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Technology Focus

Improve Productivity on the Shop Floor (Part 1)

by Raymond J. Prince, Senior Technical Consultant, PIA/GATF

August-September, 2006
For the past 40 plus years, I have been in the industry and traveled extensively looking at problems in plants and doing quality audits. I would like to share with you my observations on how many plants have improved productivity. The most productive plants I have seen have accomplished high productivity not by paying high wages but by having eliminated every cause of low productivity.

Where to Start
I would look first at the storage of raw materials and incoming work. Are they stored in a controlled area that is properly heated, air conditioned, clean, and free from damage from lift trucks? For paper storage, the paper should be stored at 70F and 50 percent RH. Temperature can vary by 10°F with not too much difficulty but RH below 40 percent causes static and feed issues. The area should be clean and free from floating dust. Windows are a bad idea.

Skids and rolls should never show damage. Roll protectors are a good idea. Open skids of flat stock can pick up and release moisture to the air. Paper that picks up moisture will wave and may wrinkle when being finished. Stock should never be uncovered – skid covers are available from many sources. Stock that is rejected should be sent back immediately and not left in inventory. The reason for doing this is many times the rejected stock is used accidentally. Paper does not age well; it is not like a fine wine. Old paper cracks, scores poorly, etc.

In regard to raw materials, how many brands are on the shelf? In the most productive plants, there will only be one supplier for each raw material. Raw materials do not age well. You would not put $1,000 on your home dresser and leave it there for a year. But many times we are doing that with raw material. Old is old and may not run well. Look at the amount of waste in your plant and compare it with others. This tends to show where your problems are. Keep records of which raw materials worked well for you. Likewise, verify and inspect all incoming materials to make sure they are what were ordered and the condition is correct. Keep in mind that getting a deal on damaged goods is no deal.

Take a hard look at your scheduling department – money can be made here. Proper scheduling to reduce makeready time can save thousands over a year. It is a wise idea to have the scheduler visit each piece of operating equipment to find out what factors can improve productivity. An example would be running large sheet jobs first then smaller and smaller. Another would be scheduling foil jobs by color of foil.

Filthy production areas are the biggest cause of low productivity. I have had the pleasure of visiting many clean plants (spotless plants) and the unfortunate experience of visiting the dirtiest plant in North America. I have never seen a filthy piece of equipment run fast. I have never seen a filthy piece of equipment run good work. The best time to clean is not on Monday morning. So many plants do this and it drives sales and management crazy – what a downer with which to start the week.

How did that piece of paper get on the floor? Someone had to put it, drop it, throw it, or send it there. If no one did that, it would not be there. The key is teaching our people to work clean – that can be done. Instituting a 5S program in your plant can be a blessing. Getting rid of excess material on the floor is the first step. If you want an eye-opener, take a tour of a folding carton plant that is Baking Institute certified. Clean equipment runs better, lasts longer, is safer, and has a higher resale value.

Focus on Your Equipment
Benchmarking of equipment is always a good idea. Each piece of equipment no matter what its age should be benchmarked at least once per year. Likewise, each run should be compared to your standard for that equipment. Some plants have a test job to run. You should measure run speed, makeready time, waste, spoilage, and last but not least, quality. Once you have done this, you can compare yourself with industry standards or other company standards. I like to see the figures posted on a weekly basis by each piece of equipment. Once you have started this, begin looking for ways to improve. Every process can be improved.

Increasing productivity of older equipment – can it be done? Sure it can. There are some easy ways to accomplish this. The first thing I would do is light up the piece. Putting in additional lighting has many advantages – now we all can see the dirt. Likewise, we can see where the problems are. Getting the foot-candles above 125 on the equipment and over 180 in the areas in which you are inspecting the work has some real advantages. Next, clean and paint the equipment and the area around the piece of equipment.

After lighting the equipment and cleaning it up, I would have the manufacturer of the equipment visit and inspect it for parts replacement and a tune-up. While the manufacturer is there, ask for a little training of employees. Finally, you should then begin slowly increasing production speeds. In a plant, I took this approach with an older piece of equipment. It caused a problem for the rest of the plant. The other employees wondered why they were being left out of the clean-up effort and equipment improvement effort. What a wonderful problem to have – employees asking to have a cleaner and more efficient place to work.

In the finishing area, we normally hear about counts being off. Of course, it is never the problem of the customer that sent the job to you. Have you ever noticed the count is never too high but it is always short? Interesting! Weigh counting all jobs coming in is a very good idea. This is a good safeguard for you. Telling the customer on day one that a problem exists is far better than telling them on day four. For plastics, we will normally sheet count as opposed to weigh counting. When it comes to counts – the customer is not always right.

Now you have several items to address on your own plant floor. In the next issue of InsideFinishing, I will share more helpful information on employee issues, as well as share with you a few key ideas.

Raymond Prince is a senior technical consultant in the Technical Services Group at the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF) in Pittsburgh, Penn. A 45-year veteran, Prince conducts technical plant assessments in response to technical inquiries from GATF members and the industry. He also presents technical seminars, conducts in-plant training programs, and contributes technical information to GATF textbooks and Technical Services Reports and writes a monthly “Tech Tips” for the Graphic Arts Blue Book web site. To contact Raymond Prince with technical questions, email him at raygatf@aol.com.