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Technology Focus

Diecutting Pre-Makeready: Racing Toward Success

by John Maddox, Simonds Notting

May-June, 2000
A successful Pre-MakeReady (PMR) and diecutting department involves teamwork–just like a successful auto race hinges on the precision of a pit crew. But what exactly does PMR include? PMR means different things to different people. Some may feel they are doing PMR simply because they have the job ticket for the next job at their workstation. The other extreme is a PMR team supplying complete sets of tooling via easy transfer systems to the diecutter and assisting the operator with the changeover and makeready. The goal of the PMR department should be to provide the diecutting department with tooling that will allow them to run the press at optimum speed with minimum downtime for changeover and makeready. Makeready equals downtime. The real question is do we know when a makeready begins and when it ends? Makeready is the time between the last good production sheet of one job and the first good production sheet of the next job. It is this time period we need to focus on reducing.

In the early 1980s, PMR consisted of striking in a job and cutting scores by hand over a period of a few days while other jobs were running. Back then, the nature of the business was different; it was not unusual to be running the same job for a week. If you had three or four makereadies in a week, you would ask why me? As we all know, the nature of the business has changed. A normal shift today could involve several makereadies, and lead times are two or three days, not two or three weeks. Therefore, whatever we can do to reduce the makeready times will help us satisfy these new demands for shorter lead times.

Assembling a Winning Crew

A Formula One pit crew is teamwork at its finest. When the car pulls into the pits you don’t see the crew go and get their tools. These guys are ready! They have their work instructions, they know what they have to do, and they have the correct tools to do the job. The same kind of teamwork can be developed in your diecutting and PMR departments.

The first meeting with your team is usually nothing more than a whining session. This is normal—it gives everyone a chance to vent. The second meeting will be more constructive. Definite goals, clear objectives, and ground rules will be established. Encourage the team to bring examples of their problems to the meetings so that together you can analyze and offer solutions. Utilize these meetings to discuss new products and their applications. The goal is to develop a proactive team environment committed to continuous improvement.

When we developed our PMR team, we were fortunate to have over 150 years of diecutting and diemaking experience between us. The downside was that we all had a different way of doing things and we each thought we knew the best way to do it. Sound familiar? The challenge for the team was to listen to everyone’s input, then collectively develop the written work instructions. This meant change for a lot of people. The natural reaction to change for many of us is to resist. We all have a certain comfort zone and change usually means stepping out of that comfort zone.

Developing Teamwork

A team is a group of people working on a common task, working as a unit. Teamwork is what a team does when it acts together. People work better in groups. What one person does not know or cannot do is supplied by another. People want to be empowered to make a contribution. They can be empowered by contributing to the decision-making process.

We used Pareto charts and cause and effect diagrams to develop our department. The Pareto principle is the 80/20 rule: 20% of the customers submit 80% of the complaints; 20% of the equipment accounts for 80% of the breakdowns. Cause and effect diagrams give a graphic representation of the various factors that influence a problem. The benefit of this tool is that everyone gains knowledge and it is a very helpful guide for discussion.

We also videotaped our makereadies and reviewed them together as a team. The purpose was to see what could be done off press and what, if anything, could be done in a different fashion on press. You will witness the true meaning of volunteerism when you ask the question who wants to be videotaped? Everyone has the uncanny knack of recommending his or her fellow employees. This is team spirit at its best.

Make sure you use a camera with the elapsed time displayed on the screen; that way you have an idea of how long the changeover and makeready is taking. Use your team meetings to watch and analyze the video, looking for what can be done off press and what can be done better on press.

One example of what we changed as a result of the videotaping was how we were making our spot sheets. We were striking these in on press, then mounting them on the chase. We changed that so they were produced on the CAD system and mounted to the chase in the PMR department. This may not seem like a big deal, but let me share some numbers with you. We figured it took 10 minutes to strike in the spot sheet and mount it to the chase. In one year we ran 2,557 jobs through the plant. If you calculate 10 minutes for each spot sheet multiplied by 2,557 jobs, that equates to 426 hours of production. That presents an opportunity to run a lot more business through your operation. Your challenge is to find as many of these 10-minute opportunities as possible.

All in the Timing

We all have a fair idea of the problems we are faced with on a daily basis in our manufacturing process. It is not until you measure the process that you can realize the opportunities you have to improve your operation. If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Some of the areas we measured were downtime due to looking for information or waiting for tooling, and problems with stripping/tooling, dies, ejection, scoring, and problems on press.

Each pressman documented downtime on a daily basis using a simple Excel spreadsheet listing the areas we wanted to measure. This information was collected on a monthly basis and charted. Each team member was given a copy of this information as well as makeready time and run speeds. The team reviewed the information at the team meetings.

Tips for a Successful PMR Department


Information, both internal and external, is an important resource. The information you receive from internal planning meetings, production personnel, design departments, etc. can be gathered and maintained in a database. Current tooling locations and tooling status, problems during the production run, and changeover and makeready procedures should all be documented so that action can be taken before the next run.

External information received from suppliers, associations, industry publications, seminars, and open houses can give you information about new products on the market or new techniques. It also gives you a chance to meet people who have had similar problems and what steps they took to address them.


Good communication, from management through all levels of personnel, is paramount to a successful job run and a successful business. Details should be communicated from shift to shift, not only within the PMR group, but also between die makers, PMR, and diecutters.


It is essential that PMR personnel understand the press and what is expected of the tooling they are preparing. Training on ejection rubber placement and type, correct nicking techniques, and how to understand work instructions and procedures are all critical elements to PMR efficiency. To facilitate this, we took our most knowledgeable pressman and made him the lead man in the PMR department. When problems were encountered on press, he had the knowledge to translate them, to determine a workable solution.


The layout of the PMR department is very important. It should have good workflow, good lighting, and ideally be within close proximity of the diecutters and diemaking department.

Commitment to Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement requires commitment from employees and from management. Many problems are within "the system"; therefore, employees need management’s help to change the system. Continuous improvement is an integrated approach that involves a philosophy as well as tools and techniques. It is not a quick fix or the easy way, but it isn’t impossible. If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. We should always be looking for ways to improve what we are doing by working smarter, not harder.


Teamwork is critical. You can’t move forward if you can’t work together. What makes a good team?

• Mutual respect.

• Good listening skills. Ask any consultant whom he listens- tens to when he performs an audit of your company. The answer will be your resident experts, your employees. People become very complacent if you don’t listen to them.

• A willingness to learn and change. As human beings we have the ability to change. The question is, are we willing to change?

• Creativity. Fear is the primary block to creativity—fear of making a mistake, fear of looking like a fool, fear of being criticized. We have to create a work environment free of fear so that people’s ideas flow freely.

Winner’s Circle

Not everyone has the luxury of having the best equipment, the best plant layout, or even the resources to make a lot of changes. But there are ways to improve efficiency. A PMR department can reduce downtime by catching mistakes before they get to press. It can allow for planning and evaluation of tooling off press. The result will be more production time, an improvement in on-time deliveries and, ultimately, profitability.

Begin by observing your operation. Look at how you are doing changeovers and makereadies, how you handle and store your tooling, etc. Then ask yourself if information and communication could be improved. The challenge we all face is to create a work environment where we can get the best from each employee. I hope that the information I have shared with you will assist you in meeting that challenge.