Is Your Operational Waste on the Rise?

Is Your Operational Waste on the Rise?

As we begin 2017, the economy is in its eighth year of growth and printing companies are, on average, enjoying the highest level of profitability since before the Great Recession. Growth, however, may have been accommodated with decisions counterproductive to reducing waste and improving performance. Floor space may have been haphazardly filled with inventory or additional equipment. Clutter and disorganization may have become the norm. Safety priorities may have been overlooked in order to stay on schedule.

Now would be a good time to for companies to reassess their operational performance. Printers that pursue operational excellence do so in part by putting in place disciplined processes for employees to search for and remove non-value-added activities (things customers wouldn't want to pay for). That helps bring manufacturing costs down, develops an energizing culture, and reduces lead time.

Here are eight types of waste companies can use to assess the efficiency of their operations. All key employees should be sensitized to each of these so they can be spotted and dealt with. If a company is ignorant of its current situation, things are unlikely to improve.

Defects: This refers to more than the product itself, but the time and materials wasted in producing defective product then re-running it. Waste from product defects includes employee time spent, materials, and equipment utilized inspecting and sorting defective product, and in identifying, handling, and segregating non-conforming product.

Overproduction: Overproduction is when a process produces product earlier or in an amount greater than the next process or customer needs. The result is large amounts of product spending long periods of time in work-in-process (WIP). Symptoms of overproduction include pulling jobs off equipment in the middle of a production run to make room for another job, production overtime that customers don't pay for, large amounts of floor space clogged with skids of WIP, process bottlenecks, bindery extras that are never used, and warehouses filled with finished goods inventory.

Waiting: Waiting for other processes and people to complete activities, scheduled downtime, equipment breakdowns, defective product, and inaccurate and incomplete job information are all non-value-added waste.

Transportation: Think about the time spent and extra equipment used to valet information, tooling, materials, supplies, and WIP around the plant. Moving product on pallets from one side of the building to another and back again is a perfect example.

Inventory and WIP: Inventory should be whittled down to the bare minimum. There is a dollar cost in time and resources to hold excessive raw materials, lots of work-in-process, and a warehouse full of finished goods. This is why "just in time" is a mantra at many companies committed to Lean thinking. 

Motion: Thisincludes time wasted searching for and retrieving tooling and materials, getting around equipment and processes, and making numerous equipment adjustments due to poor functioning equipment. Other causes for excess motion are adjustments due to broken and poorly functioning tools, ineffective color management, abnormal equipment conditions, and lack of teamwork and process organization.

Extra-Processing: Companies sometimes spend extra time and effort to manipulate a product in a way that customers don't perceive as valuable. It might be in how jobs are packed or tight production tolerances. Extra processing also happens because of redundant actions and activities required due to poor job planning, fixing errors and mistakes, inadequate materials, and sudden mechanical problems from substandard press and equipment conditions.

Non-utilized People: Can we agree that it's a waste not to utilize people's abilities, input, creativity, and teamwork? This type of waste is caused by antiquated thinking, departmental silos, resistance to change, lack of timely feedback, poor hiring practices, and little or no investment in training and education.

Despite production pressures in a growing market, printing companies must find ways to improve or they put themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Creating an improvement culture isn't easy, but it starts with being able to honestly evaluate the extent to which time, materials, money, and brainpower is being wasted; pinpoint the worst examples; and bring employees together to problem solve and test new approaches. 

Looking for improvement ideas, inspiration, and know-how? Attend the 2017 Continuous Improvement Conference, April 2-5 in Pittsburgh, PA. The event, presented by PIA in partnership with SGIA, covers how printing companies can use the concepts of lean manufacturing and other management and quality systems to outperform the competition. Information at