Myth v/s fact: colour standardisation is not expensive

Tarun Chopra underscores the importance of measurements, and how it ensures cost savings and shopfloor empowerment

20 Feb 2014 | By Tarun Chopra

We will start where we left last time i.e. the fruit vendor. Please imagine buying your favourite fruits in the market based on feelings and a feel-good factor and not by weight!

Often while printing, the decisions about colour are based on feelings. For e.g. this colour looks good, lets print it like this or this colour feels right, lets print like this and then the tweaking on press starts based on what we feel is correct rather than print what is correct based on provided data or file.

Ironically, since no one is asking the correct questions, we see a gap. This means, a lot of the technology which is available today is yet to be explored. A lot of colour reproduction has still to be understood by the creative, print production or print buyer community. And so, as an industry we end up in abyss with everyone who is printing these so-called great jobs also has a growing list of unsatisfied customers.

Most of the print facilities we visit have the best of production equipment, but for some reason no one is wanting to invest in measurement instruments or on training for its use. These high production, high value organisations are producing print without quantifying colours and/or any control practices for controlling colour reproduction.

When asked why they are not investing on measurement instruments their response usually is “they are very expensive, besides we have a brand new printing press." We are taken aback on two counts.

One: We don’t understand how as compared to cost of a printing press….. measurement instruments are expensive.

Two: How a brand new printing press can print good without process control. My question is: if brand new presses print good then why some organisations are not able to produce good results with a brand new press!!!

Four reasons why printers don't invest in colour
Based on our interactions with print CEOs, we realised there are four reasons which influence a printer's beliefs:

a) Cost of ownership and training

b) Learning and implementation curve

c) No tangible quality benefits when compared to print results with or without measurement instruments

d) Owning a brand new printing equipment

Now let us look at the reasons and understand why such beliefs are held by print service providers, based on our interaction with them:

a) Cost of ownership and training: Since the cost of measuring instruments are considered as stand-alone investments they seem to be expensive. A lot of print professionals who look at colour devices as an investment which does not help the business in revenue generation, since measurement instruments are not doing anything which can help the press make money.

b) Learning and implementation curve: For some unknown reason most of the press owners do not trust their workforce. Most of them feel insecure empowering and training them. We have failed to understand the reasons based on which the capability of the workforce is underestimated, and yet, we entrust them with multi-million dollar printing presses.

Besides, we have seen that the training provided by hardware sellers are questionable when it comes to setting up and training. Most of the hardware sellers do not understand the processes and how the instruments will benefit in the overall processes executed within the print environment. Most vendors focus on their hardware’s functionality, this leaves the workforce guessing. The team on the shop floor basically learn the terms and hardly understand the application. They are unable to understand core advantages and how the hardware will help in the process flow.

c) No tangible quality benefits: Since, most of the print suppliers are printing the non-tangible way and are able to sell almost everything based on feelings (this thought process goes from top down), it becomes almost impossible to see quality benefits from management or production point of view. Till now Indian print buyers are not aware of print buying based on international standards. This may not remain so, for long. Sooner or later the Indian print buyer will catch up on the methods which are internationally accepted. "Feeling" will not be a deciding factor for long.

d) Brand new presses: Presses are tools for laying ink on paper modern presses do a better job at higher speeds. Presses are mechanical devices controlled by humans, today even with most modern presses humans decide what comes out from the other end. A good mechanical devices would do a better job when compared to a poorly maintained mechanical device, no matter how expensive that mechanical device is.

An obsession with expensive press
Most of the press owners are obsessed with their brand new printing equipment, believing that a new equipment is the end of their sorrows. The reality is an exact opposite. Producing quality with these high speed devices is impossible without a solid process control and measurement tools in place. Usually by the time operators are able to see a flaw or tweak the press, the print run is usually complete.

Investment in a measuring system in print industry is like buying the weighing machine for quantifying print. Remember: measurement makes print tangible.

Lets, now do a case study and look at things practically. Here let me share a story of a mid sized print facility who was not sure of the advantages of printing using numbers. They did the investment on our behest. This unit is 50% more productive and has a reputation of being a quality printer. So much so, press owners who own brand new equipment have approached him to print their jobs. This press owner, never approves a job for colours nor has a supervisor to do the same, his operators are sure of what they are producing; and above all, no client comes to approve jobs on press. Their batch to batch print variations are with known process tolerances, which the operators are able to handle themselves without any support from anyone.

1.5 times productivity at 2% of the cost
One of the advantages of measurement instruments will be an increase in press productivity. In most cases, this is usually upto 1.5 times. And so, a print facility with two presses will be able to produce as though they have three presses by investing 2~3% the cost of a new press.

A modern press prints very fast. Press owners will see substantial savings in startup time to okay sheets achieved. Once we start controlling presses based on measurements, we stop using them as colour correction tools and start using them for print production. Time wasted when colours are not achieved on the press resulting in blame gaming the client is substantially reduced. In doing so, the supplied proof or the pre-press comes to an end and invariably the roundtrip to troubleshoot colours is tangibly addressed.

Empowering our employees accrue huge benefits. We have to experience benefits of empowering our employees as an industry. We have to acknowledge and accept that interdependence helps the organisation grow. Empowered employees have a higher sense of commitment and capability to troubleshoot problems. We have to be careful in helping them get correct training with overall processes in perspective and help them understand the cause and effect in totality and not just from their point of view, something hardware sellers have not been able to address as their focus is just the hardware they are selling. Measurement helps employees understand problem areas, process tolerances, limitations etc. More importantly, they develop logical skills to better troubleshoot problems. This is based on their own understanding rather than sourcing instructions from someone else.

Sooner or later the Indian print buyer will start asking things like their international counterparts on processes and printing to numbers. This bit will help the print supplier retain their customers with confidence.

Finally, there must be a realisation that we improve our processes in order to empower our employees for internal needs. Please nb: these are not showoff tools for outsiders. The cost savings will be substantial, long-term and logical, keeping in mind, process tolerances and limitations.