How to turn your commercial print shop into a lean, mean printing machine!

Bev Matushewski.
Bev Matushewski.

This article was co-written by Bev and Bonita Matushewski of MCSI’s Printing Division, Bev is Western Canada Sales Rep for Insource and an industry expert in printing and Lean Six Sigma. Bonita is a Lean Six Sigma “Black Belt” Specialist.

Today, commercial printers (small, medium and large) as well as packaging printers and converters, sign shops, mailing & fulfillment houses and other printing industry segments, struggle with how to grow their businesses. Because there are so many more choices out there, it’s difficult for print shop owners to make the best decisions. This dilemma is called “Paradox of Choice.” To understand fully what future direction to take your printing business, say authors and Lean Six Sigma specialists Bev and Bonita Matushewski, you need to first understand two key variables – your profit margins and your processes. Profit margins refer to the ratio of profits earned compared to total costs. This is where new equipment purchases can have a huge impact. Processes refer to how well and how fast you operate (also known as time and defects). A defect is defined as anything outside the customer’s specifications. The more defects you have, the less productive time you have – because defects cause re-working, duplication, overtime and ultimately frustrated staff and dissatisfied customers. To improve, you must examine both areas. If you were to create a basic process map, it would likely resemble the diagram shown above.

Bonita Matushewski.
Bonita Matushewski.

Understanding the DMAIC Cycle

The majority of defects don’t take place while an order is being printed. They occur before or after. Today, many successful commercial printers have deployed proven methodology called Lean Six Sigma (LSS) to reduce their process waste while boosting efficiency and maintaining quality. Process waste refers to printing defects, over-production (producing more than is needed), waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation (moving of equipment), inventory, motion (searching, hunting and gathering) and extra processing (extra steps in a process that aren’t necessary). Bottom line: The less process waste, the more efficient and effective your printing operation will be. Traditionally, the proven steps to solving process problems in printing using LSS follow the DMAIC Cycle – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.

The Define stage is not about solving the problem, but rather understanding the root of the problem by using front-line staffers to explore the issues they face. This also includes creating a visual depiction of all the steps and decision points in a process using what’s called a Process Map. Measure is about identifying (and collecting) measurements that will prove or disprove what you thought was the problem. These metrics will tell you exactly how you’re performing, how many defects you have, how much time those defects involve, their cost, and how long the overall process takes. For example, how long does it take you to cut business cards with a guillotine? How many cuts were done prior to boxing the cards? How many times did the operator miss the crop mark? This defect causes the business card job to start over and is a compounding factor for a commercial printer. Not only is there is a loss of material and a click charge, but this becomes an even bigger factor as other jobs are not being completed (due to the rerun itself and holding of future jobs). Pulling all this information together is what you do in the Analyze stage. You’re now ready to move to the crucial Improve stage.

The Improve stage is where all the magic happens. This is where you bring the front-line staff back together again to brainstorm, change ideas for your processes and create an implementation plan. This may include developing a ‘future state’ map that’s focused on what the processes should look like. This is where manufactures of printing equipment often struggle – because they may sell you equipment with only the cost of the sale in mind. However, purchasing new equipment may not be the right solution to your problems. Once the agreed-upon improvements are implemented, you should recall what you measured in the first place, and see if what you implemented had a positive impact on the entire process – and most importantly, by how much.

Finally, the Control stage is about ensuring whatever you put into place for improvements will never lapse. This step is also about celebrating the successes you’ve achieved through your focused efforts and those of your employees. To be competitive in today’s printing industry (and indeed in any challenging business environment), you need to assess profit margins objectively, and assess and fine-tune all your processes meticulously. Then and only then, will you be ready to expand with confidence.



Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.