With the big raw materials suppliers on one side and large consumer goods companies on the other, printing and packaging specialists find themselves in a pressurised position – between a rock and a hard place. Due to the high variety and complexity of the industry, it has become characterised by a large number of small, specialised converters. If, for example, raw materials prices increase, it is these converters, with a relatively weak negotiating position with their customers, that must find internal solutions to maintain margins. This is why many players in the printing and packaging industry have turned to Lean solutions – and are continuing to do so.

With specialised expertise in the sector, Four Principles have identified five key challenges facing print and packaging companies – material losses / production scrap; small batches / high variety; fast innovation; high transportation costs; and working capital management.

As with all other sectors, the solution is the creation of agile processes that respond on time and on cost to ever-shifting market needs. Waste in the printing and packaging sector is a significant factor. Whilst some may be defined as “necessary waste”, it is all too easy to overlook the considerable savings hidden in inefficient processes and use of resources. By reducing over-processing and over-production – and by implementing a zero-defects strategy where defects are identified at source and not passed on to the next stage in the process – re-working and waste are both considerably reduced.

With specialised processes working in tandem, it is also crucial to integrate supplier and customer to set the correct throughput and output speeds, thereby reducing working capital tied up in stockpiled products. Referred to as “push” production, the practice of producing more than the customer has requested is one of the main casus of waste. By transforming to a “pull” mechanism, with customer demand setting the pace for production, waste can be considerably reduced.

Moreover, Lean’s perspective of viewing value from the customer’s standpoint helps ensure a greater, more rigorous understanding of what the customer actually wants – in terms of colours, shapes, processes, materials and finishes. By addressing this key consideration, printing and packaging companies are able to align their production far closer to market demand, eliminating waste and providing a platform for long term, sustainable growth and profitability.