The reasons for unsatisfactory throughput numbers are as varied as the document operations experiencing them. Every shop is different and so are the remedies, but they aren’t always easy to spot. Managers and people working on the jobs every day are too close to the problems to see the solutions. Sometimes they don’t even see the problems at all.
Here are a few things I’ve encountered over the years that affect how much mail an operation can produce in a day. Recognizing these conditions in your operation and fixing them can result in better throughput and lower costs.
Poorly Running Material – We have a tendency to blame the machinery when jams and misfeeds result in frequent stops and starts, but the real culprit might be the material. Some problem areas are jams in the printers, double feeds, crooked folding, envelope feeding, insertion, flap opening, flap closing, sealing, metering, and stacking.
Stock Shortages – Running out of material because of damage, reruns, or an unexpected spike in volume can force operations to pull partial jobs off of equipment until new stock arrives. I’ve seen jobs sit in limbo for hours waiting on an answer about the ETA for enough material to finish the work.
USPS Cutoff Times – Most shops halt production in the afternoon and concentrate on getting mail prepared and into the hands of the US Postal Service or a presort vendor in time for same-day processing. Shortening the time required for day-end activities results in more pieces included in daily shipments. Automation or simply building pallets throughout the day can be helpful in this situation.
Job Changeover – Statistics or plain old observation may tell you if idle time between jobs is impacting production more than it should. Look for ways to shorten those time-consuming intervals and eliminate as many changeovers as possible. That might include tactics such as automating balancing procedures or re-ordering jobs so those with identical characteristics process sequentially.
Poor Utilization – Running a big job on a single machine, while other compatible equipment sits idle, limits productivity. Splitting jobs can be tricky, though. Use piece-tracking software to prevent mistakes like printing a batch twice or missing a batch entirely.
Inefficient Operator Duties – Machine operators should spend most of their time running the equipment. Unfortunately, the job description for many machine operators includes wandering down to the warehouse to fetch materials for the next job, moving pallets around in their workspace, or attending to waste disposal. In my observations, these activities often lead to diversions like excess smoke breaks, snacks, checking on the weather from the loading dock, or seeing what friends are up to on Facebook. It doesn’t take long for a business to lose 10,000 pieces of productivity between jobs while the operator is away on an unofficial break.
Offline Operations - Some shops still fold their primary documents and/or apply postage offline. Adding inline feeder/folders and postage meters to the inserters (or switching to permit mail) can cut out several staging, transport, and record-keeping steps.
Excess Pages – Regardless of your equipment’s speed, every page transported through the machinery eats up time. Printing and inserting operations can gain an incredible amount of productive run time by eliminating pages from the jobs. Forms developers aren’t always thinking about document production logistics when they design those pages. I had a client once whose forms designers changed a document and unwittingly added so many pages to the daily print run it would take more than 24 hours to print them!
Print service providers still operating on the fee-per-page pricing model see a strategy to drop pages as unacceptable. However, there may be ways to reduce page counts and simultaneously add value for customers, a good strategy for customer retention.
Combine Mailings - Document re-engineering software can combine separate print streams, sort the pages into account number sequence, change the inserter control marks, and modify page numbering so the formerly separate documents can be mailed in a single envelope. Depending on the schedule of how the print is produced, it may be more efficient to mail two or three documents to the same person in a single envelope than mailing them separately. With higher weight limits now on First Class mail, this strategy has become even more appealing if circumstances permit.
Equipment Upgrades – Document operations managers have good reasons for upgrading printing or finishing gear such as enhanced tracking and control, new functionality, or speed. But if managers don’t address conditions hampering productivity before installing a new machine, they will still be present after the equipment swap. Higher throughput promised by faster equipment may not be fully achieved until these items are handled.
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Mike Porter is President, Print/Mail Consultants. Visit www.printmailconsultants.com for more information.