Backstory: The change in machinery

Friday December 11, 2015
Written by Nick Howard, Howard Graphic Equipment
Dec. 11, 2015 - In the span of just two decades, computerization has altered the landscape not only for my industry, print communications, but every manufacturing sector in Canada. Not so long ago, printers (those skilled and trained operators) had complete control of the entire printing process. Quality varied wildly since skills and craftsmanship had no set standards from shop to shop.

In the halcyon days of print, many a company pushed the envelope on quality and it showed as the public could actually see the difference in reproduction. Annual reports for large corporations were reserved for this small group of “lithographers.” They paid their skilled operators more money and almost always were first to buy the next latest gadget that would keep them at the top.

Then along came computers. No printer could really fathom the changes that were in store for them. The initial response was positive from management but those seasoned operators who did everything with a manual touch refused to see how a computer could put a printing plate on a press or even adjust the ink keys properly. It took at least a decade for the transition to go from operational ability to pushing buttons.

But two things altered the landscape since the beginning of the 1990s. First came dependability in machine construction. It wasn’t only operators that were exposed to the computer but also the guys that made the machinery. Old problems of poor designs, fast wearing undependable parts, became a thing of the past. Manufacturers using consistent CAD engineering could now make machines faster with more features at lower prices and less likely to break down.

The other watershed moment saw the World Wide Web enter the landscape. Just as these workers started to take advantage of easier to run, bullet-proof machines, the Internet arrived and played havoc with print, as so much of what we produced was suddenly no longer relevant and needed. Digital print, using toner and ink jet devices, is the new technology for print. With it comes an even more simplified world, less needed skills and entirely in the hands of software.

Ironic then that the print sector finds itself in a bouillabaisse with other Canadian industries. Technology and the ability to communicate difficult design and manufacturing problems, is racing faster than ever before. New technology (e.g. 3D printing) is creating so many new possibilities that what we did yesterday will be redundant tomorrow.   

Comments by Nick Howard C.E.A., president of Howard Graphic Equipment. He has been involved in the printing industry since 1976, first as a technician, then latterly managing the sales and administration with wife and partner, Liana.

This article was previously published in the November/December 2015 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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