The Pitstop in the Pressroom
When the Number 3 Car screams into the pits at Charlotte a blur of finely planned movement surrounds the racecar for 12 seconds or less before the car is launched back out on to the track. Pitstops are all about a car spending the smallest possible amount of time standing still while six or seven people do their assigned task exactly the same way. Every. Single. Time.
The flow of uninterrupted motion that changes all four tires, dumps in 24 gallons of fuel, maybe adjusts the suspension, and fires the car back out onto the track is the result of rigorous training that ensures the consistency needed to minimize time by the pit wall. Because every extra second the car sits still can cost the entire team big money.
Lost time matters on your shop floor, too, and there are two ways to help cut down on extra steps that use up time and limit how much finished work can be completed on each shift. The first way is training.
Just as each man in a pit crew has to do just one or two things each time he jumps over the wall, press operators and assistants can work together to streamline plate and ink changes and even maintenance steps like installation of new doctor blades and end seals. So how do you figure out how to be better and faster?
“One of the first things we do when we go into a converter’s shop is just watch how they do things,” says Randy Carter, a member of Provident Group’s technical sales team. “We look at the whole pressroom operation to see what they do well and where they can improve.”
With that view in mind, the process moves on to making sure operators and assistants know how all the different parts of the press work together. “Not all flexo press operators or assistants have had formal training, so they may not know exactly how the parts of a flexo press work together,” explains Carter. “Knowing these details makes a big difference, so we’re there to share our expertise and help them do a better job.”
This could be something as basic as avoiding the need to re-run jobs because worn doctor blades have affected print quality, or reducing the downtime required for cleanups due to failing end seals. “Flexo presses don’t seem all that complex, but there is a lot happening all at once,” says Carter. “Training is really about helping pressmen understand their presses and teaching them how to get the best performance out of their machines. At the end of the day it helps them do their jobs better and helps their company deliver better products,”
The second way to improve performance is consistency. In a NASCAR pitstop the tire carriers and changers are joined at the hip, knowing exactly what each other is thinking and doing, the jackman knows how to keep out of their way, and no one gets between the gasman and the racecar. It works because they all do exactly the same thing every time the car stops by the pitwall.
The substrates running through your flexo press aren’t quite running at NASCAR speeds, but with one job after another going on press changeover times are not unlike pitstops: they should be as fast as possible and done the same way every time. While there are some differences between presses, a set sequence of steps should take place, with each person responsible for specific tasks.
“When operators and assistants understand what has to be done and the best way to it, they can begin doing each task the same way every time,” says Carter. “This makes the process faster, easier, and helps highlight any places where performance can be improved.”
Done across multiple presses, consistent processes help improve productivity throughout a pressroom. “And,” adds Carter, “should something go wrong, consistency makes it easier to find out why it happened so the error can be avoided in the future.”
Provident Group technical staff can evaluate sites of any size and help develop training and consistency guidelines tailored to individual operations. These can be for a single small flexo shop with just a couple of presses or a company with multiple sites and different equipment. Provident documents every part of an operation, including written and video materials that include tools, parts, processes, and procedures that help ensure your shop runs with the consistent smoothness of a NASCAR pitstop, working the same way on every job, every day.