What If the Construction Business Were Run Like the Printing Business?

As graphic arts professionals, we think of ourselves as technically savvy. But are we really as sophisticated as construction workers?

The role of management in a process control program is complicated because, despite lip-service to standards, there is such a strong tradition of running presses by eyeball that enforcing “running to the numbers” is often discouraged in favor of just getting the next job out. What would happen if other business were run like the printing business?  For example, the construction business.

Imagine a framing crew that is highly skilled, experienced and efficient in every way except for one detail: they don’t use tape measures. Instead they rely on eyeballing all their cuts; and because of long years of experience and great skill, they do pretty well at it, with most cuts accurate to +- about an inch or so.

Sure, they have to spend a chunk of time on shimming up wood that they have cut too short of jamming in pieces they cut too long, but overall the results are pretty good. The boss, who has worked most of his career with eyeball framing crews, worries sometimes over the large pile of scrap lumber stacking up in the corner but figures, “What can you do? That’s just the way the construction business is”.

Now imagine that one day a worker shows up on the job site with a tape measure in his pocket and starts measuring each piece of wood before cutting it. The other workers, experienced in the eyeball technique, would probably see him as a lightweight and would be little inclined to follow his example, seeing it as a waste of time and sign of inexperience. They might even ridicule his approach and he would have little chance of establish tape measure process control on this job site.

This is where the role of management comes into play.

If the construction business were run like the printing business, the tape-measure using worker might be ignored, or might even get a sit-down talk along the lines of “We understand you are taking time between cuts to use this tape measure thing.  We are glad that you are conscientious, but there is work to be done and the time that you are wasting measuring each piece of wood could slow up the project if we let you keep it up. Besides, we’re making custom homes here, not cookie-cutter shacks, so every piece of wood needs to be cut differently; you should understand that”.

Or, more hopefully, we can imagine the manager with an open mind to new ideas. The conversation in this case might go a little differently: “I understand that this tape measure approach you are using can reduce the time we spend shimming and forcing the fits on our framing projects, and could even reduce waste wood on the scrap pile. That’s fantastic! I’m going to see that all workers are equipped with tape measures and I’m going to make sure that all my managers make sure that their workers know how to use a tape and make sure that  all future projects use tape measures for process control .

Well, we aren’t in the construction business. We’re printers, and real process control is still talked about more than it is done, but we are making progress and things are getting better.

Now if only management would insist on it….

I try to keep all my posts informative and product promotion-free. If you are interested in the subject, please check out my other posts, and be sure to browse my website for more information on accurate color and effective prep-press-buyer collaboration.


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2 Responses to What If the Construction Business Were Run Like the Printing Business?

  1. Excellent article. We have long used various analogies when informing folks on FlightCheck and preflighting in general. Never used the housing construction analogy before – excellent! Which reminds me of the Quality Triangle in a typical Printing Workflow (from design to preflighting/prepress to printing press) –

  2. Pingback: What If the Construction Business Were Run Like the Printing Business? - Printing Impressions

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