Can manufacturers really help printers attain nirvana?

By Helen Dugdale, Monday 09 July 2018

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Manufacturing excellence is a term that is widely bandied about by business consultants but what does it mean in practice? PrintWeek spoke to some of the big suppliers to the printing industry to find out what it means to them and how they are helping SMEs who are striving to achieve it.


What does manufacturing excellence mean to the big print manufacturers?

Siobhan Murphy, head of quality at Brett Martin, the global supplier of specialist plastic products for the construction, fabrication, print and display sectors, states clearly that for them manufacturing excellence is integral to how they do business. “It is our commitment to producing quality innovative products efficiently which are delivered on time to our customers wherever they are located in the world, and, it drives our passion for continual improvement. Manufacturing excellence is driven by our people – trained and skilled professionals dedicated to delivering. It’s about continually improving to consistently meet and exceed the needs of your customers. You never really achieve the nirvana – what was manufacturing excellence last week can change overnight – there will always be new challenges, new risks – it’s about maintaining that level of risk awareness and not being comfortable standing still.”

Carl Haycock, UK operations director at Domino Printing Sciences describes achieving manufacturing excellence as a continual process as the bar rises ever higher: “We recognise that ‘excellence’ five years ago is no longer the benchmark. The key to achieving manufacturing excellence for Domino is creating a culture of continuous improvement through investment in our people and the ways that we work together. 

“To us it means we are focused not only on meeting our customers’ needs, but also adding value they may not have even realised existed. It is about aligning and enabling our organisation to deliver these clear goals, driving out waste and ensuring our equipment and processes are world leading in performance and efficiency.” 

Duncan Smith, director of industrial and production solutions at Canon UK, says: “Only by taking a holistic and long-term viewpoint can companies truly expect to achieve manufacturing excellence, and even then it remains something to be constantly striving towards. 

“Manufacturing excellence itself covers everything from stringent safety standards, product innovation, commercial efficiencies, cutting-edge techniques, to productivity ¬ all of which must feed into a robust digital transformation strategy. But most importantly, for us it’s ensuring that the customer and their needs remain front and centre is critical to long-term success. It’s about pushing boundaries, seizing the opportunity, and continually adapting. As technologies constantly evolve, the definition of excellence is always shifting, and we have to remain agile and innovative to stay at the forefront.”

How is the printing industry helping SMEs achieve manufacturing excellence?

Andy Pike, UK & Ireland marketing manager for HP Indigo says that HP, by bringing together quality, consistency and speeding up turnaround times, is helping to keep SMEs moving forward: “In the print industry consistency is vitally important whether you’re a small or large brand. Particularly when you’re working in a global market. Using our ‘intelligent finger printing technology’ we can calibrate and migrate data to any HP Indigo press around the world to ensure that printed colour is the same in any country, which is essential for all brands. 

“What’s great about HPs ‘print OS’ application is it’s a cloud-based system that helps customer manage and access their presses remotely. So, if you’re the CEO on holiday in Hawaii you can log on via your phone and see the amount of downtime, the number of jobs going through your presses. It also allows you to manage inbound jobs and put them on the press. It provides a daily report on how your press is performing and you can set your own targets.”

“Through our customer partnerships we seek to help companies work smarter, to deliver added value for their customers and unlock new business opportunities,” explains Murphy from Brett Martin. “Productivity is often cited as one of the most important factors limiting growth for many SMEs. 

“Through our innovative approach and by working closely with our customers, we can help to ensure they achieve the greatest ROI and can access new revenue streams, whether that’s through devising a new print application or creating a new, more profitable business model. Already in 2018, we have seen more focus on emerging technologies such as robotics, machine learning, and the Internet of Things. The progress is phenomenal, but still very much a learning curve for all types of companies across all sectors. It’s all about creating a balance between talent and technology and retaining clear business objectives – creating something just because you can, doesn’t necessarily make it right for your company or organisation.” 

Haycock from Domino agrees, as a business it works with a wide customers base. However, he is well aware that not all businesses just yet are in a position to take advantage of the latest high-tech systems to help them on their way to achieving excellence: “There is a lot of variation across the different sectors and geographical locations and many companies are still trying to understand what industry 4.0 really means for them. Domino recognises that companies are driving for lowest total cost of ownership, maximum reliability and highest quality print, which are key drivers in the design of our products. 

“Our Ax-Series Continuous Ink Jet (CIJ) printers use an array of integrated sensors to automate system monitoring, allowing for proactive and predictive diagnostics and remote service support and connection to the Domino Cloud. However, not all SMEs are at the level of taking advantage of our cloud solutions that enable full integration into their systems, allowing full connectivity and allowing the predictive maintenance aspect that would further drive them towards manufacturing excellence.”

Pike stresses the importance of user organisations among SMEs as a way of sharing best practice and getting the most out of equipment, which is in turn helping to improve the service that HP offers. “There is an Indigo network of SMEs who talk to each other at events like Dscoop, they share their experiences and their knowledge of the Indigo presses and help and trust one another, which is extremely beneficial to HP.”

Lean is one of the building blocks of manufacturing excellence, but what does it mean to the equipment vendors?

Duncan Smith, Canon Lean manufacturing is about driving change and is fundamental to commercial success. For example, the introduction of the ‘book of one’ concept – printing on demand versus a warehouse full of stock is becoming more commonplace. It also opens up doors for personalisation, which is becoming an expectation from end users – for instance, in education, producing textbooks personalised to each student. 

Carl Haycock, Domino A lean approach takes a systematic view across the entire value chain and seeks to eliminate waste at every step. We must constantly ask ourselves ‘would the customer value and pay for this? It’s about truly understanding what matters to your customers and aligning your teams to common goals to deliver it. 

Siobhan Murphy, Brett Martin To respond to customers in terms of delivery – having key in demand items in our stock profile which are readily available and can be shipped globally – and supported by strong commercial and logistics teams. 

Case study

Mark Leverton, sales director of Atlas Packaging in Barnstaple, North Devon, reveals what manufacturing excellence means to his company

What does manufacturing excellence look like at Atlas Packaging?

This is essential and is something that at Atlas Packaging we work towards each day. Our customers insist on manufacturing excellence in what is a highly competitive market.

How far do you think the industry is away from achieving manufacturing excellence?

This is continually ongoing. As technologies change our customers set us more and more challenges. But as an important part of the supply chain Atlas Packaging must continue to move forward with those changes to meet customer expectations.

How important is manufacturing excellence to your customers?

It is extremely important. In some instances, our customers can drive initiatives, but in many cases, we are working towards these areas already.

Do you feel that the big brands are doing enough to support SMEs trying to achieve manufacturing excellence?

We can’t speak for all major brands, but many will try to work with SMEs. Unfortunately, in a world of ongoing consolidation many SMEs are losing out to larger groups.

What would help you achieve manufacturing excellence?

Greater interaction with other like-minded businesses would really help. But by working closer with supply chains to understand the needs now and for the future in the markets we trade allows us to adapt and offer the best possible product.

What does lean manufacturing mean to your company? 

We currently operate lean manufacturing within our production environment. This is something we would like to broaden out even further if it continues to deliver ongoing continuous improvement in our processes and good value to our customers.

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