels for newcomers and competitors alike in the print audience. Based on this key criteria of giving back to the printing industry, no one is more deserving of this honor than John Berthelsen, CEO of Suttle-Straus Printing in Waunakee, Wisconsin, the 2006 Sheetfed Executive of the Year.

While this sheetfed conference has always attracted printing companies larger than the industry average (and therefore presumably more sophisticated in their technology and operations), it's striking how different those operations can be. Capital is relatively easy to come by to purchase the latest technology. But garnering the right mix of skilled employees, good equipment and efficient procedures all synchronized and focused on serving the dynamics needs of a competitive market, seems increasingly difficult. This conference is certainly one that helps any printer solve this three or four dimensional tic-tac-toe puzzle.

C. Clint Bolte & Associates, Chambersburg, PA.
T: 717-263-5768
F: 717-263-8945