The Lean event started with videotaping a press wash-up process to establish a baseline. After studying the tape, the team tried out new processes to reduce the wash-up time. After some refinements, time was cut 55% and savings was $150,000 a year.

By Neil Lettre

A global packaging company that had been practicing Six Sigma for more than 10 years embarked on its first Lean initiative as a result of a typical DMAIC project. The goal of the project was to reduce downtime in the pressroom of a specific printing facility. As a result of the Measure/Analyze phases, the team working on reducing downtime at the facility identified “wash-ups” as one of the critical Xs.

A printing press wash-up starts at the end of a pressrun and consists of washing up ink fountains, fountain rollers, print cylinders and back cylinders among other activities. All these action are aimed at getting the press back up and running. Wash-ups can be simple if the ink in the fountains remain the same from run to run, but can get quite extensive when the entire press needs to be washed up. Typical wash-up times range from 15 minutes to three hours.

A Quick Changeover Event

A sub-team was chosen to run a standardized work/quick changeover event (Lean) to reduce that wash-up time and create a standard wash-up process for all pressroom personnel. The first step was to videotape an entire wash-up process for one of the presses to establish a baseline. The taping established that the total time it took to do a complete wash-up for their eight-station, 29-inch, sheet-fed offset printing press was 92 minutes.

The event kicked off on a Monday. Not only was the team cross-functional, it was cross-facility. The team consisted of a pressman, feeder operator, maintenance manager and other process improvement staff. But in addition, there were personnel from other manufacturing locations. They were involved to learn the process so they could bring it back to their own plants.

The team was challenged with reducing their wash-up time from 92 minutes to 55 minutes, essentially a 40 percent improvement. The pressman and feeder operator were more than a little skeptical. They knew that they were very busy during the videotaped wash-up and they were sure that there was “no way” to achieve a 40 percent improvement in 2.5 days.

Reviewing Videotape of Process

The team started by reviewing the tape. Each of the team members had a specific task during the tape review, from running stop watches to creating a spaghetti diagram to track movement during the wash-up. The pressman noted, “we were tripping over and bumping into each other” while the maintenance manager observed that “walking takes a lot of time.”

The team broke down the steps of the process into two categories – internal and external. Internal was any activity that required the press to be down, or not running. For example, the ink fountains could not be emptied until the press was down. External was any activity that did not require the press to be down. For example, washing ink wedges could be performed while the press was up and running on the next job.

The team then created a standard process for both operators to get only the internal activities completed while the press was down leaving the external activities to be completed when the press was running. The maintenance manager was encouraged by the new process, commenting, “We have to work just like a NASCAR pit crew. We’ve got to get the machines up and running faster.”

Modeling the Improved Process

On the second day, the team modeled the new and improved process. The operators did the wash up in 45 minutes, beating the goal by 10 minutes. Despite the great improvement, the team did not stop there. The group was challenged to come up with even more ways to improve the process.

On the third day, the team mocked up a moving cart to transport dirty ink trays and wedges from the press to the wash up station. Extra rags, water buckets and solvent cans were added to the line and the team went over the standard work thoroughly. The final wash-up was completed even faster – 41 minutes and 37 seconds, a 55 percent reduction. This time the operators commented that they did not feel like they worked as hard or as fast as they did the day before. “On Tuesday, we were sweating!” said the feeder operator.

Time Cut 55%; Cost Cut $150k

The 55 percent reduction in wash-up time will result in an estimated $150,000 per year savings to the plant. The team created a standard work procedure for the rest of the pressroom and had the rest of the pressroom operators and supervisors trained by month end. The team talked about how it will sustain the improvements with audits and how a “pit crew” mentality and press competition will help them to continuously improve the process. The company’s Lean master was pleased with the event and the results: “The team did a great job of working together. They were very open to change and willing to test-drive all their ideas.”

This team demonstrated all the characteristics of a pit crew – speed, teamwork, beating the goal and continuous improvement. In the process, the members secured a huge win for themselves and their plant. The pressman summed it up when he said it “boils down to team work.”

About the Author: Neil Lettre is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt and has worked in the packaging business for more than 12 years. His expertise is in operations in the areas of prepress and printing. Mr. Lettre works for MeadWestvaco Consumer Solutions Group in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author