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Using Prepress as a Foundation for Total Quality Management

(February 2003) posted on Mon Mar 03, 2003

Want to streamline the accuracy, efficiency, and profitability of the screen-printing process? Start by loading quality control into your prepress procedures in order to eliminate variables further downstream in production.

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By Mark A. Coudray

I introduced the importance of prepress control in my November 2002 column. The premise was that screen printers allow outside influences to determine the ultimate outcome of a job when they accept digital files prepared by others. I would like to continue the discussion this month at a much deeper level by closely examining the role prepress control plays in <I>total quality management</I>.


Total quality management (TQM) results from the impressive work of Dr. W. Edwards Deming. His groundbreaking research and applications are the basis for the profound turnaround of the Japanese manufacturing industries of the 1950s, '60s, '70s, and '80s. Every manufacturing industry has been affected by the achievements of this great pioneer, and international quality certifications like ISO 9000, 9001, and 9002 have directly evolved from his work.


One of the fundamental concepts that Deming proved, through the use of statistics and mathematics, was that 85% of the downstream variation in any process can be controlled by the first 15% of the process, starting with the conceptualization and design stage. His approach was to design products with the manufacturing process in mind, instead of figuring out how to produce the product after it had been designed and approved. By doing so, he moved control to the front end of the process where it could have the greatest impact on the process as a whole.


This concept hit home pretty hard for me as I thought about how frequently we have to figure out how to print an image conceived by a graphic designer or ad agency that has no understanding of the screen-printing process. Worse yet, what about all those times we have to "convert" numerous images delivered to support litho parameters that are inappropriate for our process? Virtually any of us involved in prepress deals with these situations on a weekly basis.


Deming's TQM control principle involves creating a solid foundation that takes the entire process into account and thereby stabilizes subsequent steps. If we deliver perfectly prepared films and screens to the print production department, we will ensure smooth, predictable, and trouble-free printing. Spoilage will be minimal and materials consumption will be at the most efficient levels. Control means minimized variation. In screen-printing, consistent color, image quality, and efficiency are the fruits of process control.



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