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Mar 1, 2000 12:00 AM

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Scheduling, schmeduling. Is there anyone in this industry who has ever been able to keep to a schedule? It's doubtful-there are simply too many emergencies to accommodate. Preflighting uncovers an error on the customer's file. A new file doesn't arrive for a week. The paper vendor hasn't yet delivered the appropriate stock for the job. Then, the customer keeps the proof for two days instead of four hours-and sends it back with changes on every page.

All this, and printers are still supposed to schedule all their jobs? Why bother?

Don Merit, a production management and estimating consultant based in Burlington, VT, offers an answer. "Printers take in many, many jobs from many, many clients brought in by different salespeople. There has to be some kind of control that guarantees the job will be delivered by the time the customer wants it," he explains. "That's the task of scheduling-to satisfy the customer delivery date and to achieve maximum efficiency with people and equipment."

Essentially, the better organized you are, the more money you can bring in through the door. Merit adds that scheduling is about minimizing downtime. Because the first stage in the workflow is timed to keep ensuing functions operating smoothly, a lag in the process will disrupt all other steps. Problems at the prepress stage could prevent plates from being made and presses from running. A well-planned scheduling system, therefore, can alert printers of potential lag times in advance, and "throw capacity at the bottleneck," Merit explains.

It's a nice scenario, a printer's utopia where emergencies are handled efficiently, jobs never get bumped and capacity is evenly distributed throughout the plant. But does it actually happen?

"We don't bump jobs, we prioritize," claims Jim Wicklander of Wicklander Printing (Chicago). "We maintain a three-shift operation and seven sheetfed presses to give us that flexibility." Nevertheless, the exec says many of the company's presses can't be scheduled three or four days out.

"Job specs may change, and you may need to re-estimate a project in as much fine detail as possible," he explains. "In other cases, core accounts demand 24-hour turnaround. A customer will call with an order at 9 o'clock in the morning and require the job to be delivered the next day." Wicklander Printing's focus on servicing key accounts means it will usually accommodate those jobs.

The Chicago printer uses both an electronic scheduling system and a traditional board. Once a customer service representative (CSR) writes a job ticket, one of two managers actually schedules the job. They preview the order and enter it into the electronic scheduling system, determining the appropriate press for the job based on press loads and crew manning. If a job cannot be finished by the delivery date, the managers inform the CSRs of the problem.

Schedules are printed twice a day for employees on the shop floor-a brief printout details jobs for the morning and afternoon, then an afternoon list shows what's in store for the evening shift and the following morning. Prepress and postpress managers prioritize department functions based on this information. Employees also have access to the scheduling system at workstations throughout the facility, but twice-daily production meetings involving CSRs and production personnel provide verbal updates as well.

While the electronic scheduling system has been used at the company for 10 years, a traditional board is in place to account for what Wicklander says is a lack of flexibility in the scheduling software. The board is set up in the office area, and organized by column and color. Jobs in the left column are okayed; jobs in the middle are out. As for color, green labels mean paper is in, blue tags indicate that jobs require cutting and folding. According to John Czarnick, Jr., director of systems control and one of the managers in charge of scheduling, the color-coded tags provide a quick visual representation of what jobs are scheduled on which presses.

This visual factor may be one of the greatest appeals of traditional scheduling boards. And even very large printers still schedule manually, although not all use boards. In some locations, a production manager may keep a notebook and then verbally tell staff what to do for the day. At other companies, the scheduler may distribute a printed list of jobs.

Traditional Boards Times Printing (Random Lake, WI), a $60-million printer employing more than 425 in its web and sheetfed operation, uses a traditional board for its scheduling. Plant manager Dave Przybylski oversees four schedulers-one each for prepress, press, bindery and an assistant. The board is color-coded for a team of CSRs. Each job tag outlines the job and gives details of whether it will go in the bindery, how many pockets a folder might require and so on. Tags get marked as jobs progress in the workflow. When film goes to the plating process, for example, a scheduler will mark that down. A blue mark indicates it is ready to go on press.

The firm inputs job information into a database and prints from a 24-hour schedule, but the board is what shows how long each job will take. Boards show an entire month of work. Once schedulers figure out how many hours a job will take on press, they extend the number of colored tags on the board to block out the three shifts on each date. Przybylski also keeps a schedule for the entire year for periodical clients, whose jobs are blocked out at the beginning of the year, and commercial jobs are worked into the remaining openings.

"The boards provide us with sales forecasting ability, because employees can see what equipment we have in the pressroom and bindery," Przybylski adds.

Dynamic Scheduling Electronic scheduling is becoming more of a reality in today's print shop, and this method has its share of ardent fans. Ann Porster, CFO and de facto MIS m anager at web printer Grand River Printing & Imaging, Inc. (GRP&I), is a self-professed "scheduling geek" and an enthusiastic supporter of scheduling software.

"Perhaps because of my background in computers, as soon as we installed our scheduling system, I tore down that board and swore that it will never go up again," recalls Porster. "Things are always changing; how else do you manage that in the complex world of printing, and within a growing company?" Back in the days of manual scheduling, the Southfield, MI, printer used a green board that spanned an entire wall "with hundreds of Post-It notes. It was a mess," Porster says. "One time, our plant manager and I tried to figure out if we could take in a large job for a major client. It took so long, we almost lost the job."

GRP&I switched to Programmed Solutions Inc.'s (Norwalk, CT) print management solution, PSI, in 1991. The modules, from estimating through to accounting, run on a Pentium 450 file server and a Citrix Meta frame server that support 45 computers. Only production managers have access to the electronic board, but all employees can view the schedule. Employees on the shop floor have access to data collection, job tickets, scheduling and e-mail.

Electronic scheduling systems take on many different forms. According to Don Goldman, COO/CIO of Master Graphics (Memphis) and an occasional scheduling instructor for the Printing Industries of America, Rochester Institute of Technology and National Assn. for Printing Leadership, electronic scheduling falls into one of three systems. The first, though called scheduling, is in reality a loading system. As jobs are entered into the system, it will distribute or allow the user to type in the amount of time the job will take in each department. Unfortunately, says Goldman, these systems don't necessarily show scheduling conflicts when they occur.

The second category is where many of the known print management software vendors, such as Logic Associates, Hagen, Programmed Solutions (PSI) and Micro Ink, fall into. Logic, Hagen and PSI, incidentally, recently merged with Internet print management provider printCafe (see "Internet Scheduling," p. 40).

The scheduling modules within these systems accept information, do dynamic loading, update the schedule electronically and lets users unschedule or reschedule jobs forward and backward, says Goldman. Master Graphics, for its part, conducted a rapid installation program in mid-1998 and throughout 1999, to transition 19 divisions to the Logic print management system.

Scheduling software manufacturer AHP Systems (Chicago)-also now a part of printCafe-is in the third category. According to Goldman, this is the most desirable category of scheduling systems, because it offers what he calls true dynamic scheduling. "If you miss a key point in the schedule, the system will schedule the job for you, based on a variety of criteria," he explains. "If work is low in the bindery, for example, the system will see if there's any job that can be moved forward."

The disadvantage of these dynamic scheduling systems is that they are both more expensive than other scheduling software and difficult to install, says Goldman. "People also don't take lightly to a computer scheduling your plant," he observes. "With these systems, you wake up in the morning and find your entire day has been scheduled."

The exec adds that the dynamic scheduling systems of the third category often operate counter to the way printers schedule. Printers schedule by due dates, he says, though they should actually schedule jobs with the goal of balancing work throughout the plant. "A lot of manufacturing systems in other industries use this principle in their plants," Goldman says.

Underused system Scheduling systems also differ at the screen level, according to Craig Press, president of Profectus (Sarasota, FL), a graphic arts industry consultancy with expertise in print management software. Some systems provide a list of jobs on screen,with each piece of equipment listed alongside a workload. Others show electronic scheduling cards that represent each job. A third type offers bars that represent the run length for each piece of equipment. Press, who believes most printing professionals are visually oriented, suggests that the bar-based systems may be easiest to use. "You can get a visual of how long a job is going to be on press, or how long it will take a job to go through the shop. The screen lists the days and hours of the day across the top, and the equipment is listed down the side. The longer the job, the longer the bar," he explains.

Regardless of the system, the consultant says printers who use electronic scheduling can always tell how busy their plant is. Agrees Goldman, "It really gives you a good handle on your capacity in the plant. There's no guessing at it-you know how much work you have. It's an excellent management tool."

Many printers don't use electronic scheduling systems, observes Press. Software vendors offer print management systems that allow printers to computerize virtually all aspects of their businesses, including estimating, order entry, job costing, accounting and production control. But he says only about 15 percent to 20 percent of those using business management systems actually use the scheduling module.

One reason is because only five to 10 of the 70-some print management software packages offer a scheduling module, Press says. The other reason? "Jobs are getting shorter in terms of run lengths and more jobs are cycling through the printing facility," he explains, "which means it takes a lot more effort to keep the software schedule current with what's going on in the plant."

Boiled down, being able to effectively use electronic scheduling software means one thing: maintenance. "The initial scheduling is quick," says Tom Hall, production manager at Derby City Litho (Louisville, KY), a PSI customer. "But to monitor and adjust that schedule, and the constant upkeep -that's the time-consuming part. But it's necessary."

Master Graphics encountered similar problems. "Using a scheduling system requires good discipline and making sure your estimates are good," Goldman observes. "You also have to be good about inputting status codes when there are updates or milestones on jobs. The tendency in this industry is to manage the plant by walking around-we're not too sensitive to picking information up off a screen."

The Memphis consolidator invested close to $2 million to update its aging systems and hardware. With the exception of one Mac-oriented division, all the Master Graphics companies are PC-based. Goldman also made sure to install enough of them so employees couldn't blame inconvenience if they failed to input information into the system. Terminals were placed throughout each plant for both accessing job tickets and collecting data. Direct machine interfaces on all major equipment collect information in real time as jobs are happening. And in the prepress area, the company installed MacTrack to dynamically take information off desktop systems- according to Goldman, prepress employees typically sit at their workstations the entire day and won't willingly get up to write every change that occurs in their workflow.

It's a long transition, however, and one that required adjustments across the entire company. Many of Master Graphics' companies have been using scheduling boards or spreadsheet systems, says Goldman, and the rollout to electronic system use has been slow. He adds that all divisions had to improve the quality of information they were using and improve their workflows. "Our standards were not usable, because they were focused toward selling instead of manufacturing," he explains. "We had to update our standards to manufacturing standards and let pricing adjustments happen, instead of making time adjustments. Typically in a print shop, there is one set of standards for production and one for estimating. We had to change the mindset on how we were going to cost out the job-the tendency was to speed the presses up or slow them down to get a job."

Press adds, "You have to have a good method of estimating, where you can accurately estimate hours for each piece of equipment. You must also have production standards that reflect actual productivity."

Need for Communication Despite these problems, users of electronic scheduling can easily tick off a list of benefits of using the software. For those who use it, scheduling is a core module in their print management systems, and the printers benefit from this integration. According to Press, a print management system can allow schedule loading, integrate the schedule with inventory and purchasing modules, and subsequently integrate the job with the shipping module to generate shipping labels and invoices. Eventually, all this information can be tied in with the sales function and business forecasting.

"You can have this information without the software, but it would be a lot more tedious and you couldn't get it all," Press says. "Every company needs a management system. Even the small shops need the tools-perhaps even more so. Employees wear a lot of hats, there may be a lot of quick job turnaround and the volume per employee may be higher than at larger printers."

Derby City's Hall can attest to the difficulty of planning production by hand. Before the $2.5 million printer switched to PSI, Hall created the pressroom scheduling forms. Each press area, which entailed about three presses, required a separate form, and the production manager scheduled jobs and hours based on his best guess and experience. "It was very laborious," he recalls. "Manual scheduling was doable to a certain extent, but we knew if we were going to grow, we had to do something else. Now, this integration is the greatest benefit-the ability to get information throughout the shop instantly. I can adjust the schedule from my desk, and everybody is privy to that information immediately." Derby City has 21 PCs for its 30 employees to view the print management modules. Though electronic scheduling can be tedious, "we get more information for our efforts," says assistant administrator Mary Ann Osting.

Goldman also finds that electronic scheduling systems offer a wealth of information that reduces the need for production meetings. One Master Graphics company, Hederman Brothers (Jackson, MS) has eliminated all production meetings because it electronically schedules the entire plant.

"The industry is terrible about having meetings in the morning and one in the afternoon to see what didn't get done in the morning that was supposed to get done," Goldman quips. "If you subscribe to electronic scheduling, along with job tracking and reports, you fundamentally end up with a better communication tool and cut out a lot of waste."

Ironically, Kerry Stratton, production coordinator at Teraco Inc., (Midland, TX) has found that the electronic scheduling system in place at the plastic card printer has increased the necessity for communication. "For people who are visually oriented-and most of our customers and sales reps are visual-the four-week scheduling board that we had was useful. All we had to do was look at the board and see that certain presses were booked for 10 days. Now, I have the Hagen system with two 21-inch screens in front of me. I can see exactly when a job is going to print, but our sales force can't. There's more communication now between us than there ever was before-[sales] sometimes can't believe that a press is booked for five days."

Teraco installed Hagen's print management system in March of 1999. The company kept its traditional scheduling boards up, running both systems simultaneously for two to three months after installation. Stratton, who uses both the scheduling and transaction modules, finds that the electronic method facilitates keeping track of orders from start to finish. It's hardly surprising, what with 75 work centers to monitor and 12 salespeople vying for the best ship date.

Being able to keep the sales force and the customers apprised of changes in the schedule is, perhaps, one of the greatest challenges of scheduling, says Hall. "When a job gets changed during the course of production, we sometimes don't print out a hard copy of the new schedule. We verbally talk about the changes at production meetings. To make sure the customer knows where a job stands at all times is a challenge," he says.

Constant shuffling Scheduling is all about constant communication and shuffling, says Jeff Ross, vice president of manufacturing for Printing Service Co. (Dayton, OH). Printing Service is a Micro Ink business management system user but doesn't use the vendor's shop loading system. As a specialty printer of displays, posters and other large-format jobs, with four divisions in separate locations, Printing Service required a scheduling system that was specifically tailored for its purposes. Ross had the internal MIS staff develop a custom scheduling system instead.

Printing Service's scheduling program resides on a central server and is accessed through a wide-area network. Schedule changes made at one location are immediately made on all others, showing up in a different color. If one of the two press divisions makes a change, it may show up at the prepress and finishing divisions in green, for example. Once a location accepts the change, the new item changes to black. A location that rejects a change can communicate electronically with other divisions about what schedule might work best.

"For our operation, it's been a better choice. Ninety-nine percent of our jobs print internally, but we do prepress for other people. Some clients also have us do finishing on sheets printed by other printers," Ross explains. "It has been an evolutionary process as well-we've changed the system a little here and there. We can do that because we have our own staff. You can't do that with a bought system."

But, says Ross, scheduling still poses its challenges. "It's constant communication. That's probably the biggest challenge of scheduling-trying to get all the pieces right and in place."

A number of vendors are now trying to make the communication process easier for printers and clients alike. The most recent news on that front has been the big launch of printCafe, a joint venture of Creo Products, Inc. (Vancouver) and Prograph Systems (Pittsburgh). The Internet-based communication system reportedly will allow printers, trade shops and print buyers to obtain estimates, manage business-to-business transactions, monitor enterprise resource planning information, track the status of a project in real time, manage invoicing and process payments, and generate performance reports.

Though it just launched in February, printCafe has already merged print management software vendors Programmed Solutions, Logic Associates, Hagen Systems and AHP Systems into its fold. Print customers appear to be taking notice: Moore Corp., reportedly the third largest printer in North America, has signed up, among others.

One feature of note within the printCafe system is Weblink, originally developed by Programmed Solutions. Ann Porster, an executive at Grand River Printing & Imaging (GRP&I) (Southfield, MI), a rapidly growing web printer, calls Weblink an external manifestation of its scheduling. This and other printCafe services, offered free to print buyers, will be on a subscription or transaction basis to printers and suppliers through custom-branded sites and Internet portals. In GRP&I's case, clients can log into Weblink on its website, www.grpinc. com, and follow the progress of their job.

"It's as if we have a staff of customer service representatives who never leave and never sleep," raves Porster, who has long been a proponent of keeping customers in the loop on the production of their jobs. "It's a huge enhancement of what our clients are going to be able to do via the Internet, using a Web browser. They'll not only be able to find out about an estimate or the status of a job, but they'll be able to follow the whole history of their account and look more deeply into what production issues are going on. It's all going to be interactive."

printCafe is not alone in its efforts to link up Internet access to printers' electronic business management systems. At Graph Expo this past fall, Internet communications company Noosh (Palo Alto, CA), which allows online print ordering and job tracking capabilities similar to printCafe's, announced plans to integrate its service with Logic's software. Noosh's system would thus connect seamlessly to the Logic Management System. According to Nooshes' Darius Chagnon, manager, provider business development, the Internet could play a very large role in scheduling and business management in general.

"It facilitates getting the data in electronic form," Chagnon states. "Noosh's job-specific information will all come in digitally, and with this integration, the porting over of information to Logic will reduce the redundancy of entering job data twice."

Chagnon worked as general manager at printing firms prior to joining Noosh-one, a $20-million high-end sheetfed operation, and before that, a $40-million heatset web printer. "In those positions, I was focused on improving the efficiency of the customer interface, scheduling, service, etc. It's very inefficient doing this manually," he says.

While manual scheduling may never fade, electronic scheduling is on the rise. It's a new face to scheduling. "I've encountered a prejudice on the part of some printers against electronic scheduling," says Porster. "It's a strange contradiction. Everything else in this industry is done with the greatest technology, but printers think they should schedule with a board."

The Research and Engineering Council of the Graphic Arts Industry and the Graphic Communications Assn. have rescheduled their 2000 Digital Networked Production Systems (DNPS) Smart Factory Seminar to Aug. 15-16.

DNPS refers to the idea of printers having entirely digital workflows and a digital infrastructure with customers and suppliers alike. Printing companies would thus be digital smart factories, where all processes would be linked together-facility capacity would be networked with other areas of the business, information for tracking and reporting would come directly from equipment, and so on.

For more information on the seminar, call (804) 436-9922 or go to