How To Establish Preventative Maintenance In Offset Printing

 by Frank Drazan
Few Question It's Importance

It is doubtful that you could find anyone who would not agree that preventative maintenance is a necessity.  Many will claim that you will die in terms of profitability if you don't do it.  It's like motherhood - everybody loves it.  But realistically, with the possible exception of lubrication, preventative maintenance is only a gleam in the manager's eye.  Rarely does anyone practice what they preach.  As a matter of fact, even breakdown or slowdown maintenance is rarely performed.  Patch-ups are the norm.

Control and Administration

Nothing we decide on here will change that.  It comes with the territory.  The real question is how much maintenance do you need and how do you control and administer it?  With regard to how much do you need, there is no answer.  Actually it's a lousy question.  The real question is, how much maintenance can you handle, and what type of equipment and manpower do you need to keep your presses competitive?

A Case Study

In a recent study across ten presses in two plants, it was determined that there was no proven relationship between maintenance and productivity.  In some cases, less maintenance produced higher productivity.  There is a real catch 22 circumstance here because it was obvious that new or recently overhauled presses ran better than older, battered presses and these new presses required less maintenance.  In presses that were similar in age and condition, high maintenance hours did not produce higher productivity.  That's contrary to the gurus of preventative maintenance.

Proactive Maintenance

The flaw in the preventative maintenance concept, when followed, is that (excluding lubrication) the work is done, dollars spent, and productive time lost by the book.  Basically, the book is correct.  All of the corrective actions should be taken but one must take a real hard look at some of those items like reset this, remove and replace that, adjust this, and clean that.  I come down strongly on the side of, if it isn't broken, don't fix it.

There is a far more important aspect of maintenance that is generally overlooked.  That is proactive maintenance.  What is proactive maintenance?  It is the elimination of each factor that limits quality or reduces speed or increases waste or lengthens make ready time or requires additional manning.  No repair that falls into this category should be left undone from job to job.  Believe me, these undone repairs are legion and many are never fixed, even though every day dollars are slipping away a nickel at a time.  These detriments to quality and productivity become standard and then all hope is lost.  Why pay thousands of dollars, sometimes millions, and then let a 98 cent diode cut your speed by 25% or increase waste 10%.  This happens every day, every hour, coast-to-coast.

Beware of Assumptions

The fundamental fly in the ointment that allows this phenomenon to happen are assumptions.  False assumptions - the manager makes the assumption that maintenance is being handled by the foreman or the maintenance people.  In many cases neither one is doing it.  You see a press running and you think it's okay.  Meanwhile, all of the following are taking place, each of which can kill you in terms of profits.
  • Units are doubling or slurring, thus limiting speed.
  • Web breaks are happening.
  • Break detectors are inoperative.
  • Compensation is slow.
  • Register controls are hung up.
Keys To Proper Preventative Maintenance

Here are the steps to implementing a good preventative maintenance program.

1.  Develop a maintenance capability.  People - hardware - training

2.  Establish an adequate spare parts controlled inventory.

3.  Establish an operational procedure where necessary repairs are identified by the pressman - acknowledged by the pressroom foreman with a firm commitment of time allocations to get repairs done expeditiously.

4.  Develop an on-going maintenance log of jobs in progress with circulation to all concerned.

Communicate Through Press Logs

Communicate Maintenance Needs
Communication is the key to this operations procedure.  I have visited many plants where the managers were totally unaware of press conditions.  One key to improving these communications is the requirement that each pressman maintains a daily production log.  This log should contain production numbers like counts, waste, makeready time, etc. but more importantly, it should contain comments on delay factors: breakdowns, slowdowns, etc.

These press logs should be in three copies, one to remain on the press for the shift-to-shift communication, one to the pressman, and one to the maintenance department.

Tied into this, each pressman should write a commentary on each job on each day.  This is one way to be assured that first line pressroom managers are involved with the daily operation.  That positively is not automatic.

Good Housekeeping - Productive and Boosts Morale

A Clean Pressroom Boosts Morale
One more absolute basic in preventative maintenance is the easiest and very important - housekeeping.  If you allow your pressroom to become a garbage pit of accumulated rags, cans, waste, ink, oil, grime or dirt, you will find all repairs and adjustments take much longer.  Parts are lost and morale drops in the sewer.  The press and the pressroom must be kept clean.  These spaces must be available and clearly identified.
  • Storage racks
  • Cabinets
  • Skids
  • Hanging brooms
  • Tools
Add to this painted walls and good lighting.  Crews should wear uniforms.  Rentals are cheap.

Expect Payback

Involve Pressmen in Maintenance Decisions
Back to preventative maintenance.  If you have done all of this related so far, you can go back to the book and fill in the time of your maintenance people assuming that the first priority is breakdowns followed by lubrication.

This total production control program will pay big dividends in terms of productivity.  The concept of giving the pressman a voice in the press maintenance of his equipment is a boost for his morale and serves as a spur to his efficiency.  Nothing kills enthusiasm like apathy or disinterest in his problems. 


  1. I found this page by accident, I'm glad I did. I am a retired Union pressman (Chicago Tribune/Suntimes #7).
    If you remember me, email me. My last day of work was 03/14/01 at the old Suntimes. The work seems to have gotten easier (if all the automatic things work). I used to throw lead plates (I had muscles).

  2. I found this page by accident. I am a retired 'web pressman Union #7'. I worked at the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Suntimes. My last day of work was 03/14/01 at the 'old' Suntimes.
    Harold Ziel. If you remember me, email me at