Reducing Delays On Your Offset Press

I was once assigned the project of heading up a company wide web offset improvements program at a major printing company.  One of our prime objectives was to reduce delay time.  You may be surprised to know that company-wide, the delay factor was 30%.  This is a very big number.  That means that almost one third of available offset printing press time was lost.  Press time sells at a range from $100 to $600 an hour.  This was a very big target to shoot at.

We did extensive studies of delays to identify their major causative factors.  We were interested in why, where, and when delays occurred, and what we could do to reduce them.  Our team consisted of myself (with a press room background), a mechanical engineer, and an industrial engineer.  We had a pilot offset press to experiment with and a budget of $250,000.  Management was dead serious about this program.  Let me share some of our conclusions.

What is a Delay?
Let’s identify a delay.  A delay does not include a makeready or dead time between jobs, when no crews are on the press.  Delays are those periods when productive work is stopped for reasons not related to the normal operation of the press.

I cannot possibly review all of our revelations or actions taken here, but I can share some basics with you.

1.  Aborted Starts
First, we found that the biggest single delay factor was aborted starts.  That simply means a web break on a start up.  What usually happened is someone screwed up; either too much water, too little water, a web out of line, a high blanket, too much tension, too little tension.  The list was seemingly endless.  The solution was to provide crew training.  Training at the time consisted of the typical, "See Joe," type and usually Joe was operating on a trial and error system.

2.  Web Breaks
The second big delay factor was running web breaks.  You might say that running web breaks can be expected.  Right?  Wrong.  Web breaks can be prevented.  How?  By training again.  For instance we found that web breaks were just as frequent on 80 pound paper  as on 30 pound paper.  This is patently ridiculous; 80 pound paper is made much stronger and should rarely break.  We found that the crews did not adjust their infeed from job to job, so tensions varied to intolerable levels when the heavy stock was run.  That is another example of the need for crew training.

3.  Mechanical Delays
The next major delay factor was mechanical delays.  I will not go into detail on this, we all have them.  What I want to address is how to prevent them from becoming a major factor on your bottom line.  I recently wrote an article on preventative maintenance, in which I stated that preventative maintenance should be displaced by productivity maintenance.  What this simply means is that every resource should be used to correct the mechanical or electronic problems that reduce the offset pressman's ability to produce a product.  That does not sound like a dynamic breakthrough but you would be amazed at the number of minor problems you will find on almost any offset printing press.  What these minor problems do is send a signal to the crew that nobody cares, so what the heck, we'll muddle through.

I just recently read a book on Japanese management, titled "Kaizen."  I recommend it highly.  One of their basic principals was called, TPM, which means total productivity maintenance.  I'm happy to say, I wrote that before they did; however they went a step further, which I like.  Here's their method:

First they ask, "Why did the machine stop?"

Answer: "The fuse blew"

Question: "Why did it blow?"

Answer: "There was an overload."

Question: "Why was there an overload?"

Answer: "The bearing got hot."

Question: "Why did it get hot?"

Answer: "Because it wasn't lubricated."

Question: "Why wasn't it lubricated?"

Answer: "Because no lubrication program exists."

The real answer to the problem was the lack of a lubrication program.  What this does is eliminate the quick fixes and repeatable delays.

Let's look at another problem, a quick one.  Why did you have so much make-ready waste?  The third unit did not clean up.  Why not?  The sock was shot.  Why wasn't it changed?  We didn't have one.  Why not?  We don't have a system for sock maintenance...  We do now!

Look For The Root Cause of the Delay
This system of TPM can be applied to any type of problem, and over time it will eliminate those constant nickel and dime problems that show up on the bottom line as real problems.  Don't look for the quick fixes, look for the root causes and you will be rewarded over and over again instead of being nibbled to death a nickel at a time.

As you may have noticed, each of these actions and reactions must be initiated by a manager.  As Shakespeare said, "Ah, there's the rub, where is the manager?"  That's the point of this entire presentation.  You must get your managers involved in the nitty gritty, and to do that you need managerial training.  That's the bottom line.  Managerial involvement can not be achieved by wishful thinking or by memo or mandate.  Managers need training as well as the pressman.  To do any meaningful training you must have the material to train with.  You cannot run an offset press room or training program with smoke signals.


  1. Anonymous11:15 PM

    Great post.

    Considering that in the developed world the factors beyond one's control - such as power outages - pretty much do not exist what is being recommended here is highly practicable.

  2. Anonymous6:10 PM

    IN ARIZONA .....WHATS MAITENENCE?T ALONE THE TIME FOR A WEEKLY SET PROGRAM AS PRE MAINTAINENCE ... DONT FIX IT TIL URE SCREWED!! My Didde is a one of a kind .. these bastards tore out the electronics on my martin roll stand .. itsnow non moveable for side lays I know the Unit is running ..but the festoons are allways MAXED top wise they move .. 3"s down for a splice ??? its a frickin disease following BUTTON PUSHERS ..who have worked on this machine for 12 years and then I take over with no training on this MACHINE ..I mean we all need a run down as operators .. nope NON ..Im running this didde in manual on the tilt box because it will not go in to auto???? so trouble shooting again .. FLEXOGRAPHIC DOESNT SEEM SO BAD NOW!!!