If you manage a post-press operation, you know how easy it is to be pulled every which way by the daily details of running, maintaining and scheduling a mix of bindery equipment. Throw in an equipment breakdown, a personnel issue, or a snow storm and your headaches multiply.
It’s a tough spot to be in. The post-press end of the printing business is very much a hands-on affair and traditionally we’re taught to muscle our way through whatever is in front of us. Bindery department supervisors often come up through the ranks, so there is probably little in the way of management training.
But when the management responsibility falls on our shoulders, then we must make the critical transition from working IN the business or department to working ON it. Otherwise the operation is managing us.
This doesn’t mean you have to do it full time, especially if you are a hands-on supervisor or even an owner whose duties include operating equipment. Your management education can start with the simple act of stepping back from the daily grind to take a look at what’s going on.
Here are nine components of your operation that are easy to examine. Small changes in each can have an instant, positive impact on productivity.
1) Checklists. Even the simplest of checklists is proven to prevent mistakes and improve efficiency, quality, safety, and communication. Pilots, surgeons, and equipment operators in many industries use them for good reason.
They can also be used to make decisions in advance. This in turn reduces the number of pesky, repeated questions you get asked throughout the day.
We talk about checklists in more detail here in this related article. The article also contains a link to download a “Checklist for Checklists” which will help you in creating checklists tailored to your operation.
2) Training. What training programs, if any, are required of new employees on your staff? Is advanced equipment training available to operators who want to move up and learn more? Manufacturers and equipment dealers are great resources. So are bindery equipment mechanics who often have decades of experience they are willing to share. A day or two of training from an experienced mechanic can yield huge dividends.
If you have a larger staff, you undoubtedly have internal expertise which could be put to good use in a formal training program.
3) Safety. Is there a safety program in your shop or department? If not, there should be. Bindery equipment, despite all the safeguards, can still cause serious injury. Working in a warehouse environment around forklifts, trucks and loading docks also pose their own special hazards, especially to the newcomer.
There are plenty of free and low-cost safety training resources available online through OSHA, the Printing Industries of America, and the Binding Industries Association. And don’t forget, equipment manufacturer’s recommendations are an important resource for specific safety recommendations.
4) Manage Activity and Measure Results. If we could manage results, life would be simple! Of course the only thing we can truly manage is our activity and the activity of those colleagues for whom we are responsible—who does what, how they do it, when they do it, etc.
But if we don’t have a system for measuring the results of that activity, how do we know we made a good decision? We don’t. We must determine what’s important and then measure it.
For instance, if you are supervising a crew of folding machine operators, you probably want to keep track of production on each machine. If you know that average production on Folder A is a certain level and Johnny is always 20% less than average, then you know you’ve got to address how Johnny is doing his job. Perhaps he needs more training.
There is no right or wrong thing to measure. If it’s a digital post-press operation, perhaps the number of jobs that ship each day is the important number. Each business or department has its own unique needs and special importance. Measuring results will lead to questions and these questions will guide you in the ongoing process of managing activity.
5) Managing Slack Time. Downtime due to lack of work is too often seen as free time, or a time to relax and let everyone have free reign. That’s a mistake. Slack time like this should be managed and scheduled with the same importance as uptime.
A simple way to do this is to have a list of pre-planned activities prepared for slack time. When slack time happens, your staff jumps right into the list. This turns wasted time into productive, useful time. Go here for a related article on the subject of managing slack time.
Perhaps a little free time or fun time is important to your organization. If so, put it on the list! The point is to manage it, rather than letting it manage you.
6) Drug Testing. If drugs are being used in your workplace, then your staff’s productivity is unquestionably worse than it should be. So too their health and safety.
7) Lean Practices. In a perfect world, lean manufacturing comes from the top down in any organization. But if your organization doesn’t embrace the concept, you can still incorporate lean practices in your department. There is a more detailed article on lean practices here.
A great primer on the subject is Setup Reduction for Printers: A Practical Guide to Reducing Makeready Time in Print Manufacturing by Malcolm Keif and Kevin Cooper. It’s an easy read and as the title suggests, it’s geared specifically towards the print industry. You can buy the book here on amazon.com.
8) Analyze Unscheduled Downtime. Here we are talking about failures in equipment or personnel that result in unscheduled machine downtime. As Murphy’s Law teaches us, such failures occur at the worst possible moment and will cause the maximum amount of financial damage.
Some failures are preventable, yet that only happens if you take the time to analyze why it happened. In fact, there is an entire industry devoted to failure analysis using data collection. For our purposes, you can start an analysis by using questions or if you want to call it by its proper name, Socratic Method.
Let’s say for instance that a folding machine is down. Your question series might go something like this:
Q. What caused the folder to go down?
A. A vacuum pump failed.
Q. Why did the pump fail?
A. It overheated.
Q. Why did it overheat?
A. The intake filter was clogged and the cooling fins were caked with dirt.
Q. Why were they dirty?
A. The night shift thought the day shift took care of cleaning and filters, and the day shift thought the maintenance department was responsible.
Q. So what can we do to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
You get the idea. With questions, you can drill down to get to the real reasons behind a failure. Of course one line of questioning may open up two or three more lines of inquiry. That however, is a good thing. Questions will uncover problems and educate at the same time.
Use questions wisely. Remember, we’re not trying to fix the blame; we’re trying to fix the problem.
9) Analyze Rejected Jobs. I’ve seen many companies who simply accept a certain level of rejection. Rejected or re-worked jobs are simply another form of failure. Questioning and analyzing a rejected job as you would an equipment failure is a powerful way to prevent it from happening again.
Yes, failures will always happen. The key to succeeding is to move past the failures as fast as possible. Successful companies and departments will still fail, but they won’t fail at the same things over and over again.
To sum it up, make it a point to carve out some time each day to work ON whatever it is you manage. It’s a lot of tiny, thoughtful changes that make possible the big improvements. As the old saying goes, “Little hinges swing big doors,” and your bosses or customers are knocking!
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