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Better MEASURE those paper costs

Oct 31, 2001 12:00 AM


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You can't manage what you don't measure. It's common sense, but not commonplace in the printing industry. Although paper typically accounts for 35 percent of a job's total printing cost, many operations have a hazy idea of their true expenses.

“We're amazed at the number of plants that either keep poor or no waste/spoilage records,” says Bill Lamparter, principal of PrintCom Consulting (Charlotte, NC). “Recordkeeping should start with the purchase of the paper. You should track paper use, waste, spoilage and disposition of scrap. It's simple statistic materials control — without a starting benchmark, it's usually nonproductive to create waste and spoilage production programs.”

Roger Dickeson, a Tucson, AZ-based print productivity consultant and author of “War on Waste,” also decries the sloppy state of many operations' record keeping.

“I read that waste is now down to less than 10 percent,” he relates. “I think that number is erroneous, and that paper waste is still running 14 percent to 15 percent. Many people don't count all the elements of waste — they're just thinking about press waste. We've reduced running waste and some of the waste on roll dressing, but we still have between four percent and seven percent trim-off waste in the bindery.”

While the printing industry's waste-reduction efforts are improving, Dickeson claims that much of the credit must go to increased press automation, such as automatic register controls, folder cutoff controls and quicker-makeready features. “We need to get it into printers' heads that by developing an accurate statistical base, we will be more accountable for waste reduction and improved efficiency. It's the transformation of information into knowledge.”

To win the war on waste, it's essential to account for both wasted material and time. In “Reducing spoilage and waste,” (p. 12), Peter Doyle, operations manager of Action Printing (Fond du Lac, WI), explains that waste costs — the amount of time and material consumed during production that can't be billed to a client — often go undetected.

“Management typically focuses on spoilage because it is easier to measure and the costs are obvious,” declares Doyle. “Waste, however, is often reworked quickly, or is part of a larger problem, such as inefficient makeready. These hidden costs can be huge.”

Unfortunately, accurate accounting alone is insufficient to hold the line on paper costs. You've got to have company-wide cooperation. All employees should know the value of paper. A roll tender, for example, should know that a quarter-inch gouge the size of a pencil eraser could ruin 70 lbs. to 100 lbs. of paper, depending on the web width. Press operators should be given makeready and running waste goals and evaluated on their performance. Action Printing uses Pareto diagrams to show a press' monthly waste.

Reducing bindery trim is another potential paper-saving step. “Now that we've got gapless presses, the bindery trim is the next frontier in paper savings,” claims one press vendor. “If bindery equipment could be improved, finished book sizes could be increased for the same size press, since there no longer is a need to trim off the non-print gap. Even on conventional presses, product size can be increased if bindery trims are minimal.”

FACING AN UNCERTAIN PAPER MARKET

Beyond day-to-day operation considerations, printers also must contend with an uncertain paper market. As Jillian S. Ambroz reports on p. 6, the paper industry is having a devastating year. While prices are currently low, there's no cause for celebration.

“If things get so bad for the paper industry and it's not able to make money to keep current structures in place, we could have a whiplash situation where massive amounts of capacity would have to be shut down,” says John Clifford, president of Clifford Paper Inc. (Upper Saddle River, NJ). “Prices could go up again on a cyclical basis, more dramatically than they normally would, so the paper industry could stay in business.”

If nothing else, the current shaky paper market should serve as a wake-up call for procrastinating printers: Never put off measuring today what must be managed tomorrow.