Edition 31 / September 2012

Lean manufacturing – Gallus Smart Production Concept

Lean manufacturing with Six Sigma and pit stop strategies is becoming increasingly important in the label industry, as in many others. Although the philosophy continues to regard high printing quality as critical, it also puts a heavier emphasis on production efficiency as a means of ensuring jobs are processed perfectly without sacrificing profit margins, which are coming under increasing pressure.

Top print quality

Regardless of the printing method used, maximum printing quality is a must – and at the lowest possible cost. Thanks to advances in press engineering and improvements in the quality of all auxiliary printing equipment and materials such as inks, anilox rollers, adhesive tape, printing plates and substrates, flexographic printers can now meet the very highest quality requirements – something that not all that long ago would have only been possible for offset and rotogravure printers.

Regrettably, the full potential of flexographic printing is, in many cases, yet to be realised, even though many print shops could unlock massive potential for improving printing quality by carefully implementing just a few measures. But this potential is not limited to printing quality, there is also scope for boosting production efficiency. Indeed, optimising production processes also cuts changeover times.

Learning from experience

“Learning by doing” is just one way to increase skill levels. A far more efficient approach is for experienced printers to pass on their accumulated know-how to more junior colleagues. Inexperienced printers can then very quickly gain the necessary expertise to deliver faultless quality. Unlike in highly standardized printing processes – such as offset printing – efficiency in flexographic printing can be improved to a significant extent through correct job processing. The interplay between prepress and press and in particular the choice of materials used (plates, plate substructures, anilox rollers, etc.) has a decisive impact on the result.

Problems can be eliminated from the outset with the help of customer-specific process optimization. This requires a certain amount of discipline, since there are no international standardisation guidelines available for flexographic printing. However, once in-house process optimisations have been defined, they are easy to put into practice and adhere to.

Every minute counts

Printing presses are an expensive investment and should therefore spend as much time doing what they are intended to do, i.e. print. Setup times should be kept to a minimum. The same principles apply as in Formula 1 racing – a single second more or less at a pit stop can make the difference between winning and losing. If the race leader loses just two seconds during a pit stop, he will require an average of over three minutes on the track, driving flat out, to recoup the time he has lost. Changing jobs on a printing press is no different. Every minute lost has a negative impact on the end result.

An optimum production environment, logical and simple procedures plus a systematic division of labour are required to keep setup times as short as possible and thereby boost efficiency. The potential for savings is immense. Even a small reduction of five minutes in average changeover time frees up enough capacity to handle several hundred more jobs each year. This in turn cuts the time required for return on investment significantly, in some cases by up to two years depending on the level of investment.

Process optimization

The Gallus Smart Production Concept identifies areas that could be improved by analysing customer production through the following three activities: evaluating printing quality, studying production sequences and assessing the production environment.

- Printing quality: Print results are analysed in detail for print errors and overall quality is rated. Consistency must also be ensured, i.e. the analysis examines how consistent the print quality remains over prolonged production periods and whether there is any room for improvement.

- Production sequences: The flow of information and materials in the production scenario is analysed and examined for any inefficiencies. Attention also has to be directed to the job changeover system. For example, simply analysing the routes walked by printing personnel can yield important results. In simple terms, this means working out how many yards or miles the printer walks each day away from the press. This shows clearly just how well the printer is “supported” at the press or whether he himself is responsible for procuring all necessary printing items. Further decisive factors in the production workflow include the setup time required prior to the start of printing and the level of waste involved, which are both directly related to the degree of optimisation.

- Production environment: The production and press environment must be examined to ensure an optimum flow of materials. The work area on and around the press must be conducive to efficient working practices and the working environment around the press must be equipped with the necessary printing accessories to ensure minimum setup times are guaranteed.

Gallus has been performing analyses of the kind described here with its customers for several years. Gallus takes customers through the weak points identified in the analysis report and corresponding solution approaches, then both parties work through the findings so that Gallus can put together a customer-specific concept for boosting efficiency. The main aim of the Gallus Smart Production Concept is to cut job changeover time by as much as possible and this area offers enormous potential for savings. Even a small reduction in setup times of around five minutes per job frees up enough capacity to handle several hundred more jobs each year. This in turn enables print shops to cut the time required for return on investment by up to two years.

Please feel free to get in touch. We will be happy to provide you with further details.

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