By Melissa Donovan
A digital print environment, whether it is solely digital or a hybrid of digital and offset, is an ideal candidate for automation. Challenges abound when it comes to workflow. identifying issues and then implementing an automated solution can help remedy them.
“Ultimately, workflow tools enable print providers to maintain control of their operations by preplanning work before it enters the shop. True end-to-end offerings require various integrated workflows to move from point of entry to delivery, right into the end customer’s hands. The net promise to the print provider helps deliver a reduction of human intervention, which greatly reduces the amount of scheduling mishaps, lost production, and inefficient work,” shares Gavin Jordan-Smith, VP, solutions and production planning, BIS, Konica Minolta Business Solutions, U.S.A., Inc.
End to end, the whole process must be considered. There is a good case for automation within a variety of production processes, including file submission, proofing, press selection, analytics, billing, and fulfillment. To determine the success of these solutions, return on investment (ROI) is a serious consideration. Owners must evaluate ROI prior to implementation and carefully monitor the projected plan.
Many workflow challenges are found in digital-only and digital/offset environments. These relate to manual touches at different phases of the process that can slow down turnaround times and leave room for error, which translates to lost time and revenue.
According to Chris E. Yanko, workflow solutions manager, North America, Xeikon, “whether digital or offset, the challenge is the same—produce product and deliver services as efficiently, economically, and profitably as possible before the competition can, while managing continuously evolving technology.”
As the adoption of Web to print (W2P) continues to rise, more print providers find themselves working with a combination of MIS and automated Web submission tools. “This means that tracking and managing jobs across the production floor becomes more challenging, and it is critical to manage these jobs from a centralized location,” says Muna Assi, product marketing manager, workflow solutions, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Indigo.
All Together Now
More often than not, digital-only and digital/offset shops are presented with similar obstacles to overcome. For example, Tony Tarpey, VP marketing, SmartSoft, explains that both digital-only and digital/offset environments usually have to master what he calls The Silo Effect.
“Each step in the production process, from creating and revising quotes, writing up orders and change orders, relaying proofs to a client, generating job tickets, scheduling, and imposing—these may be handled multiple times by different staff, each touch taking time and costing money. You can lose money before you’ve even printed a job,” he continues.
Workload is another challenge. “Keeping the presses running and optimizing productivity isn’t always easy, particularly when the workload increases and you have to maintain the same levels of efficiency,” shares Kevin Horey, VP/GM of workflow and solutions, Xerox Corporation.
In relation to workload is also the need to improve customer interaction. Print providers must stay ahead of the customer in order to continue providing above satisfactory work within quick turnarounds. “The challenge of improving customer interaction introduces two aspects that businesses face and that is taking in new work, as well as providing the status of current production. Print providers need more volume to stay profitable, but they also need to keep ahead of the curve by informing customers of production status updates rather than reacting to customer calls. Winning a customer is the easy part, while keeping a loyal customer is much harder and requires superior customer service,” advises A.E. “Buddy” Mountcastle III, marketing executive – workflow, Canon Solutions America (CSA).
A multi-technology print environment must also contend with quality and color challenges. “If a print provider is preparing a marketing kit for any consumer brand, there will often be some amount of signage, some promotional material printed on an offset press and/or digitally, and some product tags, labels, and packaging that are either printed digitally or on a flexographic press. So, it is important to ensure brand quality and color,” explains Larry Moore, VP – partner programs, North America, Esko.
Unique Scenarios for Each
Tarpey sees a unique challenge presented in the digital/offset scenario. Most shops run two separate workflows for each technology, which in his experience means two different sets of software. Ultimately, this prohibits the print provider from achieving efficiencies gained by a single, unified workflow.
Aaron Tavakoli, Worldwide United Workflow Solutions product manager, Kodak, says digital-only print shops that include multiple pieces of hardware from various vendors are posed with a different set of issues. “Production environments consist of many different digital presses and digital front ends (DFEs) with different finishing options. Preparing jobs for these environments is complex; often devices from different vendors are used alongside one another. Digital workflow must integrate with both older origination systems and digital devices in order to provide effective automation,” he shares.
Digital shops have the additional challenge of relying on their workflow to handle a lot of small jobs. “The litho world worries about the ten jobs that have to get out in the next ten days—the digital world worries about the ten jobs that have to get out in the next hour,” adds Stephen McWilliam, EVP, Avanti.
When studying a workflow from end to end, the number of opportunities for automation is vast. All segments are prime targets for automation. Workflow solutions from both OEMs and third party providers address challenges to enable efficiency across the entire lifecycle of a print order.
McWilliam says many shops look to eliminate “multiple sources of truth,” meaning that shops currently working with multiple systems get different answers depending on the system asked. For example, W2P, an Excel spreadsheet, and another print MIS may each provide different prices for the same product.
“There is a growing feeling that print shops need one ‘system of record’—one place that collates and collects all of the data coming from different systems,” he adds. Avanti Slingshot does just that. “A print MIS platform like Avanti Slingshot sits in the middle of the shops and acts as a communication hub, sending and receiving information to/from the different systems,” continues McWilliam.
There are a few key areas that require more automation than others because they introduce the greatest amount of bottlenecks to the business. “Those areas of concern are proofing and approval, job estimating, preflighting, job submission, and billing,” admits Mountcastle. CSA’s core offering that addresses an end-to-end solution revolves around the PRISMA suite of products combined with strategic partner products.
Gerald Walsh, director of market development, Productivity Software, EFI, shares that the EFI Enterprise Automated Workflow is based on the Theory of Global Optimization. “It recognizes and attacks the costs related to every touch required during the production of a printing job in facilities that handle everything from simple, fast-turn jobs to complex projects.”
Using EFI solutions, workflow starts with a salesperson in the field using EFI Monarch Portal to collect information that is then sent to Monarch estimating, which allows for a production plan to be built and a quote prepared. Once the job is accepted, the information is sent to Monarch Planner to define the job parameters. With a plan in place, EFI PrintFlow Dynamic Scheduling then determines the best production schedule. Production progress is updated in real time using EFI Auto-Count Direct Machine Interface.
Esko Suite 14 is a complete preproduction workflow. Many pieces are available for integration into the system depending on user requirements, but major components include Automation Engine, a RIP that produces consistent files, and centralized color management. Workflow automation includes workflow tickets that route designs automatically to press. It stretches beyond printing and finishing and integrates with logistics at the backend of the process.
HP SmartStream workflow solutions combine tools from HP and its partners. HP SmartStream Director combines W2P functionality with backend production integration. Users can build online storefronts, utilize the HP SmartStream Design VDP tool, prepress tools, and automated job tickets. HP SmartStream Production Center increases productivity by fitting into an existing job environment and automating production processes. Direct2Finish automates the set up and operation of finishing equipment using JDF.
Kodak’s Tavakoli believes Web-based job submission tools are positioned to benefit the most from automation. “They identify problems or challenges quickly and alert the print buyer to potential issues immediately. When properly integrated with workflow, there is an enormous potential to automate—as the workflow can automatically preflight, color manage, trap or impose the file, and return the job to the client for approval,” he explains.
Kodak Prinergy Workflow 6 improves on rules-based automation with fourth generation automation. This automation is integrated with the business environment to automate job settings and make decisions based on production intent—the description of what the customer has ordered. This newest version of Prinergy also understands and automates information revolving around a print shop’s resources, equipment, and materials. Combined with the production intent, the program builds a model of the specific job with the fewest number of manual touch points.
Konica Minolta breaks end-to-end workflow down into four areas—order submission, production, delivery, and administration. The real differentiators, according to Jordan-Smith, are automating the steps within and between the four areas. Konica Minolta’s EngageIT Automation workflow software is an order automation portal that is fully integrated with an automated production module. The software is used from order entry though job ticketing, printing, and delivery.
Rochester Software Associates’ (RSA’s) WebCRD provides a total workflow solution from submission through production management, automation, and chargeback. Of note is the solution’s unique integration architecture, which allows the flexibility to perform advanced integrations without locking customers into custom code.
According to Vincent Tutino, senior product manager, RSA, integration capabilities in an automated workflow are essential. “Whether the integrations are file-, code-, or Web-based, the ability to implement integrations is a key time saver that can streamline the entire process from submission to delivery to the customer,” he explains.
PressWise by SmartSoft is a true end-to-end workflow automation system. Tarpey cites that one of the more important features of the program is the ability for a customer service representative, sales representative, or customer to generate a quote online and then automatically turn the quote into an order and push it into production.
Handling variable data jobs is essential to today’s print process. An automated solution’s DFE tackles that. For example, the Xeikon X-800 Digital Front-End combines prepress, data processing, and press operation functionality. In combination with a metadata module, simple variable data jobs are defined on the X-800. To enable tracking of production from print to delivery or to prevent counterfeiting, the X-800 allows dynamic addition of production data or other variable elements such as sequential numbers or barcodes, to already RIPped documents.
According to Xerox’s Horey, one especially time-consuming stage in the workflow is prepress. “This functionality includes print job inspection, preflighting, checking for errors, cropping, imposition, and color management. The time spent doing this manually can be cumbersome, depending on the job,” he says.
Xerox offers its Xerox FreeFlow Core 4.0 workflow software, which is available as Output Management and Variable Data Printing Modules. In regards to prepress capabilities, FreeFlow drives extended automation solutions such as the Xerox IntegratedPLUS Automated Solution for Color Management. Through a cloud solution, a single color expert centrally manages a fleet of offset or digital devices—locally or remotely—to oversee color management tasks.
Gaining on Return
Print providers must evaluate ROI to determine the success of an automated implementation. “Determining ROI is one of those things that can be more art than science. There are many factors not readily quantifiable on a spreadsheet, such as employee buy in, ease of use, and overall fit within an organization’s future growth plans,” recommends Yanko.
Multiple methods are employed to calculate ROI. Horey suggests factors to consider include cost-and-profit comparisons for any job run length, operating/resource costs, and production turnaround.
Konica Minolta’s Jordan-Smith says lean manufacturing specifically focused on value stream mapping is the best way to evaluate an ROI that could come from a solution deployed in any print environment. “Today about 76 percent of print providers have completed a value stream mapping exercise to see how many touches go into a particular process/workflow. Once the current workflow state is understood, a solution provider can clearly illustrate with an ROI that a particular solution could save X percent of cost in an end-to-end workflow.”
Reductions in time are easily measured, which can then be turned into dollars to produce an ROI. In addition to time reductions, most customers also experience an increase in volume once the system is rolled out. Since time saved tends to be significant, the additional volume acquired does not require more staffing,” he shares.
CSA’s Mountcastle advises print providers to combine time savings with more volume and ultimately they can then measure the increase in revenue while seeing costs either stay the same and/or lessen.
“With time, the goal is to reduce the amount of time it takes to get the job from one point to the other. Even if the amount of time saved is a few minutes per job, that time adds up throughout the course of the year. In the case of volume, if things are truly integrated print providers should be able to take on more work without increasing overhead, which improves bottom line revenue,” he adds.
Esko’s Moore suggests that it is more important to study how the end-to-end solution improves volume—and not necessarily minutes. “Too often with automated workflows, customers ask how many minutes they can save. Yes, they can save a few minutes per SKU. However, the more vital question is how it will allow a print provider to put more work through the digital press. This is the best way to evaluate ROI,” he advises.
Properly implemented workflow solutions provide efficiency to both digital-only and digital/offset environments. Integration between multiple systems enables an end-to-end workflow from file submission to fulfillment. No two shops are the same, proper investigation into what processes require the most attention to automation is important to ROI. dps
Jan2015, DPS Magazine