By Cassandra Balentine
Part one of two
Many benefits are achieved when a label production is automated, from boosted efficiency to improved quality, lower costs, increased capacity, and better customer service.
“Overall, automation workflows can bring significant advantages, enabling them to operate more efficiently, reduce costs, and improve the quality of their products and services,” says Tom Peire, CEO, Four Pees.
John Cusack, business development manger, Baldwin Vision Systems, agrees, noting that the biggest advantages to workflow automation in label environments include efficiency and accuracy. “Manual alternatives are time consuming and prone to human errors.”
“With automation, print providers boost productivity by minimizing the necessary manual labor required to run the label press. Implementing automation into your day-to-day printing will allow for less time spent on file preparations and the scheduling of jobs,” comments Mike Pruitt, product manager, SurePress, Epson America, Inc.
Through automation, the holy grail is achieving a touchless workflow.
“Automation can facilitate touchless environments for various industries such as ecommerce, smart gaming, and imposition. It can reduce manual intervention, thereby decreasing the chances of errors and increasing efficiency,” says Sean Davis, Director of Technology Significans Automation.
Steve Lynn, director, labels and packaging, Durst Image Technology, agrees, noting that the greatest advantage to adding automation to label workflow is the possibility for greater throughput with reduced touches and how it can result in faster turnaround times, greater client satisfaction, and reduced need for quality control for jobs going out the door.
“Automation can help achieve a true end-to-end lights out automation process, meaning that the entire process can be automated without any human intervention, from retrieving order data to preflight analysis and fixing issues to creating a job folder, storing relevant information, and passing files to other software,” says Davis.
A fully automated system offers greater capacity because the press is not waiting for files from prepress. “In a world with more shorter run jobs, this is very important. There are also fewer errors caused by manual intervention and greater efficiencies,” says Mike Agness, EVP, Americas, HYBRID Software.
Improved Customer Satisfaction
Speed and efficiencies ultimately boil down to a better customer experience.
This comes in the form of reduced errors and faster throughput. Jack J. Lafler, VP, sales and technical services, HiFlow Solutions. explains that workflow automation offers the ability to monitor production and identify bottlenecks and weak points, add speed, and cut down on operator time and manual processes, include detailed and continuous stream of data, and enable AR and AP to automate invoicing.
“These are just a few advantages. There are so many. Of course, a label company can always do a demonstration with a provider to see exactly how automation can save time, labor, materials, and create more profits,” shares Lafler.
While the benefits of automation in a label printing environment are well documented, there are of course challenges to overcome, whether or not these are perceived or realistic.
Stan Carmichael, special projects Significans Automation, admits that automating labeling workflows is often thought of as a time consuming and resource-intensive task, requiring significant investments in infrastructure and tools.
According to Peire, the biggest perceived challenge when it comes to automating a label production workflow is often the initial investment required to implement the automation technology. He says it’s not about the return on investment anymore, it is cost of inaction—the risk of falling behind competitors already using automation technology.
Another challenge is the integration of different systems and technologies. “Label workflows typically involve many tasks from design and prepress to printing and finishing. Integrating different software and hardware components can be complex, requiring the right technology and print production expertise,” notes Peire.
“Connecting workflows can seem daunting, but this challenge can be overcome by partnering with technology vendors that openly connect with other systems and provide the professional services to implement this integration,” offers Cusack.
Additionally, tools and services are now available, such as Turbo Switch Packs powered by Significans Automation, which can help businesses quickly and affordably automate their labeling workflows. “This means that businesses no longer have to invest significant time and resources in developing and implementing automation solutions from scratch. They can quickly gain the benefits of automation and scale their automation efforts as needed to meet evolving needs,” adds Carmichael.
Resistance to change is a consistent struggle for many print providers. It can be difficult to get a team on board and convince employees that their job will be easier in time. “It’s that first six months on a new system that can be challenging,” cautions Lafler.
“Employees may be reluctant to adopt new technologies and consider process optimization. Involving them in the process and showing them how automation can make their job more interesting is key to overcoming that,” suggests Peire.
There is always a learning curve with new technologies, so planning the process and having the proper support is critical as it relates to adding automation to label workflow. “There should be no big challenges if you choose the right partner with the team available to provide training and support,” comments Lynn.
Pruitt sees the most difficult part in the integration of automated label workflow is the release of the necessary APIs for the press and working further with multiple service vendors to provide the necessary tools to efficiently run their respective press.
Agness says MIS connectivity is still, perhaps, the final frontier. “If you can connect effectively to job specifications, it makes production much more error free, with speeds to keep up with digital presses.”
Overcoming challenges related to workflow automation requires a thoughtful approach that involves careful planning, cost-benefit analysis, and effective change management. “It is important to identify the areas of the workflow that can benefit most from automation and prioritize investments accordingly. Additionally, effective communication and training can help to overcome cultural resistance and ensure the successful adoption of automation technology,” concludes Peire.
Pros and Cons
The benefits of automation clearly outweigh the negatives, as many are perceived or even temporary.
Part two of this series looks at which types of label environments are early adopters of automation.
Aug2023, DPS Magazine