By Chuck Gehman Printing is not mass production, nor perhaps should it ever be. May 2, 2005 -- Printing has traditionally been a craft -- highly skilled workers and simple but flexible tools employed to make exactly what the customer asks for, one job at a time. This is where all manufacturing has its roots: cars were once manufactured this way (a to a certain extent, some Italian sports cars still are). You can still buy handmade furniture, but the cost of these items is now too high for most people to afford. In contrast, mass production makes products by employing unskilled workers operating specialized and expensive machines. Cookie-cutter products are produced in volume. Changing the production line is expensive because it requires re-tooling. The result is products that cost less, but at the expense of variety. The printing industry is learning that profitability can only be maintained if the craft aspect is kept upstream of the production process. The printing industry is learning that profitability can only be maintained if the craft aspect is kept upstream of the production process. Once jobs enter the production process, discipline is necessary to process those jobs efficiently and automatically. This shift opens up the production and business processes to a host of tools, both process and software, for improving profitability. Some customization is good. More is Better Manufacturing science, CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing), and quality systems like ISO and Six Sigma can be used by printing companies to enable the advantages of both craft and mass production, while avoiding the high cost of the former and the rigidity of the latter. Your company can employ teams of skilled workers and use highly flexible, increasingly automated machines to produce varying volumes of print products in endless variety. Printing is not mass production, nor perhaps should it ever be. Printing is actually Mass Customization, which is the personalization of products and services for individual customers at a mass production price. The concept was first introduced by Stan Davis, in his book Future Perfect. Joseph Pine went further in his book Mass Customization - The New Frontier in Business Competition. Technologies like the Internet allow customers to interact with companies, to specify their unique requirements, which are then manufactured by automated systems. Traditionally, customization and low cost have been mutually exclusive. Mass production provided low cost but at the expense of uniformity. In the past, customization was the product of designers and craftsman. Today, technologies like the Internet allow customers to interact with companies, to specify their unique requirements, which are then manufactured by automated systems. Behind the Curtain We're beginning to see examples of this idea manifest themselves in customer-facing Internet applications for commercial printing. While printing applications may at first seem too complicated for the average consumer to be able to specify, there are ways to hide the technical details (such as by putting a sophisticated production job ticket "behind" a print product in an online catalog, then walking the user through a "wizard" that helps them describe their production intent). Mainstream manufacturers (for example, consumer product marketers), companies that clearly used to be exclusively focused on extremely high-volume mass production, are now using everything they have learned from process improvement to build products for a much smaller and more demanding audience. Customers' demands changed, and the manufacturers changed to meet them. Implementing CIM is very much a common-sense approach to business and manufacturing. As these manufacturers move toward producing products in run lengths more comparable to print jobs, they are, in essence, validating the application of CIM concepts for printing applications. This is occurring almost simultaneously with the printing industry adopting the manufacturing science and discipline that these mass producers have long employed. As you might have already guessed, implementing CIM can be hard work. There are a lot of misconceptions that you might have heard -- or even be thinking yourself -- about CIM for print. As you investigate more, you will find that the idea of implementing CIM is very much a common-sense approach to business and manufacturing. The Soul of the Machine The debate over whether print is a craft process performed by artisans, or a manufacturing process characterized by measurement and controlled by numbers, is largely over. And the winner is--manufacturing. Many of us hold an affinity for the "art" of printing, and there is still lot of room for creativity in the industry. But we just can't employ the skilled craftspeople--or take the time or the risk--to produce our work without the degree of accuracy, flexibility, and repeatability that's obtainable by employing processes proven to work for many other industries. CIM is rapidly becoming recognized as one of the most important methods of process improvement in the printing industry. The result is that CIM is rapidly becoming recognized as one of the most important methods of process improvement in the printing industry. Early adopter companies in the printing industry have found that significant savings can be found in the areas of productivity improvement, reduction in waste and overruns, and the streamlining of internal and external communications. These companies, and the savings they have achieved, prove that CIM isn't just hype -- there really is a compelling business case for implementing CIM. In addition to savings, CIM can bring top line benefits, too, by helping attract new customers-- resulting in business growth. If you aren't "scared" by hard work, and desire to achieve the resulting benefits for your company, then CIM is for you! For a more detailed look at the processes and issues, read my new book, which is targeted at printing executives and managers. It seeks to explain the "how and why" of CIM for print, as well as dispel many of the misconceptions. It's called Computer Integrated Manufacturing: Realizing the Benefits, and it is published by the NAPL. You can order it on their web site, or by calling 800-642-6275 x1315.