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Declaring war on paper waste

Jun 29, 2001 12:00 AM

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Roger Dickeson wrote “War on Waste” (“WoW”) in 1974. Thanks to the paper shortage of the mid-1970s, and the combined efforts of Dickeson and Norman Scharpf, president of the Graphic Communications Assn. (GCA) (Alexandria, VA), the book became a bestseller. But when paper became plentiful again, printers' interest waned.

“Like most ideas that are popular for a time, the impact died down,” says Dickeson, who, after obtaining a masters degree in accounting and a law degree, practiced law for 13 years before joining a midsize print shop as CEO in the mid-1960s.

Dickeson didn't, however, desert the war on waste. He wrote a second book, “Printrol” (short for Print Control), in 1977.

“WoW” gives a broad overview of printing waste, and discusses the need to measure and control printing to reduce waste. “Printrol” carries the discussion even further and presents Dickeson's direct-cost accounting system developed specifically for the printing industry.


Paper accounts for approximately 35 percent of total printing costs, and is the largest single cost involved in printing, according to Dickeson. “We must concentrate on reducing that cost, on reducing the usage of paper,” he says. “In an economic aspect, the only variable costs are paper and ink, the raw materials. It's difficult to control labor costs. When you reduce waste, you reduce material usage. This is an obvious way printers can control costs.”

Dickeson toured the country from 1980 to 1989, promoting his books, consulting with printers, and implementing “WoW” and “Printrol” concepts. Encouraged by the significant waste reduction in the 50 print shops where “WoW” had been implemented, he began documenting some of the biggest success stories. The story of how “WoW” saved a large Midwest printer more than $3 million became the basis of his next book, “War on Waste II,” published in 1991.

“WoW II” defines several different categories of waste: preparatory, makeready, running and bindery. Preparatory refers to waste generated when paper is prepared for the press — for example, when dressing a roll. Makeready waste occurs when the press operator is attempting to match color, register and fold before saleable work is produced. Running waste is often caused by unplanned press stops — such as web breaks — during the run. Bindery waste includes paper trims.

Dickeson's book also discusses why it's important to accurately count impressions, with emphasis on devices, such as printCafe Logic's AutoCount. “WoW II” also proposes a series of operational codes that identify preparatory activities, such as preparing plates, as well as press and bindery activities. The book also suggests techniques for communicating the collected data with employees.

One of the biggest difficulties printers face in the war on waste, Dickeson says, is that “the statistical base is obsolete. It doesn't force us to place a value on waste of materials and time. We need to develop an infrastructure that provides an accurate statistical base.”

Dickeson says the war on waste must be fought on all fronts — not just in the pressroom.

“I read that waste is now down to single digits, 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. Millions of dollars in paper are wasted, not only in the bindery, but also on press.

“There's a lot of signature-count waste,” Dickeson continues. “For example, you might have multiple signatures for catalogs and magazines, but if they're not equal, there's signature imbalance, which produces significant waste. You can only bind to the smallest number of copies you have for any one signature. So, if you have 10 signatures stacked at a binder, you can't bind any more than the lowest stack. The rest is waste.”

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. Unfortunately, many printers fail to grasp the magnitude of the problem.

“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,” Dickeson declares.

The consultant is currently hard at work on “Printrol II,” which will cover the theory of constraints, activity-based-costing improvements, and just-in-time inventory management.


Dickeson stresses that printers must move beyond a “deceptive” statistical base.

“We've got a damn poor decision base from the inaccurate, misleading and ambiguous numbers we get,” he declares. “You're not going to get anywhere without good numbers. You have to have an accurate way of keeping score. And, our scorekeeping methods are outdated, obsolete.” The consultant adds that until printers create a new infrastructure of data, it's going to be difficult for them to address the problem. “Printrol II” attempts to develop that infrastructure of information.

“We become profitable in our operations, but our waste is still high,” Dickeson notes. “Why should printers be concerned? Why should they reduce the losses of waste? If they want to stay alive — and grow — they don't have a lot of choice but to fight waste.”

Web press data from around the world

Since 1991, print productivity consultant Roger Dickeson has maintained a monthly web press database for companies around the world.

“Every month, companies e-mail me operating data for their web presses,” relates Dickeson. “I enter it into a database and send them a monthly 20-page report that benchmarks and ranks all presses for waste, speed, makereadies, stops, type of product, etc. This enables companies to compare their results with other presses — anonymously of course.”

The consultant reports that the database now has close to 6,000 months of accumulated web data.

“It is open to any company that wishes to submit data,” adds Dickeson. “Currently, there are firms from Austria to Australia, and points across the U.S.”

For more information on “War on Waste,” e-mail Roger Dickeson at:, or see