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FLEXO Magazine : November 2008
TECHNOLOGIES & TECHNIQUES All art courtesy Mark Andy Inc. Productivity & Efficiency In-Line Flexo Hallmarks By Mike Pfaff P roductivity drives the modern economy. The U.S.— despite a crisis in the financial sector, tight credit, the handicap of multiculturalism, a struggling public educa- tion system and near-record energy costs—continues to lead the world in living standards and a host of other economic measures. It is the most powerful economy and the most coveted market in the world. Why? Because the U.S. worker is the most productive in the world. On average, American workers produce more goods and services per dollar of labor cost than anyone else. The point is not to pat America on the back. The point is that productivity, from a national economy on down to the corner print shop, is the engine that makes economic growth and pros- perity possible for everyone. This has always been so. A quick review of past economic expansions anywhere in the world re- veals productivity gains as a primary cause. Increased productiv- ity essentially brings greater returns from smaller investments. What Wall Street trader would argue with that, particularly in the current environment? Many companies focus solely on cost reduction efforts, ignor- ing the far better results that come from increases in productiv- ity. Others take a path of acquisition, believing that simply buy- ing sales volume puts them in a stronger position. Buying poor productivity is often the result, and efforts to “streamline” the now larger company footprint to take advantage of the synergies they believe exist often yield nothing but plant closings, lost jobs and surplus machinery. A close cousin of productivity is efficiency. If we measure productivity as not just output per unit of labor, but also per unit 32 F LEXO of raw material, it stands to reason that achieving the greatest possible yield out of raw material inputs also drives the pros- perity, and profitability, of a nation or an individual enterprise. Here again, there are many misguided attempts to become ef- ficient by simply cutting costs. Asking one person to do the job of two normally brings little efficiency; more often the result is one burned-out worker doing two jobs in mediocre fashion. Efficiencies can actually fall in this type of scenario. My point is not to belittle cost reduction efforts; certainly reducing bloated staffs and eliminating redundant effort are laudable goals. However, to truly strengthen an enterprise, the twin goals of improving productivity and increasing efficiency must start at the very core of how the company does what it does. SHORT STEPS These principles can be applied anywhere. Since we are concerned with the production of folding cartons, in a market where low cost is king, let’s look at how a carton printer can in- crease productivity and efficiency in his sheetfed offset house. For this discussion, we’ll lay aside any print-quality consider- ations. It is acknowledged that for certain cartons, offset printing continues to be required due to the belief that it can reproduce graphics better than flexo. This discussion will be limited to those cartons, perhaps 70 to 85 percent of the market, for which modern flexography (including digital prepress, UV-curable inks and high-quality aqueous varnishes) can deliver commercially- acceptable quality on a day-in, day-out basis. NOVEMB E R 20 0 8 www. f l e x o g r a p h y. o r g CARTONS