What is the optimal working hours and shift plan in the printing industry?

This is a commentary written by Lasse Krogell, Nopa

Some time ago I read in the PrintWeek newsletter about a project called “4-day week global”. This was a trial of 6 months where the businesses involved switched to a 4-day week scheme with no reduction in payment. This was not a print specific project but PrintWeek wrote about a packaging printer that took part in the project.

One of the goals in the project was that the same amount of work shall be produced in 4 days that is normally produced in 5 days. The article gave me the impulse to write here about work and shift schemes in the printing industry.

Personally, I don’t think there is one optimal solution, but rather many alternatives that have to be tailored to suite the business in question. Some 10 to 15 years ago there were several, mainly small to medium sized printers in Finland that worked with a 2-shift system where the length of the shift was 6 hours. One of the drivers was that with a 6-hour day there will be no lunch and coffee breaks. Those who used this system told that the actual machine running time is not more than 7 hours on an 8 hours shift and that working 6 hours
getting payed for 8 will lead to equal or even higher production than in a “normal” 8 hour shift as the printers are more motivated to work. But most of these companies have not continued with the 6 hour scheme.

In heatset printing the norm has for long been to have the presses running in 3 shifts with a minimum of 112 weekly machine hours. In many enterprises at peak business periods a 4 shift scheme has been applied. For several years, at the heatset company where I worked, we had a 4 shift scheme with 12 hour shifts but only 3 days working week. For the printer the working periods where very intense but then they had a lot of days off as compensation. The presses were running 6 days a week 24 hours giving 144 production hours.

In today’s competitive environment also with modern sheet fed presses it is important to analyse different shift plans. How much print volume can be produced with different schemes and what are the costs? Such a simulation should be a natural part in every investment project. A modern sheet fed press in a 4 shift pattern can easily produce a much bigger volume than two older presses running two shifts. You certainly know what is the cost of your first printer per hour, but do you know what is the cost of your press per hour? And what is the cost in different shift patterns?

The demand for print is not constant over the year but varies a lot. This leads to a need where the machines are running longer weekly hours during peak demand and less in low season. The press does not complain over such a fluctuating scheme, but what do the printer think? Is it possible to agree on a system where also the printers are working higher weekly hours during peak season and clearly shorter weeks off season? One way to make such an arrangement probably easier to agree on, is to agree that the monthly salary will be constant independent of the number of hours at the press.

Hope you had a relaxing summer and that you are full of energy to start the autumn with new challenges.

Best regards,

Lasse Krogell