27 November 2018 Business

The bottlenecks that create opportunity for printers

Bottlenecks are temporary buffers in the workflow that enable printers to achieve improvements in productivity says Udi Ariel's Theory of Global Optimisation.

Udi Arieli has devised Total Global Optimisation as the theory that describes how every print company operates, and how every print company can improve.

Every business needs a theory. It’s the lodestar by which the company takes decisions: perhaps lean manufacturing, perhaps the Theory of Constraints, perhaps six sigma. Ever since Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations described the division of labour in making pins, manufacturing has been about finding the right theory to fit the business.

The discipline really took off with Henry Ford’s production lines then Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management which has spurred Japanese concepts like Kaizan, Kanban and continual improvement. In recent years the Theory of Constraints, described in Eli Goldratt's book The Goal, has been popular in the printing industry. It emphasises the elimination of efficiency sapping bottlenecks which act as a constraint on production efficiency. But this not suitable enough for the printing industry says Arieli.

He says bottlenecks could help not hinder efficiency. Arieli, who met Goldratt, and discussed business optimisation theories with him, prefers the Theory of Global Optimisation, which was specially developed for the printing industry to the more generic TOC.

TGO is Arieli's own theory and explanation for how to manage a print business and the task of juggling many different jobs, papers, delivery times and machinery in order to achieve a greater efficiency and profit.

“The printing industry is a job shop or tailor-made industry and needs its own theories to handle the bespoke nature of every job,” he says.

The visible manifestation of TGO is PrintFlow, a smart, automated, dynamic scheduling application that is part of EFI’s Productivity Software portfolio. Indeed it is the heart of EFI’s different MIS products, pumping the jobs around a plant and ensuring that these are processed in the most effective way.

There is a need to distinguish between constraints and bottlenecks, these are not the same. A bottleneck in itself is not a problem, he argues, provided it does not become a constraint, at which point action will need to be taken. But a bottleneck, at say the press (of any kind, analog or digital), will allow a manager/scheduler to chose jobs from the queue to sequence and group jobs that share the same sheet size paper, format, colour or any other variable.

“The more similar jobs we include in groups, the less time is needed for makeready. This means the switchover between jobs is reduced, less waste and more efficient production,” he explains. Like all his ideas it is blinding common sense; but he is battling the received wisdom of generations of printers and the shibboleths of the printing industry. These need to be dismantled in order for a new way of thinking to take hold. Arieli has a set of presentations, adjusted to fill the time available, which bust the myths of the printing industry, up to 40 of them if there is the time.

And they have not been devised in a dusty university office, but from observations on the shop floor and put into practice. His petrie dish was the print shop in Israel that his grandfather and father owned where he saw first hand how a printing business is making different products at different times for different customers. The lessons and insights formed the basis for the TGO – Theory of Global Optimisation.

As it suggests, the idea is not to polish one part of the process, say investment in a super quick sheetfed press able to make ready in an instant, if finishing retains the ancient antiquated machinery it purchased 20 years ago. The production problem becomes exacerbated because the end to end system is not optimised. As in quantum physics, in the Theory of Global Optimisation, everything is linked.

Arieli has gained converts to the TGO approach from across the world, perhaps not as many as the approach deserves. But where runs are becoming shorter, turnaround faster and margins tighter, new thinking is needed. He says: “The problems a printer faces is how to increase retained margin when labour and overheads are 50% of the cost of running the business and material can be 40%. This means margin is at best 6-8%. Printers have to increase throughput using the same resources. Consequently everyone is looking for the silver bullet: what can I do that will change everything?”

If TGO is not the bullet, it is certainly the gun. Automated equipment alone is not enough and by itself is not the silver bullet many are looking for as many struggling printers have discovered, nor is a shift to digital printing the silver bullet as digital printing can be at least as complex to manage. Nor for that matter is JDF (not withstanding its limitations) the silver bullet.

“You need all the pieces of the puzzle to solve the problem of productivity and profitability, like modern new theories, modern new equipment, modern software to manage the business from A-Z ,” Arieli says. “In print you need to make the plates or create the files before you can print or cut and fold. Some processes are serial, but many can be operated in parallel.

It is not about assigning cost to cost centre A or B, nor to customer 1 or customer 2. You have to push for end to end continuous improvement and as demands and processes keep changing, continuous improvement never ends. Job costing like this gained traction as it was something that can be counted.

However, says Arieli, “The profit of the company is created by the sum of all its jobs, not the theoretical profit on one job. Throughput of all jobs is more important, so increasing throughput using the same or less resources is the most productive way to make a profit. The wider perspective of a printer should prevail over the narrow focus on a single job.”

These ideas up end a number of the standard processes that MIS and printers follow in making day to day decisions about what and how to print.

The software manifestation of this is PrintFlow, the application that Arieli and his team at EFI developed, and which is now a key part of EFI’s productivity software suite. MIS is not replaced; that calculates the price and costs. “Printflow will take the least constrained way of production, and maximise throughput” he says. “Scheduling is key to everything. In slow times, you need to optimise capacity even more so in order to gain from labour and material waste reduction, closing down under utilised cost centres and moving people to people where they can be the most productive.

“At times overtime is not a problem, but can be the most cost effective way of coping, not in a constrained cost centre which needs dealing with.

“Then there is the saying ‘if it ain’t broken don’t fix it’ which is a mistake that many companies make. Everything else is changing, the equipment available, the type of jobs. You have to continue to change to maximise business potential.”

In some circumstances it will make sense to print a four-colour job on a six-colour press if there is a queue of four-colour jobs waiting to go on press. This puts scheduling at the forefront, something that many have ignored or pushed to one side. However, according to Arieli: “Scheduling affects everything and is the key tool to turn negative trends into positive ones.” It is as they say, something worth thinking about.

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Udi Arieli: every printer needs a theory.

Udi Arieli: every printer needs a theory.

The Theory of Global Optimisation is a tool to understand how a printing company operates and therefore how to improve productivity by considering the business as a whole rather than having a focus on a single job at a time. Batching jobs with similar characteristics for example will deliver greater efficiencies than changing set ups for every job in the pipeline.

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