Striving for the most efficient workflow to drive productivity and profitability is one of the underlying goals of many of today’s printing companies. Often, the focus is on being more productive with less by increasing production speeds and reducing makereadies while also reducing touch points throughout the workflow.

There are many tools and techniques that can be used to drive these goals, from procedural/operational changes to new equipment/software acquisitions. The decision on what works best will depend on each individual production facility, the customer base, the verticals addressed and the business philosophy of the company. However, common principles can be applied to every company and optimized to the facility.

Business growth can be equally as important as equipment optimization, depending on the particular company. Too many times the focus is on efficiency in the press room, while neglecting to increase sales, concentrate on the product mix, and optimize business practices prior to production. Focusing only on equipment will certainly improve efficiency, but without a corresponding change in business practices, full benefits will not be achieved. Prior to any optimization process it is essential to understand your current state, as this provides the benchmark for any improvements that are gained. It is also important to prioritize the areas of focus.

Ask yourself the following question: “Can you analyze your current performance?”

In many cases, there is no hard data to back up opinions of how your current equipment is performing and where the opportunities exist to gain additional time. There is often the option to evaluate the equipment itself through existing management systems or third-party data-collection solutions.

 There are four main areas that should be considered when optimizing equipment. Neglecting any of them can have a significant effect on the achievable impact:

  1. Materials and information arriving at the equipment: Often ignored, this needs to be both accurate and timely; problems in either case will lead to lost production and reduced efficiency. To ensure maximum efficiency, significant time savings and a reduction in errors, jobs entered into a management information system (MIS), need to be passed, along with the prepress data, through to the press. Delivery and scheduling press materials is another area to optimize, so operators are not waiting or transporting materials when they should be carrying out the makeready.

 In one facility, a reduction from 40 minutes to 10 minutes was achieved on a wide-format printer by primarily considering transportation issues.

  1. Equipment set-up and makeready: This applies to all manufacturing processes including offset, digital, and flexographic printing, as well as postpress activities. First, you need to understand your starting point through benchmarking. Second, you need to determine how the process can improve. This analysis, along with your production schedule, helps to determine the level of importance for reducing set-up and makeready times. Moreover, improvements need to be understood within the context of the overall production facility and not the individual job.

 For example: a 10 minute savings seem better than a 1 minute savings; however, when there are twenty set-ups a week in the first case and five hundred a week in the second, there is actually two-and-a-half times the weekly savings to be achieved in the second case.

This occurs equally throughout the whole optimization process — making it critical to understand the full lifecycle of the product.

  1. Production efficiency and error reduction: When optimizing the production of a piece of equipment, Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) provides a valuable independent measure of how well the equipment performs over time and is a useful metric to gauge the impact of changes to workflow and production methods. OEE can be defined as: 

OEE: Speed Index x Quality Index x Time Index

By optimizing all of the steps in the production cycle and standardizing materials,very high efficiencies can be achieved. An example is shown in Figure 1, where 134 makereadies and 273,000 impressions were completed in 24 hours on a sheetfed press. For a more in-depth guide to OEE, click here.


    1. Post-production considerations: Postpress can be the bottleneck in getting finished products to the customer. However, scheduling this area can be used to actually drive production and, in certain instances, pricing. An example of postpress driving production would be scheduling similar job types together, such as all trifold brochures, so that set-up is eliminated/minimized in all but the first job. In addition, optimizing your postpress in many cases will not only ease production but will also result in higher productivity, as the number of last minute/late-breaking job changes are minimized. An instance of a facility optimizing postpress activities occurred when a printing company linked their billing to their shipping scanner. The invoices for certain customers were automatically generated and distributed, in this case saving not only time and costs, but also gaining an additional five days of cash flow.

In a recent productivity program with one customer, 1,750 hours of added print production capacity was achieved in the first year. These improvements were achieved through technical services, followed by additional training and monthly progress reviews that drove the project implementation and persuaded complete buy-in from the management and the staff.

Analytics, tools, and support are available to drive equipment efficiency and business growth. There needs to be parallel efforts to drive the business and the equipment efficiency to obtain the maximum benefits. Evaluating and acting on the findings and recommendations will ultimately lead to increased profitability.