Little Changes, Big Increases

Simple fixes for manual press production can eliminate downtime.

During the busy months, it is important to get as much production as possible from a manual printing press. There are simple but important changes you can make to squeeze out a few more shirts and dollars per hour. Some suggestions are more long-term and managerial and will take time for the changes to show in increased production. It is very important to not disregard simple changes that may only increase production by a few shirts per hour. Add these savings up by a day, then a month, and it may be enough to pay the rent! Remember, you not only need to speed up general production, you need to reduce unnecessary downtime that decreases production.

This is a two-part article that will address two key areas. Next month we will look technical and production-related issues. This month, it’s managerial and procedural changes.

Double Check the Art: There is nothing more frustrating than a production delay with screens to remake because the art was just not checked thoroughly. If you don’t have artists who know screening, then let the artists work in the shop for a week to learn about color sequence, ink buildup, mesh counts, trapping and other art/production considerations. It is much easier to spend a little extra time on the separations than to stop the presses.

Use a Detailed Work Order: I have been in too many shops where a work order either didn’t exist or was not used. “Print as before” becomes the norm on reorder jobs, and if the production crew is new there are chances for mistakes and down time. Why should you reinvent the wheel on a reorder? There should be notes as to color sequence, flash stations, ink considerations, job problems and more. This, along with a sample shirt from the previous run, should always accompany a reorder to production. To my amazement I find too many shops don’t even keep a sample shirt for future reference.

Keep Track of the Little Things: You should be gathering data on all jobs (like I mentioned) and the amount of time spent on setup and teardown, rejects, screen problems and other reasons for production delays. Chart the reasons for production delays on a weekly and monthly basis to find trends. Are you having too many torn screens? Maybe your tension expectations are too high or general handling is poor.

Train the Sales Staff: Try to get your sales staff to learn about screen printing. Too much time is often spent trying to print something that just doesn’t work. There are also too many samples printed without an order as the outcome. Likewise, there are too many redone samples with minor changes requested by the customer that are frivolous.

Cross Train: Likewise, all production personnel should learn to do more than just print. When there is a lull in production, they can sort and package shirts, spot shirts, clean screens and more. I am always amazed at the amount of standing around that goes on, especially if there is a production problem. Try to find self-starters who can find work to do.

Keep the Pressure On: This may seem heavy handed, but you need to always keep the pressure on production. If they feel that all they need to do today is one job, then one job is all that is done. If there is a schedule that is a little overly optimistic, it will always keep the pressure on during printing, setup and teardown. They’ll know there are other jobs that need to be done too!

Have Weekly Meetings and Job Postmortem: This is very important and often overlooked. Get all parties involved at the end of the week for a short meeting to go over the week’s jobs. A quick postmortem on each job will help everyone learn from mistakes and have better communication on future jobs.