G7 - Making the Transition from Printing to Manufacturing

By Ron Ellis

We all know today’s print industry is a very different environment than it was several years ago. While the industry is smaller, and most of us have lost a number of friends because of the downsizing, the news is not all bad. Examining the printers who have survived and prospered in this new economy can teach us important lessons. I have noticed one thing as I have traveled outside the US in regions where they have not experienced a recession. The printers in the US who have survived are lean, efficient, and know exactly what they are doing.

The recession cut the number of printers in the Northeast dramatically. During the recession the New York Times estimated that 50% of the pressmen in the US had lost their jobs and were unemployed. Many printers closed, and in the Boston area alone more than 100 printers closed their doors or merged with other printers. I kept a tally and discovered that many of the printers who closed had not employed automation, were not G7 printers, and had old or outdated equipment. (Several of these 100 had invested too much and closed because of the overhead.) Today’s print community is much smaller but the printers who survived are much healthier than most of the printers prior to the recession. A clear indication of this is the number of new presses and other high end automated equipment now streaming into the northeast.

In this new print environment much of what we had taken for granted is gone. Print margins are now smaller than ever. The margin for error is greatly reduced – and mistakes are now exceedingly costly. While ebooks and the internet have reduced the need for books, manuals and some brochures there is still plenty of printing going on.

Diversity and Efficiency
There are some striking characteristics of the new printers who are doing well in the current climate.  
The first is diversity of product. When 6 Boston printers went out of business in the fall of 2011 one thing that struck me was that they were all sheetfed only – very few of them had diverse product offerings such as digital, wide format, and other types of print methods. Most of my customers who are doing well are selling much more than commercial print. The typical printers I work with still has an offset print operation, but they typically also have a healthy digital operation, and often have mailing, wide format, specialty print and other applications that go way beyond what typical printers a few years ago offered.

The second characteristic is efficiency. The printers who are doing well are super efficient. When I was last touring printing plants overseas I noticed they were doing many wasteful things. They did not have scanners on the presses, they did not have the automatic scanners on the proofers, and many did not have color bars on press sheets or control strips on proofs. It reminded me of how printers here were years ago. In my head I mentally compared these printers to the US printers who in the Northeast almost all have scanners on the presses, control strips and autoscanners on the proofers, and colorbars and often quick makereadies. Many of the new presses coming into the Northeast have makeready counts of less than 50 sheets, and perfect – printing both the front and back at the same time. This is the type of efficiency that today’s forward thinking printers are achieving.

Efficiency through G7 and Standards
Although it may seem to be easy to just buy good equipment to obtain efficiency it isn’t that simple. Procedures and standardization are important ways to ensure efficiency. Just having a consistent universal target to aim all your print at is a good first step. Taking advantage of standards and the research they are based on prevents you from having to do all your own research and testing to come up with your optimal workflow and print condition. Standards give important rulers to compare your processes and raw materials to. The color of the ink compared to the standard tells us if the ink is consistent. The color of the paper against the standard helps us predict problems with color matching. Our own results against a standard dataset such as GRACoL help us control and match color across multiple machines and processes. While standard sound boring they provide the basis for modern efficient manufacturing.
G7 is an important step for many printers as they begin to standardize and increase their efficiency. G7 and the datasets based on it such as GRACoL and SWOP provide important foundations for most printing in North America, Latin America and Asia. I spend a great deal of my time training printers on G7. I have done hundreds of G7 implementations, redone many others that were poorly done, and have observed that not all G7 implementations are equal. G7 itself is a target, and a moment in time on a press. If someone calibrates you to G7 but does not teach you the procedures to monitor and control your print condition then you will gain little efficiency as drift occurs and you return to an uncontrolled state.

How then to gain this important efficiency? With many of my customers I deliver a program called G7 Process Control (G7 PC). G7 Process Control is an IDEAlliance training and qualification program that focuses on improving process control through training and standard operating procedures. In this program we focus on maintaining the G7 condition rather than simply calibrating to it once. Whenever appropriate I use this program with my customers to improve their process and help them transition from printing into manufacturing. Starting with a simple process audit, the program and deliverables focus on the complete workflow rather than just a print result. If you are investing your money into becoming or renewing your G7 status make sure you take a look at the G7 Process Control program so that you can get the most out of your investment.

Why Does it Matter?
Changing from printing to manufacturing is more important than ever. When I look at my most successful customers and compare them to the average printer the difference is startling. In print manufacturing the print target is a known, measured against, and continually adjusted. These skills and the procedures and metrics that go with them have to be learned, and there has to be follow through. The printers who do this do it very well. There reason this all matters is that the printers who don’t make this transition, and get this right won’t here in five years. It’s that obvious – the printers who have made the transition to manufacturing are so much more efficient that the printers who don’t change will not be able to compete with them. Over time the differences become greater and greater. For those who want to remain in printing this transition will be essential. I work with many of my customers on this, and the path forward is simple. Have a plan to move from craft to manufacturing. Learn about G7 Process Control (PC). Get trained and develop the procedures and routines so you know exactly how you are printing every day (no more drifting make readies that get slower and slower until a customer rejects a job). Continually evaluate and correct, and join the wave of successful efficient US printers who will be around for many years.

To learn more check out Ron’s blog at www.freeprocesscontrol.com, or locate a G7 Process Control Expert at www.idealliance.org

Ron Ellis is a Boston-based consultant specializing in process control, workflow integration, and print calibration. An IDEAliance G7 Expert, G7 Process Control Expert and chair of the GRACoL Committee. He can be reached at 603-498-4553 or at ron@ronellisconsulting.com.

Time To Get More Efficient!

See How We Can Save You $$$

and Slash Makeready Times!

Enfocus Switch