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Going Lean is Easier When You Know Your Destination

By: Melissa Christman, Operational Excellence Leader, Appleton

Implementing Lean concepts can strengthen your print shop and help make you more competitive. However, before you can get moving, it really helps to know where you want to end up.

If your destination is improved profitability, you can get there by maximizing your operational efficiencies and controlling costs, which you do by eliminating waste. Sounds pretty simple, but where do you start?

Paging Mr. Tim Wood

Waste is both visible and invisible, and can be found throughout your print operation. There are eight sources of waste that negatively affect any print shop, whether you're an in-plant or a quick printer. The first seven common sources of waste are sometimes referred to as "Tim Wood," and they include:

  1. Transportation: moving or handling information or the product/project when it doesn't add value.
  2. Inventory: orders waiting to be processed, raw materials, finished goods, work-in-process, or tools that are not in use or over-purchased/over-stocked.
  3. Motion: using more motion than necessary to produce the product, for example, employees needing to walk back and forth to get their tasks done.
  4. Waiting: production downtime; calling for additional information and related approvals.
  5. Over-production: producing more than the customer needs/wants.
  6. Over-processing: using more resources than necessary to accomplish the task at hand, or including more steps than necessary.
  7. Defects: the traditional form of waste-creating products that cannot be used due to errors.

The eighth form of waste is under-utilized resources, which results by not taking full advantage of human potential.

By focusing on waste reduction and elimination, a print shop can shorten its overall lead-time. This will result in increased profitably because it lowers costs and improves project throughput. Reducing cycle-times gives you the opportunity to improve your cost position. For example, if a job takes 30 seconds less time, at multiple steps throughout a project, that small amount of time multiplied by the amount of jobs you do in a day, week or month starts to add up, becoming hours. And faster cycle times can have a huge impact on customer satisfaction.

Making the invisible visible

Focusing on the visibly obvious is easy, like inventory that's been paid for but is just taking up floor space. As for the waste you can't see, it's actually right in front of you. You fail to see it because you're not thinking about "how" you do your job; you're just doing your job, whatever it is. This is why assessing all your operations is such a critical component of making your print shop Lean.

It's also critical that employees in charge of front-end operations be part of the review process. The employees' knowledge of activity flow is vital to identifying all non-value-added sources-areas for waste improvement and the related dollar savings. That's a wake-up call for you, "Tim Wood."

Business process mapping is the first step of process management. Here, you'll use tools that will enable you to document, analyze, improve, streamline and redesign the way your print shop works. You'll document and record all current operations-identifying how long each process takes, and the flow.

This examination forces you to take a critical look at not only what you do, but more importantly "how" and "why" you do it. You'll monitor and scrutinize every facet of the chain of custody-from the time an order enters the shop, until the finished product leaves. You'll create a diagram that maps the material and information flows needed, from taking the order to being paid by the customer.

The business process mapping exercise requires you to:

  • Select a business process area to target
  • Create an examination team
  • Set project goals and plans
  • Observe the process, in order to:
    1. Capture current and new process information
    2. Identify flow of transaction(s)
    3. Identify responsibility of different business functions
    4. Clearly show hand-off between functions
    5. Identify value-added and non-value-added activities
  • Analyze the process findings
  • Review and approve the team's recommendations
  • Implement approved recommendations
  • Standardize and monitor changes

Get a handle on variation with standardization

Everyone has a best practice in his or her head for doing a particular job. Establishing standardized procedures for how best to do something flattens out the variation, which shortens the delivery time.

Sixty percent of the cost for a print shop project is administrative-order handling, quoting, invoicing, etc. And when it comes to lead time, more than half of it is consumed by business-related activities that take place in the front-end of the shop, not on the shop floor.

Let's look at the order-taking process, as an example. Having standardized procedures enables the person taking the order, whether they've been in the business one year or 20, to ask the customer the questions that will ensure they get what they need. In turn, the answers to those questions will give the production people the information they need to produce the project.

As "Tim Wood" likes to point out, having the right inputs reduces waste. Through this process, the following wastes can be reduced:

  • Transportation is reduced through less hand-offs. Prepress doesn't have to send the order back for clarification.
  • Inventory of work-in-process is reduced because there are no production back-ups due to rework.
  • Motion is reduced because no additional handling is required.
  • Waiting is eliminated because all the details were captured when the order was taken.
  • Over-production drops because you know the exact quantity the customer needs.
  • Over-processing is eliminated because you're only doing what was specified in the order.
  • Defects are eliminated since there are no errors in the job specifications because the customer confirmed the order.

As Lean concepts begin to take hold in your shop, before you really know it, the "normal" way of doing certain things will appear downright silly, and employees will begin to echo comments such as "We should have done this years ago."

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