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Printing Impressions-November 2004 Column
Don't Touch Those Ink Fountain Keys!

I dropped my fork and asked David Motheral to repeat what he had just said. Some at the table stared while others continued eating as if they hadn’t heard. However, as David began to talk all eyes were riveted on him and the food quickly became incidental.

It was lunchtime, August 30, at the 2004 PIA/GATF Digital Workflow Conference in Pittsburgh . I was there as both a speaker and a roundtable discussion moderator. My talk, scheduled for the afternoon, was “Digital Workflows: Does It Matter How or Where I Print It?” The topic covered how digital workflows increasingly need to be versatile since, in today’s world, files may be routed to large-format ink-jet devices, toner-based presses, offset presses, flexo presses, flat-screen monitors, the Web and other output devices. I felt comfortable that I had my topic under control.

It was the roundtable the next day, though, that had me a little concerned. The discussion assigned to me was titled “Standards—Are There Any and, If So, Who’s Leading the Charge?” This appeared to be a topic that seemed to be about as exciting as watching water evaporate. But, as David talked, I quickly realized that if he came to my roundtable it could turn into a fascinating and very lively event.

David Motheral is COO of Motheral Printing in Fort Worth , TX , whose roots trace back to 1934 when Fitzhugh Motheral and his wife, Ella, purchased the C.C. Paxton Printing Co. Today, the third-generation of the family—which includes David along with Jim, Roger and Bill Motheral—are in command of a well-equipped company featuring a four-color Heidelberg Quickmaster DI press; a five-color, 40­ Komori; an eight-color, 40­ Mitsubishi; and two 38­ full-web heatset presses.

No question Fitzhugh’s vision for growth and expansion has been achieved, perhaps well beyond his dreams.

But Motheral Printing’s most stunning achievement goes well beyond its muscular press capabilities. For at the lunch table in Pittsburgh , David was telling us that his $13 million web press, as well as all presses at Motheral, are run with no proofs and the press operators are not allowed to touch the ink fountain keys. You see, Motheral is in the process of actually putting into practice JDF, PDF and all the other standards that are either readily available or emerging technologies. It is an ongoing effort that has already made monumental progress.

According to David Motheral , they have succeeded in automating color to the point where the traditional fountain game of color matching at the press is eliminated, resulting in an astonishing 35 percent boost in productivity. Even more astonishing, David told us that quality increased by 50 percent—which would have to shock old Charlie the Pressman, who thought that the only way to achieve a high-quality print job is through his skill of playing with the fountain keys to match the proof.

Most certainly David astonished and fascinated those seated at our lunch table in Pittsburgh . But the best was yet to come. He showed up at my roundtable and, as I suspected, generated a lively discussion.

Although the printing companies attending the roundtable all admired Motheral’s achievements, they were not surprised. It was me who was surprised because it wasn’t the technological achievement that had captured the envy of the roundtable printers. They were all familiar with the technology. This was a savvy group of printers; it seems that those that came to the Digital Workflow Conference already were well grounded in most of the new technology. What impressed them the most, however, was that Motheral Printing had succeeded in achieving a monumental cultural change.

I have been talking about automation technologies for quite some time now. So, for me, David Motheral was a joy to behold. But I was so focused on just the technology and the inherent difficulties in its implementation that I lost sight of the enormous problems associated with changing long-established cultures that are ingrained in most printing plants.

Denying a pressman the proof and forbidding any movement of fountain keys is like putting someone in front of a television and not giving them the remote control. Not manually adjusting the fountain keys is just one of the many cultural changes that would have to take place in a printing plant to move into the world of automation. But it’s a major one. Motheral told us that new rules had to be strictly defined and then enforced, which eventually led to the firing of one pressman.

But once the realities of greater productivity and higher quality took hold, the cultural shift had been established and there was no turning back. According to David Motheral , “It’s not so much about the hardware and software as it is about the shift in management’s paradigm. It can be done and it’s not that hard if management is behind the change.”

On the third day of the conference, he gave his scheduled talk, which was a case study. I am sorry I had to miss it due to another commitment. Although I have had extensive conversations with David Motheral , it would have been fascinating to have seen the reaction of a larger group of printers.

But I am sad to say that the group wasn’t large enough; too many printers weren’t there. And, as I said, most that attended were among the more well-informed. Motheral Printing is already reaping enormous productivity benefits through digital automation. David was there looking for more ideas. Have you even started looking?

The PIA/GATF Digital Workflow Conference, which was co-sponsored by Printing Impressions, was well done. My hats off to the fine team at GATF that put this together and, of course, to my good friend Steven Schnoll , of Schnoll Media Consulting, who worked with GATF to make this happen. Look for this conference next year.

However, don’t let another year go by before you start thinking about how your company can benefit from automation standards. Learn both about the technology and how to tackle the cultural change. Remember that learning and implementing the technology are difficult, and that the people part is perhaps an even greater challenge.

Yes, this is a major change in so many aspects. But it is a “must do” for profitable success in the world of print to come.            

Harry Waldman

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