By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 3
Several aspects of a printed application’s production lifecycle benefit from software and automation. In digital print environments, “workflow” has a number of meanings.
Typically, workflow provides a mechanism to communicate and control processes in print production, says Michael G. Hahn, business line manager, production workflow solutions, Xerox. “It is a sequence of connected steps representing people, processes, and equipment in an end-to-end-print production process,” he adds.
Dale Micallef, senior product marketer, PaperCut Software, identifies two workflow categories when referring to production in a digital print environment. The first is the actual production workflow where the operator prepares the equipment to produce a finished product.
The second is administrative production and starts with the person who submits a job to the print room for production. “It then moves to the print room where operators review the job, communicate back with the submitter, and charge for the job,” explains Micallef. Production workflow solutions help operators efficiently manage both the actual production and the administrative production.
Typically, production workflow is based on the print provider’s digital output requirements with application types working in conjunction. “In workflow software, graphic communications is seeing a convergence in features and function, as processes through the workflow value chain becomes better linked and automated,” says Kristina Marchitto, public relations, Konica Minolta.
This includes management information systems, color management, and imposition software. According to Marchitto, the definitions of these functions overlap as they become connected and added to the print environment’s feature set. “The real definition lies predominantly and meaningfully when an open approach is taken with customers for discussing digital production workflow.”
“In workflow software, the graphic communications industry is seeing a convergence in features and function, as processes through the workflow value chain becomes better linked and automated,” says Marchitto.
Traditionally, production workflow was a manual task that resulted in time-consuming and expensive projects.
According to Joseph Lehn, director of product management, Datatech Smartsoft, customers originally called their sales representatives for pricing calculated by customer service representatives (CSR) or estimators. If the customer proceeded with the project, they sent in artwork and a CSR would write a job ticket and send the order through prepress, production, bindery, shipping, and accounting for the invoice. “Orders would need to be large enough to make them worthwhile for the company to even consider working on it,” he explains.
After digital was introduced to the production environment, Dorothy Asboth, sales manager, Label Traxx, says companies found that manual or spreadsheet-based systems couldn’t meet the turnaround time needed to compete against other printers or short-run jobs. “Many printers found that order entry took five to six times more than the job on the press,” she explains. Vendors now focus on automation tools and integration between products to reduce time and errors inherent with the influx of small, multi-version orders accustomed to digital printing.
Today, production workflow has dramatically evolved in digital environments with customers receiving prices, submitting artwork, and paying online. “These orders are smaller, as are the margins with the competition in the marketspace,” says Lehn. He believes that today’s digital production workflow must automate the order capture and send orders directly to production to dramatically reduce or even eliminate many administrative costs.
Paul Goldberg, VP of product strategy, Loftware, agrees and offers, “ultimately, a production workflow for a digital print environment has a lot of upstream flow and activities that need to be tracked and managed throughout the product lifecycle.” This requires interactive and real-time collaboration and capabilities for content, phrase and digital asset management, proactive workflow, and tools for artwork comparison and proofing.
Production workflow has evolved to link together workflow functions through cloud software. Rao Meka, founder, ShopVox, says that these functions include the scope of the job, timelines, raw materials, and machinery to produce the job and ship it to customers. By making all of this information available in the cloud, Meka says print servers collect large amounts of data that can be fed back to sales to increase profits or be competitive with proper pricing or seamless shipping.
The artwork management space has also transformed with solution providers broadening workflow to include graphics and product lifecycle management. “From product planning to product specification and production to product packaging and product launch, these providers help customers guide products through the entire critical path,” offers Goldberg. By helping customers, organizations can collaborate throughout the entire business process and work more efficiently to improve a product’s time to market.
One of the most important functions of a production workflow is its ability to automate the printing process. Digital production equipment is made for automation, so it only makes sense if the workflow follows the hardware. “Because software can digitally communicate up and downstream in the workflow, equipment with automation software can receive and transmit data,” says Eva Rosén, co-founder/CMO, arifiq. With the proper set of automation tools, she believes production workflow allows print providers to use fewer employees to run the operation, receive higher speed and quality control for each job, and more in-depth reporting overall.
Production workflow offers automated batching and job tickets to provide production personnel with the information needed to produce jobs. Additionally, Lehn says jobs scanned in shipping trigger notifications, invoice emails, and deliver jobs to accounting. He believes integration of the production steps eliminates costly touch points of order administration that deeply cut into margins.
Vince Tutino, senior product manager, Rochester Software Associates, says production workflow includes everything in the production process from the job submission to customer billing. Typical functions include billing, electronic job submission, exchange of information between workflow software and enterprise systems for authentication, finishing, job and shop floor management, prepress, pre- and post-production, and shipping.
Workflow is also dependent on the type of printer/communications provider, the variety of jobs, and the number of output offerings, says Mary Ann Rowan, chief sales and marketing officer, Solimar Systems, Inc. “For example, in plants, service bureaus, and commercial printers have different needs that depend on their customer-base, volumes, and graphic fulfillment area,” she adds.
At the minimum, Rowan says production workflow is comprised of a system that feeds a print queue, a digital front end, the printer, and finishing and mailing components. As digital print workflows become more complex, additional features appear like augmented reality, composition systems, digital commingling and householding, print management software, process alerts, reprint management for damaged pieces, reporting, and tracking modules.
The days of manual job tickets and invoices are in the past. Production workflow automates digital printing for activities that require tracking and managing throughout the product lifecycle.
Jul2018, DPS Magazine