Process control is something all print and packaging service providers, brands, and brand owners should be doing every single day, but very few actually do. It is not difficult, but comparing the great companies that do it is like comparing Formula 1 racing to lawnmower racing. It’s all about culture: leadership, vision, planning, empowerment, buy-in, investment in staff and technology, processes, operating procedures, goals, planning, control systems, values, and extraordinary communication.

In this article, I will identify five steps that print businesses can take to create a process control culture.

Step 1: Produce Regular Reports

Buy-in needs to start at the highest level of management. Managers and owners need reports to manage the health of their companies. All companies have income statements, aging reports, cashflow reports, and balance sheets, to name a few. Where’s your color report? How consistently are your printing devices performing from job to job and day to day? How are you measuring the performance of your operations? How are you measuring customer satisfaction, brand color management, repeatability, operational efficiency, and performance? Start producing color reports across the entire facility.

The great companies do this for every single job, multiple times throughout a run—especially on large runs. How are you measuring the performance of your staff and how are you rewarding them for consistently maintaining quality, which ultimately is maintaining customers? Globally, you see this occurring every day. Capital equipment is used to produce the deliverable product—printing and packaging—which is being sold to the customer. It’s astounding that a company wouldn’t manage the output of the capital equipment—which, after all, is 100% responsible for the revenue stream of the company. The same is true for investment in the education of the personnel managing the output of that equipment. Employee expertise and knowledge contribute not only to creating a process control culture, but a positive overall work and business culture. When companies invest in employees, it shows those employees how valuable they are to an operation.

To make this happen consistently, there must be responsibility and accountability, which means assigning the creation of specific reports to specific employees. And there must be consequences if the reports are not delivered in a timely manner and on a regular schedule. With a carrot-and-stick approach, you can ensure that color reports will be delivered regularly and in a timely manner.

Step 2: Calibrate Your Equipment and Monitor It Over Time

If your printing company has the tools and trained personnel to perform calibrations on digital devices—and if they can perform such things as G7®plate curve adjustments for analog/conventional devices—then you have the basic requirements to start a process control program. The only part missing is establishing baselines for the printing devices, and then measuring and monitoring device consistency over time. Doing so will allow production staff to “see” when a device is going outside its limits of color consistency and needs to be recalibrated to bring it back into compliance.

You can’t drive a car, for example, without steering, or there will be an accident. Even when the road is straight, the car won’t stay on the road without your intervention. The same goes for printing devices. If you are not monitoring—or “steering”—how the device prints, you are not in control and the results will vary and they will vary greatly.

Step 3: Prepare and Update SOP Documents

Develop documentation on how to perform measurements, calibration, and monitoring, and have all involved personnel be a part of this process. This is called a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) document, and it defines each process as well as the tolerances and steps to keep each process in control.

The SOP should be a living document that changes over time to stay current as new processes emerge and new equipment is added. Idealliance writes a tremendous number of SOPs for customers around the world.

Step 4: Measure, Monitor, and Manage Printing Devices to SOP Specifications 

Make it part of the job requirements for each department to measure, monitor, and manage their printing devices to the SOP document’s specifications. This must include regular reports that go to upper management, so they can monitor the consistency within their company. It could—and perhaps even should—be integrated into marketing collateral that is presented to customers and prospects to highlight that your company has a documented, certified, tightly-run organization, all based on consistent metrics.

Step 5: Train Your Staff and Certify Your Facility 

Get your staff trained and certified, and get your facility certified. Operating procedures, knowledge, and “how to” should not be the purview of any one individual—they should be available to everyone. Knowledge and information should be shared throughout the company, and when employees and the facility itself are certified by a third-party, it ensures that standard procedures remain standard throughout the business.

Globally recognized certifications are critical for not only to attracting outside customers, but also for maintaining inside morale (employees = pride) because it communicates to people that you have gone to great lengths to bring your facility up to the highest standards. The key is maintaining those standards run after run, day after day. Simply telling customers you produce great work without having certifications to back up your quality statements carries absolutely no water.

Also, get the tools required to maintain conformance and performance. To spend $100,000, $500,000, or millions of dollars on a press without acquiring color management training, color management process control tools and software, and certifications—all of which adds up to such a tiny cost—is like buying a car without a steering wheel or tires. The extent to which a business invests in the education and continued development of its staff shows how that organization thinks of its employees and how seriously it takes its business. It also shows in the work that is produced. After all, “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

One Step Beyond

Following these five steps will go a long way toward establishing a process control culture in your business, which will lead to more satisfied, productive employees, better and more consistently performing equipment, and, ultimately, more customers—and more satisfied customers.