A Guided Plant Tour, Part One

I’m not just talking out of my hat here, my wife really likes it when I take clients on a tour of a printing company. To her it is the equivalent of Robert De Niro acting, or Barbara Streisand singing. She believes, and I’m happy she does, that no one can do it better. I don’t know if that is true, but I can say that I really enjoy printing, and I know that my enthusiasm can’t help but shine through when I’m on point.

A few years ago I thought I might get out of the business. It had temporarily lost its luster for me. All I really had to do to restore it was to stand at the end of a press and watch the printing roll off the press. You see, I know the steps it takes to create this little miracle of in-the-palm-of-your-hand communication, and it doesn’t start at the press. It starts in the forests where trees are harvested for wood pulp and taken to the paper mill for processing. It started 5,000 years ago in China where soot from pine smoke, lamp oil, and gelatin from animal skins and musk were combined to make the first inks. When I stand at the delivery end of the press I’m experiencing history in motion.

Every plant tour begins with the customer’s artwork. Nowadays art is prepared on computers and delivered on disk or via electronic transport to the printer.  How it arrives requires a whole other set of miracles that boggle the mind. Let’s set aside that discussion and concentrate on the work flow through the print shop.

When the art arrives, someone, usually a customer service person or sales representative prepares a job ticket. This job ticket is the production bible for the job. In most companies, as it should be, the project will not proceed without a completed job ticket.

Customers rarely understand how important it is to have all the information complete at the very beginning. By the time a print order reaches the printer the customer has had to work very hard to get all of the approvals needed to proceed. Often that means that by the time the printer gets it, it is already behind schedule. If you think I’m kidding about that, just ask anyone in the printing business. “I know it is late, but..” is the way most customers begin their request to have the printer still honor the original commitment. They could be a day, a week, or a month late and they’ll still ask. We in the printing business do understand that their you-know-what is in a sling and they are praying that the printer can turn back time and get them out of trouble. With a lot of tweaking and rearranging most of the time we find a way. And hopefully when the printer needs patience and understanding the customer will reciprocate. That’s what we tell ourselves anyway.

Back to the job ticket. In all of the hurry up, makeup time, and crunching the job through if something is missed on the job ticket, you can bet that the project gets ruined. Now everyone is mad at the printer. You’ve heard the phrase, “printer’s error,” most errors occur because of trying to do things too darn fast.

I really got off the subject of a plant tour. I’ve used up today’s blog space and I haven’t even gotten past the job ticket. If you’ll bear with me. This plant tour will continue. Thank you.

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