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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

Stability is the key concept to grasp during all steps past the prepress phase. For each step that is held constant, a variable is eliminated. Press personnel do not waste valuable billable time making redundant adjustments--they concentrate on quickly getting the job to "go" status and then maintaining the approved quality level from that point.


Eliminating variables adds benefits. When press operators maintain the same sequence of operations, they become extremely familiar with the key areas of interest that can change. It is much easier for them to identify variable performance when the number of potential adjustments is limited. From a management perspective, we can move from a point where every job on press is a new custom experience to one where exceptions are rare and are used to drive additional improvements.


Advantages to the organization


The advantages of adopting a TQM approach to prepress and production should be clear by now. In today's competitive world, anything we can do to increase efficiency, while lowering total cost and improving overall quality, should be a primary goal. Sadly, the majority of companies I visit have little knowledge of this approach, much less any experience in its application. But those of us who familiarize ourselves with TQM and its application quickly realize its value from the way our net profitability multiplies.


The faster changeovers, improved running efficiency, reduced spoilage, and lower overall costs are only part of the value. All of these improvements result in more available hours for production, which translates to more net billable hours per month. And if the company is already profitable at this point and has covered its overhead and met its profit projections, the additional net profit flows directly to the bottom line. There is also intangible value added, such as improved confidence and morale among production workers and an improved reputation in the marketplace as the company delivers superior work, on time, at a competitive price.


As with most technical improvements to the screen-printing process, TQM will not happen overnight. It takes a commitment from upper management to start the process. Along the way, we encounter resistance from press operators who will feel threatened by the fact that we are eliminating the need for massive adjustments on every job. A significant amount of psychology is involved with managing the change that comes with the TQM approach. The technical changes amount to only a small percentage of the total organizational change. Everyone involved must clearly understand that priorities will be questioned to determine if they remain valid, so it's important that we eliminate the potential fear associated with change.


Change requires overcoming inertia--the older a company, the more inertia it has built and the more difficult it is to change its direction. But by recognizing and overcoming the challenges involved with change at the very beginning of the process, we greatly improve the chances for a rapid transition to success and build a strong foundation for total quality management.





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