FEATURE

It's workflow, not just speed, which leads to efficient production

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By Sophie Matthews-Paul
19 August 2011

A boiled egg is quick to cook, but offers poor workflow

Whenever I describe a print engine to someone, the first question is always: 'How fast does it go?' True, no-one wants to own a piece of equipment which trundles along at the pace of a snail but there is more to the production process than the square metres of output which can be pushed through a machine during a given period. Efficient workflow is the key, and speed is only one part of this.

Here's an example. I can boil an egg in three minutes flat. That's a quick way to cook a snack. But in terms of workflow it's quite a complex process. I have to search for the right pan, bring the water to temperature, insert the egg into the water, and remove said egg at the right time from the Aga hob. Care is needed to dispose of the hot water before I can sit down, pick out bits of errant shell and eat the finished product. Then, if I decide I'd prefer to have my boiled egg with soldiers, I'm adding another element into the production process. But, with the toast, this shouldn't really add to my workflow time because egg and bread can be treated at the same time, and be ready simultaneously. However, if I burn the toast, I have to start again.

This might be an odd analogy, but it's a fairly accurate one. In production terms, a job of fewer than five minutes probably takes around than half an hour. As the 'cook', my attention is needed throughout and I can't nip off and pen a blog for Talk Print! because my culinary attention is needed in the kitchen.

However, were I to cook the chicken, instead of the egg, although it would take far longer to get from raw bird to roasted, delicious finale, I would have plenty of time to pen a few features and carry out other jobs which need doing. My workflow in this circumstance would be far more efficient, even though the culinary element is slower.

With wide-format printing, particularly with roll-fed machines that should really be able to be left to get on with it, the drive for high speed can actually result in a disruptive workflow. Ultra-fast throughput means that the operator might not have time to finish off the previous job, or prepare the next. He probably can't even leave the machine's side.

Are we really becoming so obsessed with speed that we forget that workflow should really take precedence in a production environment? Getting the best use out of time can lead to more efficient practices, and they're not just reliant on throughput rates. 

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