Holding Employees Accountable to a Consistent Optimization Process

Optimization—testing the consumables, picking the best match of products to give us the best quality and cost benefits—is always exciting. We can limit the consumables on the shelf and reduce variation.

But how do we get consistency if we don’t decide on the methodology we will use to set up this product every day, with every shift and employee responsible for this process?

When it comes to the process and the people, this is where it gets really interesting. Very few people agree on minute steps in a process needing to be done the same way. How can we write the process and get “buy-in” on it from our subject matter experts?

Pressroom Process

Our first step at Smyth Companies was separating into teams according to press manufacturer. We then clearly explained to the operators the scope of this process: We are not meeting to talk about the ink, the plate or the bad specs; we are only here to discuss the process of setting up a print deck. As you are working with your group, you may hear workarounds brought up because of mechanical issues. We decided while in this meeting to put a clipboard press-side for two weeks, to capture every last detail of mechanical issues.

One benefit of the optimization process is that your teams start to share a common language, an understanding where their step is in the process and how making changes in their one step can affect the other steps in the process.

Listening to the operators and taking their input on the equipment is very important and proves we are taking this process very seriously. We documented the steps for the setup of a unit on a whiteboard so everyone could see them. We want each individual to go through their process and give us the reasons for certain steps that break from the global responses. We want to uncover the variety of ways this task can be done. We also pulled the standard work process from the manufacturer and put it up on the whiteboard for a visual comparison. The hard part is going through and discussing which is the final step to be included in the new standard procedures. We looked to remove steps that were based on a “feel,” if a “measured step” could replace it. You will see that the majority will fall right into something similar, if not identical, to the manufacturer’s standard.

Once the variation is eliminated from the written standard and the group agrees with the united written document, it is time to take it to press and “prove” the process. Working in groups of two, each operator will take a turn setting up the deck through to setting the impression. The other operator will verify each step follows the new united standard work document and will verify the impression, with each operator getting to similar impression data points. The impression check is verified by dot measurements on the printed sheet across the web, “proving” the impression across the web and balance between other units/colors. This documentation became our “prove it” step for all of the operators every day on every job and throughout the run of all jobs.

Data Every Day

The control practices put into place to “prove” the process is under control is a data point, allowing us to use this data over months and years, proving to your internal and external customers that the process is under control. This data can also be used to help test new consumables, comparing the previous numbers with the new data. You can decide on a new consumable based on longevity, and verify that the new product does not change the curves before moving forward, or because of this change, it will require re-fingerprinting the press with this new consumable because it changes the ink delivery.

This data can also be used to troubleshoot and get to the true root cause. If all areas of your process have documentation to prove the process is under control, you can check each for follow-through and passing data. Ongoing process verifications need to happen to make sure the process does not decline in follow-through.

Over time, the communication/language is more common. It is easier to work with suppliers.


Another important step is to audit the processes to make sure the steps are being followed and the documentation is complete. Possible responsible auditors could include supervisors, managers and workers in quality assurance or quality control. The audits should be scheduled consistently and can move to spot checks as the behaviors become second nature. These audits need to include watching each person complete the task from beginning to end, as it is best to verify they know the process and are not skipping a step.

Change Management

While moving forward with the optimized process, documentation and audits, there needs to be a process in place to help manage a change. We need to be able to evolve with technology and take advantage of faster, cheaper and more accurate workflows, hardware and software. We set up a change management form where a request for change is submitted in writing. A meeting may then be called to further discuss the reasons for a change, possible testing parameters and the test period.

Many times through these discussions, we hear about a problem and find we are changing a process or product that, in the end, is not the true root cause. Getting a team to “OK” a change can help get more views on an issue or concern. If the testing moves forward and is successful, we can now compare the data and decide on proceeding with a new characterization if needed. This way the change can be communicated out to everyone so all areas know the plan and date of the change.

“GREAT” Communication

One of the gems of the optimization process is that your teams start to share a common language, an understanding where their step is in the process and how making changes in their one step can affect the other steps in the process.

We found tying together this optimization process with Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST)Certification helps solidify the language, identify the roles of the team members and the connection between teams in our organization and our supporting partners.

Madigan presented this information as part of Virtual FORUM 2020 in the session titled Press Optimization: Straight from the Mouths of Printers. FTA members can watch all five presentations from this session, as well presentations from the other five Virtual FORUM 2020 technical sessions, on MemberConnect.

About the Author

Kim Madigan headshot
Kim is the director of corporate color management at Smyth Companies. She is responsible for the prepress groups and color control processes across the organization. Her leadership has led to Smyth Companies’ Minneapolis and Green Bay locations earning FIRST Company Certification designations as early adopters in the program. Kim has more than 30 years of experience in the flexo industry and is currently a member of the FTA Board of Directors and FFTA Board of Trustees. At Virtual FORUM 2020’s Awards Presentation, she received a 2020 FTA President’s Award.