Racing to Success in the Pressroom


Printing seems like a world apart from the competitive world of NASCAR racing, but a recent conversation with a friend convinced me that the two have something very surprising in common.

My friend works in the quality control department of a well known NASCAR team, making sure that every component in the car has been thoroughly tested and has passed a rigorous battery of inspections. So when I asked him the most common cause of failure on the race course, I thought he would point to an especially failure-prone engine component. But he didn’t.

“The most common reason for losing on the track”, he said, “is poor communication between the driver and his pit crew.” Continue reading

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Obstacles to Technology Implementation

It is not necessary to change.  Survival is not mandatory.  ~W. Edwards Deming

To those of us who enjoy reading technical articles, or attending technical conferences, the idea of change is bracing. We embrace change, and we like technology. We like to explore it, explain it, sell it, implement it, and succeed with it. We are so involved with it that it can be hard for us to understand why there often seems to be so much resistance to making technological changes, and why the results can sometimes be so disappointing.

And yet technology avoidance is a fact of life. Change is often resisted, and even when a new technical innovation is not stopped cold at the front door, implementation often falters down the line, depriving the company that bought the proposed solution of many of its potential benefits. Continue reading

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Moneyball Lessons

A recent airline trip lead me to do something I rarely do: watch a baseball movie. But “Moneyball: Winning at an Unfair Game” is not your usual sports flick, and the lessons it teaches about trusting analysis over instinct and overcoming established habits to move ahead apply perfectly to our trade.

In the movie, the Oakland A’s can’t compete effectively against the big budget teams until they abandon traditional approaches to team building based on gut instinct and batting averages. After switching to an innovative system of meaningful statistics ignored by other teams ,they go on the the longest winning streak in history with a rag-tag team of misfits, but not before facing doubt and skepticism from old timers within their own organization.

The conflicts in “Moneyball” were so familiar to me that the movie could have been made about the graphic arts industry, except for the complete lack of glamour in our business. Continue reading

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Solar Powered Printing Press

A solar powered printing press still sounds futuristic, and probably little impractical, but in fact a working solar press was demonstrated back in the ’80s…..the 1880′s.

Abel Pifre demonstrated his press in 1882 and used sunlight concentrated using an 11 foot concave reflector. He envisioned the device being practical for areas such as Peru and Egypt, where sunlight is practical.

Sadly, while technically successful, the solar press never became a commercial success, Tony McGinley tells the whole story in his sustainable energy blog.

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Technology is not (Necessarily) the Answer

Every once in a while I get the feeling that the print industry’s ability to think clearly is declining along with its market share. Printers with shrinking pockets put hard-to-find resources into expensive technological fixes in the hope that with this new widget, everything will change. There is about this something of the Hail Mary pass: One last trick to try before the clock runs out. Continue reading

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Process Control Habits

Coming into mid-Janurary, many people who had made resolutions to become fit are realizing that physical fitness is not a “once and done” project but a continuous habit of daily striving. Achieving true process control in a printing process is equally difficult, but far too many printers try to shortcut the process, thinking that a few days of intensive training or a quick G7 qualification will make their problems vanish. In almost every case, disappointment sets in quickly as management and staff fall back into old habits.

Moving from the old “seat-of-the-pants” approach to printing to a metrics-based approach of printing to standards requires a commitment very similar to a fitness plan….and just as much time. To achieve process control success on press, the pressroom must set up a program to exchange old habits for new ones. Continue reading

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ISO 3664: New Lighting Standard

Well, I can’t believe how long it has been since I posted to the blog. Shame on me! A lot happened at the recent IPA color conference in Phoenix, but one of the most interesting developments happened outside of the official events. Great! Real world events race ahead of planned presentations!

The new standard for lighting, ISO 3664, specifies increased UV content. What does this mean? That extra UV energy is invisible by itself, but it excites the optical brighteners in many commercial printing papers, making them look brighter and bluer. Problem is, during the past few years, zero optical brightener has become a strong tend in proofing papers. The result is that proofing papers, with zero OBA’s, and printing papers, with sometimes very large amounts of OBA’s, look completely different when viewed under the new UV-rich lighting.

The problem is not really new, but the new standard has made it more noticeable in the light booth. That’s a good thing, because we want our light booth to reflect real life, but in a controlled way. Proofing paper manufacturers may be reconsidering the zero OBA focus, and we will cover that in a future blog.

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Reflections on Dot Gain

Dot gain, one of the fundamental metrics of printing, has recently come to be called TVI or Tonal Value Increase. It’s a distinction without a difference, an attempt to deal with the fact that digital prints may not have dots, but specs. Maybe we could call it spec gain. Both terms describe the tendency for tonal gradations to “gain weight” as a part of the reproduction process. Continue reading

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Solving our Problems with Stuff

Every time I return to work from a trip to a trade show or technical conference, I have the same impression: “Wow!” “How about all that stuff!” By stuff I mean all the solutions that get presented to a rapt audience. Workflows! Systems! Solutions!Transformative Technologies!.

It really can make your head spin. All that great-looking stuff! But will it work? Will it provide the solution it promises? Continue reading

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The Male Code in the Pressroom

We all know about the Male Code, that collection of  rules that governs the behavior of guys: Always split the lunch bill in two, no matter what, never speak in a public restroom, and never, ever, ever ask for directions.

But how about the male code in the pressroom? Pressmen are mostly guys, does some form of the Male Code exist in the pressroom, and how does it affect performance?

The central tenent of the Male Code-never, ever, ever ask for directions-is probably the biggest obstacle to great presswork. Presses are pesky things, subject to all sorts of Continue reading

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Can we really tell how well a pressrun will match a proof will look by measuring a few patches on the tail of the sheet? A lot of old time pressmen will tell you that it’s impossible, that “We’re not selling color bars”, and that there is no substitute for careful eyeballing on press.

Well, some smart decision makers are finding that crunching the right data can lead to uncannily accurate predictions on everything from the price of next year’s Bordeaux to future world population to how long your marriage will last. It’s called Supercrunching, and Continue reading

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