The importance of time as a competitive weapon has been recognized by many. Speed to market advantages and the ability to meet customer demands for ever-shorter delivery times and to ensure that supply can be synchronized to meet the peaks and valleys is clearly of critical importance. Global boundaries are diminishing with the advent of technologies that are expediting and automating manufacturing systems and processes. Manufacturing philosophies like Lean are being used extensively in the printing industry and Lean tools are now driving sustainability.

Taking this more holistic approach to Lean is critical. Eliminating waste as it affects the environment has become important and manufacturing companies are looking at ways to optimize energy, resources and material. Reduction in material consumption in turn reduces the environmental impact associated with sourcing.

Economic Impact vs. Holistic Impact

To become more responsive to the needs of the market requires more than speed, it also requires a high level of maneuverability, or agility. With automation now being the mantra, machines in the printing industry have become faster, leaner, greener and more robust. “Today’s automation reduces the amount of make ready scrap generated, which reduces our carbon footprint. As a plastic manufacturer, this is a big step in answering our environmental critics” says Kevin Kelly, CEO of Emerald Packaging, Inc.

Adopting Lean manufacturing technologies within the press room have proven very beneficial to printers. These technologies buttressed with automation can turn the speed to market dynamics.

Emerald adopted the SMED (Single Method Exchange of Dies) approach for quick changeover and immediately saw great results, even on older presses. On relatively newer presses like the Windmoeller & Hoelscher 8 color Astraflex with robotic cylinder loading, the company cut set-up time by 25 percent per deck. The company achieved this kind of reduction by standardizing processes by converting internal tasks to external. Internal operations are those tasks that must be completed while the press is stationary and external tasks are those that could be completed while the press is running. By adopting these techniques, Emerald Packaging was able to convert over 60 percent of the tasks that were internal to external.

Error Proofing Techniques

The company also examined its value stream and looked at error proofing techniques. For instance, color coding of parts and tools may seem simple and pointless, but often a lot of time is wasted looking for them while the press is down. Anilox configurations were predetermined and ink drawdowns simulated to match the anilox as close as possible to reduce color match downtimes. Kanbans, which is a type of scheduling system, was set up for end seals, to prevent a stockout, which also could increase downtime.
The trends in the industry have been clear for the last ten years – the complexity of packaging and quality requirements continue to increase while lead times and press operator experience decrease. As the industry has seen, modern printing presses and processes have significantly improved production and minimized downtime for job changeovers. Modern machines now automatically set registration, impression, and color match in one hour which previously took 4 to 6 hours.

For instance, the W&H 10-color Miraflex installed in late 2012 boosted press capacity by over 30 percent and generates far less waste, about 75 percent less than the older machine it replaced. Depending on the number of changeovers, we believe over a million feet of film and thousands of pounds of ink per year will be saved by the press.

The machine is also clearly greener. Advancements in electrical components and dryer technology use approximately 50 percent less energy than presses even 10 years older. Solvent vapors are more effectively captured and concentrated maximizing oxidizer efficiency, reducing natural gas use. When the company buys new equipment, these factors will be carefully considered.

Emerald prides itself, like many in our industry, on our environmental programs, which include recycling of waste inks, solvents, plastics, cardboard and paper. The company works with customers to reduce plastics used through material reduction, including down gauging or substituting materials, and also using and testing of biopolymers, including plant-based resins, among others.

Lean’s toolset drives sustainability. This applies to any manufacturer, in any industry.

Some of the “green lean” initiatives undertaken at Emerald include:

KANBAN: Emerald adopted a Kanban program for supplies and film. Kanban is a type of scheduling system that helps determine what to produce, when to produce it, and how much to produce. This initiative has seen a reduction in transportation costs (semi-weekly shipments as opposed to weekly), reduction in total pounds of film carried (obsolete items are discarded, high volume items are put in a Kanban program and sourcing is reduced and time based off of demand). These efforts reduce the heating, cooling and lighting cost associated with carrying the excess inventory, the gasoline consumed in transporting it, not to mention associated costs.

BATCH SIZE REDUCTION: A powerful concept that helps to free up capacity and reduce inventory levels by reducing run sizes was adopted. An effort to reduce overruns was made, this in-turn resulted in a reduction in finished goods inventory. Just this initiative has reduced our plastics use 5 percent, slashing our carbon footprint.

Single Method Exchange of Dies (SMED): Reduced energy and resources tied to a job by adopting a 3 man team to expedite set ups, adopted quick changeover designs, improved work flow to access parts and tools easily.

6S+ SUSTAINABILITY and TPM: The company eliminated obsolete inventory in the maintenance department, freeing valuable real estate and its associated utility cost. It also implemented a more robust preventative maintenance program for our presses to reduced downtime due to defective parts and waste generated by faulty equipment. A reduction in defects has helped generate less scrap, reducing plastic use.

Technology today is advancing leaps and bounds, evidenced by the printing presses like the Miraflex. The desire among consumers, whether retailers or end-users, for greener solutions is real and growing. Lean began as a way to reduce inventory, save factory floor space, and help cash flow. Today it points the way forward towards more sustainable manufacturing. And flexible packaging is helping drive this change. Emerald Packaging Inc.

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Windmöller & Hölscher

(401) 334-9502;