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How To Manage A Pressroom - The Basics

At a seminar I conducted for the Printing Industries of Michigan group, I polled the assembled managers to determine their primary interests.  Why did they come, was the question. Each and every one responded that they were interested in becoming better managers, and their biggest concern was in the area of people handling.   Bear in mind that these men were not rookies in the managerial field.   They ranged from plant managers, superintendents, foremen, and two lead pressmen.   During the entire full day of discussion, not a single mechanical question was raised.


Here is how I responded to their requests in four segments.


First, a manager must understand his costs.  Too often we focus our attention on cutting crew costs by reducing manning and by rock bottom pay scales.  What every manager must realize is that the total job cost formula has shifted dramatically and now the biggest cost factor by far is material cost.  This is a fallout of two factors.  One, much higher speeds which shorten run times; and two, the escalating material cost spiral.


Typically, raw material costs about 70%, and the labor costs are 10%.   Therefore, the primary responsibility of any manager is to use every resource at his command to maximize the crew efficiency so that the very large 70% material cost is under control.   In some cases it might be very, very cost effective to add to the crew to reduce waste and down time, and shorten make readies.  Another man on the crew might reduce the errors of omission or commission that can be so costly at the new extremely high speeds.


The trick is to shift our focus from the easy target, the crew, and take a look at the big, big enchilada, the material cost.  Cut into that and you are cutting where it really counts.


The second area of costs is machine time.   A small sheetfed press sells for over $200 and hour.   This escalates to over $1000 an hour for the new monsters.  These costs are constant.  The cost cash register does not stop ringing when the press is down.  Costs continue.   The critical factor often overlooked is job turnaround time.  I have seen managers turn blue because of slow running speeds and be totally at ease when job turn around time is dragged on and on.   This again relates to crewing.  There should be adequate crewing to provide no more treasure hunts for inks, paper, or special instructions.   The key is a planned and efficient make ready that is fully in tune with the idea that down time costs as much as running time.


Manning must be geared to the total picture, not just the running part of the operation.  Offset is a fast turnaround, short run, process.  Man your presses accordingly.


Now lets look at the managerial aspects of the chain of command.  First the manager must come to grips with the fact that he is the boss.  He cannot be anyones big brother, or that passive observer of the passing scenes.  He must lead, he must participate, he must be aware of what is going on, and he must be available.  If he is doing his job properly, he should be in demand.  To do all of these things, he must have some clear cut concept of time allocations.  An effective manager must never allow himself to be locked into his office doing clerical work while his pressroom is burning to the ground.  In this area one must again look at manning.


Routine clerical work should be delegated so that managers can use their skills on the factory floor where the action is.  A manager must have a direct impact on the jobs in progress to reduce that horrendous material cost and control the high machine costs.  To do this he must give clear concise instructions, he must provide goals, objectives and standards, and then follow them up.   He should provide praise for a good effort and equally, or even more important, express concern about poor performance.  Often when checking out a poor result he can eliminate future problems, both of a mechanical or a people nature.  That is a vital part of your daily training program.


To do all of this a manager must be a professional in his dress, in his language, and his bearing. If you want to be the boss, you must look like one, act like one, and finally be one.  You must carry the mantle of authority with grace and with class.


Third, a primary factor in any pressroom is communication.  In some ways this is an extension of the chain of command. Each and every employee has a need to know how he or she fits into the organization.  This can be done in several ways.  One is by a formal job description.  Too often job descriptions are written and filed away and few craftsmen get to see them.  What I recommend is a simple chart that displays every crew activity and assigns responsibilities for each one.  One important part of this is overlapping responsibilities on some jobs.  The chart is oriented toward crew organization and provides support for the pressman and promotes crew cooperation.  Some effort should be made to back this concept up with some crew meetings. Training should be a high priority item in a manager's agenda.


The last concept discussed at this seminar was the pyramid concept.  This was by far the most readily accepted concept.


The pyramid concept makes the supposition that the pressman is the single most important person in the organization.  Here is why.  Your pressman is spending from $100 to $2000 an hour on press costs, plus anywhere from $1000 to $10,000 an hour in paper costs, plus crew costs.  Why shouldn't this vast outlay of money command the attention of every manager in the company? (One side note. At the LA Times, a pressman on a nine unit press can run 27 rolls an hour at $1,000 a roll.  Even King Farouk couldn't spend that fast).  Even a small sheetfed pres can gobble up $2000 an hour in paper costs.


So let's examine that pyramid.  Currently management places the pressman on the bottom of that pyramid where he can be pressured my motivational programs.  We put pressure on him to produce high quality and we want maximum productivity with low waste. We add to the pressure by providing the cheapest raw materials with absolute minimal in training, and we do a lousy job of providing maintenance time.  We crew to the minimum in both quantity and quality.  To add insult to injury, we provide minimum managerial support.  These concepts are absolutely and positively wrong.


It is my contention that the first priority for the entire management team is to utilize each and every resource available to make it possible for that pressman to perform.  The organization must be geared to support the pressman by reversing the pyramid.  Instead of having the pressman at the bottom, he should be on the top of that pyramid.  Then all of the forces on the pressman come in the form of crewing, maintenance, good materials, good communication, realistic quality demands, and a totally committed management team to help him perform.  Those are the keys to good pressroom operation.  


The most interesting aspect of this seminar was that I kept hearing the question from the audience, "Why isn't my boss here listening to this?  He is the one needing the training."  I have to agree.  Everything has to start at the top.  So all of you bosses out there who did not come, think about that pyramid and think about that $1000 an hour paper cost and $2000 an hour press cost.  Are we playing the right games?  Think about it.  The conference lasted eight hours.  The impact could last for years, if you are listening.


By Frank Drazan

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