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Making Progress and Profits Through Lean Manufacturing

By: Steve Cassell, Operational Efficiencies Manager, Appleton

Every print shop can benefit by using Lean manufacturing concepts to manage business operations. That's especially true for in-plants, where analysis of the cost-effectiveness of doing print jobs internally versus outsourcing them to a commercial printing operation is often an ongoing process.

Lean is a waste elimination and business growth philosophy, strategy and practice. Achieving success with Lean requires a passionate pursuit of perfection by everyone in an organization. The journey toward perfection usually starts by identifying and eliminating waste (the things not valued by your customers) from your operations.

Use Lean to take control
The first step is a psychological one, because you need to acknowledge there is waste and variation in your operations and, more importantly, that you and your team want to do something about it. There is no "EASY" button to push to get started. Changing how you operate can be tough, especially when resistance comes in the form of "That's the way we've always done things."

When you decide to commit to being a Lean operation, you begin to look for ongoing opportunities to improve your print shop. This is not a diet, but a true business lifestyle and culture change, which is why it must involve everything and everyone in the shop. But before Lean principals can be applied, you first have to know exactly where things are and what is happening throughout your operation.

Documenting current processes gauges the flow of activities and enables you to identify all the sources of waste and non-value-added elements. For example: Are there redundancies in how you manage your paper inventory? Are press supplies centralized or kept in multiple locations with no index of what is stored where? Does the shop layout cause downtime and delays? What's being done to prevent injuries and accidents?

Point of Entry for Lean: The 5S Tool
For print shops new to the Lean philosophy, a good place to start is with the 5S Process. Developed by Toyota, 5S is a lean process that builds order and discipline in a work area. The five "S" references represent Japanese terms, which loosely translate as Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain, which require you to:

  • Sort: Keep only what you need.
  • Set in order: Put everything you need in a specific place. It should be close to where you're using it. For example, tools. Keeping what you need in the most-appropriate spot eliminates motion waste.
  • Shine: Clean the entire area. Make it as new as possible. This includes equipment. A clean press will show component failures, like a leaking motor bearing, easier than a dirty one.
  • Standardize: Standardize everything in the area. Make sure everything is visual and that it is kept that way. Use visual cues to help achieve more consistent operational results. Someone from the outside should be able to walk through the shop and see if something is out of place. Standardization helps eliminate waste.
  • Sustain: Keep it this way by making it part of the daily routine. Done consistently, it will become the way you do business.

Audits help create lasting value
While you can make significant and rapid improvements applying the first three of the 5S references, it is through the last two, Standardize and Sustain, that organizations gain lasting value and competitive advantage from the 5S process. That often requires a culture change through which employees see 5S as a continuous process. The best way to judge continued engagement in the process is through regular audits. Such audits can be conducted monthly, quarterly and annually, depending on the size and scope of the operation, and should involve employees at all levels of the operations.

Consider a pilot approach
The 5S Process is not "housekeeping," but a system of practiced organization and discipline that is designed to help achieve more consistent operational results. A great feature of 5S is that it can be implemented on a pilot basis, such as on a single press or in a support area, like finishing.

This stepped approach creates a foundation for implementing Lean production practices shop-wide.


Documenting current processes gauges the flow of work activities and enables you to identify all the sources of waste and non-value-added elements. This photo is a good example of how keeping supplies centralized can help reduce wasted movement. Here, paper supplies are in the immediate work area. This helps maximize production by reducing delays caused by going to get more paper.

Whether you apply them to a dedicated work area or shop-wide, the fundamentals of Lean—evaluate, implement, measure and improve—are all within your control. Lean is not an end, in itself, but the operational journey that continuously creates value, cuts waste and reduces costs.


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