The Houston Chronicle, Texas, U.S.A., has enhanced a Goss Metro press with digital inking and reduced its ink waste by 61 percent. As part of an ongoing project to improve operations and prepare for future challenges, the digital inking retrofit at the newspaper publisher followed an intensive assessment of its processes and procedures using the "Six Sigma" technique.
Ink waste totals at the newspaper, which averaged more than 12,000 pounds (5,500 kilograms) per week, dropped to an average of 4,250 pounds (1,927 kilograms) per week following the conversion to digital inking. Waste reduction rates ranged from 68 percent for black ink to 46 percent for magenta. Press downtime at the paper also decreased by 16 percent as a result of the inking conversion, and the number of paper rolls per web break increased by 23 percent.
Michael Daniel, director of printing, comments, "Ink may not be the most expensive element in offset printing, but its impact on quality, productivity and waste is immense."
The ink savings results are part of a broader process improvement project initiated at the Houston Chronicle in 2005, when general manager Matt Oliver established formal baselines for newsprint and ink waste, productivity averages, press starts and stops and other variables and began tracking them more intensely. "After all," Oliver states, "you won't know if you are improving if you don't know how you are currently performing."
"We used Six Sigma because it has the ability to detect critical issues that lead to lost revenue, identify our failures in meeting customer expectations and expose the 'Hidden Factory' at the Houston Chronicle," Daniel explains. "The Hidden Factory runs in the background of every organization. It fixes problems and corrects mistakes but never addresses underlying causes."
Ragy Isaac, quality director for Goss International, commented, "An analysis of relevant data provided by Six Sigma led to the realization that a more accurate control over the ink input process could improve print density, ink/water balance and waste levels. Goss digital inking was then chosen as the perfect solution to reducing ink waste."
Daniel confirms, "Goss International provided process focus, attention to detail, and a very attractive return-on-investment calculation. They also provided a detailed installation plan and assured us that the new equipment would fit perfectly with the existing prepress and press control systems."
Daniel says that the combination of analytical expertise, inking technology and project execution from Goss International was vital to the success of the project. "Ragy in particular provided Six Sigma data analysis and process calibration expertise," said Daniel. "He also helped complete the implementation of a closed loop system, which was critical for maintaining tight controls on start-up."
After installation of the digital inking system, metrics were used to judge the success of the project, including ink waste per week and overall productivity. Ink waste was broken down into its components: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Productivity included downtime per week and rolls-per-break. The results exceeded Daniel's expectations, showing an average saving across all four colors of just over 61 percent over a period of 19 weeks.
"We were so proud of our accomplishment that we decided to share our control charts showing the 'before', 'interim' and 'after' results with other newspaper printers, so that they too have a chance to be greener," Daniel says. "We drastically decreased our ink waste and downtime performance and, at the same time, increased press performance with a higher number of rolls before a break."
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