Jetrion Returns to Flint, sort of

Ryan McAbee
 Nov 3, 2017

Back in 2006, EFI acquired the Jetrion inkjet label printer business from Flint Group, which had developed the technology to expand beyond their traditional foothold in ink. At that time EFI was on a major push to expand into inkjet-driven hardware which was viewed as a growth engine beyond its Fiery and software businesses. EFI paid around $40 million in cash for the Jetrion business which was expected to post between $16-$18 million in annual turnover. After eleven years of less than expected growth, EFI announced an exclusive partnership for Jetrion label presses with Xeikon, a Flint Group company.

The agreement was reached after several months of negotiation, with the first hint of EFI’s decision to “exit the label market” given a week before by Guy Gecht during EFI’s most recent Q3 earnings call. Effectively, EFI is licensing the Jetrion brand while retaining control of the intellectual property and Jetrion ink business. Xeikon picks up the sales and service.

Source: efi.com

The Impact for EFI

The deal is a short-term win for EFI as the company retains the intellectual property rights and keeps the recurring revenue from the ink and, presumably, Fiery. EFI also gets to clear its financial books from an underperforming division. Gecht stated that 2016 Q3 Jetrion printer sales were $4 million which would not average to the $16-$18 million annual revenue expected after the acquisition back in 2006. The competitive market for inkjet-based digital label presses has also changed significantly over the last eleven years. There are more vendors competing in a more mature digital label market which has impacted the ability to place machines with just over 200 Jetrions installed globally to date.

In the long-term there are still uncertainties. Customers and prospects take notice when an underperforming division is jettisoned, creating uncertainty as to the future commitment to other divisions. EFI clearly stated that growth markets in corrugated and industrial printing are a primary focus. Could other divisions, like VUTEk, follow suit? In the Q3 financial call, the company noted a slowing of ink growth volume for its VUTEk line of printers which is an indicator of the end customer’s print volumes. There is always the possibility, but Keypoint Intelligence thinks it highly unlikely until other areas of the industrial inkjet division reach sizable revenue.

The material impact to the rest of the EFI ecosystem, for Fiery but also for Productivity Software solutions, is also unknown. Initial feedback indicates that Fiery will be the digital front end (DFE) for future sales, but Xeikon also has its own DFE. Does the change in sales and service reduce the potential pipeline for other productivity software, such as Digital StoreFront or Radius? Probably not due to the limited install base.

The Impact for Xeikon

HP and Xeikon dominate the digital label market, but both are leveraged to electrophotographic technology. The new agreement with EFI gives Xeikon a further expansion in UV-based label printers to complement its PX3000 Panther press announced earlier this year. The company can also leverage the existing Jetrion install base netting a greater presence in North American.

The company indicated that there will not be any immediate changes for customers, but there is opportunity for Xeikon to leverage some of its existing technology going forward. There are opportunities to have the Flint Group’s ink companies involved with the ink component of Jetrion. Xeikon has developed its X-800 DFE platform with an emphasis on label production and uses it for all other equipment, including Panther, although the company reiterated plans for the Jetrion line to be powered by EFI Fiery. Other lessons learned during the development of Panther could also be leveraged to retool and even expand the existing Jetrion line.

Final Thoughts

The greatest, initial benefactor to the agreement will be existing Jetrion customers who will see expanded service and support from Xeikon which has been at the forefront of digital label production for many years. Users will also be able to join Xeikon’s business development program aXelerate, which helps label converters build applications and sell digital output to grow their business.

Solution Focus: IQ’s printIQ in the Expanding Scope of print MIS

Ryan McAbee
 Oct 16, 2017

In the world of print production software there is no better example of a love/hate relationship than between print service providers and their print MIS solution. Print MIS solutions are, or should be, the one record of truth for the business which means the solution touches every function and every employee within the shop. Therein lies the problem. Print MIS solutions take a long time to setup and implement in the shop, assuming internal resistance does not derail the entire project.

Print shops usually start by implementing the core modules of estimating, quoting, purchase orders, job ticketing, and accounting which takes no less than a few months but can run over a year for larger operations. After the core is in place and running, some shops continue the journey and start implementing more advanced modules for shop floor data collection, inventory control, fulfillment, and customer relationship management. Still fewer shops continue to planning/scheduling and business intelligence modules which, sadly, can have the greatest impact.

So why would any print service provider, knowing the inherent challenges and implementation path, want a print MIS solution? Transformation. When done right, a management system can provide real and increasingly real-time data to enhance operators, production supervisors, management, and owners, with making the right decisions at the right time. Instead of experience, intuition, or guesswork, a fully implemented print MIS has the data to answer important business questions, such as:

  • Who are my largest customers and what percentage of total turnover do they represent?
  • Who are my most profitable customers and products/services?
  • What is my production capacity for any given time and will I be able to meet peak demand and maintain my SLAs?
  • Who are my most successful sales representatives? What type of work and what margins are they booking?

Getting to the advanced-user curve of your print MIS solution is the goal. However, the print MIS solution must work in coordination with other software to push you to the next level – smart print manufacturing.

Smart Print Manufacturing (SPM) starts with streamlining inputs (customers, job onboarding, and production resources) to optimize every stage of production, eliminating or minimizing manufacturing inefficiencies and errors while maximizing uptime and execution.

Print MIS solutions need to reach upstream and downstream to coordinate and record production processes (remember it’s your shop’s single record of truth). Can it receive online orders (through a module or third-party solution) and provide real-time, cost-based pricing to the customer? Can the job ticket, with all the customer’s intent, travel with the supplied artwork into your prepress workflow? Can it optimize material usage through intelligent planning and job ganging? Can it receive milestone updates from downstream software and equipment to update the job ticket and scheduling while also triggering alerts and notifications? Suddenly, your print MIS behaves more like a management and workflow platform for the entire shop.

That’s exactly how IQ, a software developer with operations in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and United States, designed their solution. Realizing customers were looking for “far more than just an MIS”, IQ bills their printIQ solution as a “Management Workflow Solution.” Beyond the core and advanced modules described above, printIQ has existing integrations with other industry leading software from Chili Publish, Enfocus, Kodak, and XMPie, to pass relevant production information upstream and downstream. The company publishes a set of APIs as another method for exchanging data and integrating with other software within your shop. Depending on the other software, IQ has simplified this process by using Zapier to link web-based applications (over 750), such as the accounting package Xero.

The company is trying to solve longtime challenges within print shops, i.e., capturing accurate, timely shop floor data. We know from our 2016 North American software investment survey, that two of the top reasons for not capturing shop floor data are because of resistance by staff and the amount of time it takes. printIQ took a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) approach to the problem by creating an app that staff can download to their phones and capture the information with a device and interface that are already familiar. The phone’s camera can also be used to scan barcodes to speed up the process. Print shops looking for a new or different solution for managing the many aspects of their operation should give printIQ a close look.

Love it or hate it, print shops need tools that enable transformation. Smart print manufacturing is the next evolution in print production and many have already started on the path. Have you?

Read more in the InfoTrends Solution Focus series.

Have stories to share or questions to ask, then reach out to @mbossed on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or good ole e-mail.

The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics: Driving with Dashboards

Ryan McAbee
 Oct 11, 2017

Get into your car, turn on the ignition, and what do you do? You glance at the dashboard to make sure there is no check engine warning light and that you have put the car into the right gear to take off. Modern car dashboards provide drivers with real-time information on the health of the engine, direction of the car, upcoming maintenance intervals, and how to get to your destination. Data-driven dashboards for print production do many of the same things for managers, production supervisors, and staff.

There are two primary types of dashboards used in print production today – job management and equipment operational efficiency. Job management dashboards provide a real-time snapshot of the work in production, its status in the shop, and whether the job will meet the milestones and deadlines agreed upon with the customer. Most dashboards are customizable to meet the specific needs of the user. Production staff dashboards might consist of work-to lists and a view to the day’s schedule. Manager dashboards are more likely to track service level agreements (SLAs) and other key performance indicators, such as spoilage rates and profitability. Since job management dashboards need to aggregate information regarding jobs, costs, schedule, and other business data, these dashboards are typically add-on modules to a print MIS or ERP solution.

Durst Analytics as seen at FESPA 2017

Image: Durst Analytics as seen at FESPA 2017

Operational efficiency dashboards use data provided by the connected equipment to provide actionable production statistics, such as machine up-time, and eventually predict when parts need to be replaced or maintenance needs to be performed. Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), or the percentage of manufacturing time that is truly productive, is often a key metric that is used. OEE is calculated by multiplying availability and performance of the manufacturing process and the resulting quality of output. World-class OEE is considered in the range of 85% but OEE for leading print shops is usually half; Toyota manufactures the same car on a single production line versus a print company manufacturing batches of different products.

Explanation of Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)

InfoTrends explanation of OEE

Although dashboards are increasingly needed to effectively manage print production, there are a few drawbacks. Job management dashboards rely upon many supporting layers of data that are fed by multiple modules within a print MIS or ERP solution. This assumes you already have such a solution in place with the necessary modules implemented. Operational efficiency dashboards are not as complicated to setup and only need software from the equipment manufacturer. The issue here is that there is not an industry standard for what is measured, how it is measured, and a universal way for the data to be exchanged. Since print shops have a mix of equipment from many different manufacturers, it is nearly impossible to aggregate the data from all equipment into a single view.

Even with today’s challenges, data-driven dashboards are becoming essential tools to view and improve productivity and remain competitive in the market. Just like your car, these dashboards show you how you are doing today, potential issues to address, and how to get where you want to go.

As always, inquire with your preferred vendors to learn about what data-driven dashboards may be available and look at these solutions: Durst Analytics, HP’s PrintOS PrintBeat, and ONYX hub.

Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.

Have stories to share or questions to ask, then reach out to @mbossed on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or good ole e-mail.

What is Smart Print Manufacturing?

Ryan McAbee
 Oct 9, 2017

The printing industry transitioned over the past four decades from a craft to a manufacturing process, driven by an endless stream of enabling technologies. The communication landscape continues to shift and evolve leaving print to compete against the speed, cost, and targeting capabilities of digital channels. Competition also remains stiff within the industry which remains focused on reducing costs through automation. The next decade will be about redefining print manufacturing to make it smarter as we transition to the next industrial revolution.

Smart Print Manufacturing (SPM) starts with streamlining inputs (customers, job onboarding, and production resources) to optimize every stage of production, eliminating or minimizing manufacturing inefficiencies and errors while maximizing uptime and execution.

SPM combines manufacturing methods with industrial technologies to optimize all stages of print production. Many print service providers have already implemented lean and just-in-time manufacturing techniques to optimize their supply chain and minimize waste. Mass customization and autonomous production, however, are still bubbling up.

  • Mass customization: creating customized, and in some cases personalized, products in small quantities while not increasing manufacturing costs.
  • Autonomous production: the use of data and networked communication to connect machines to management and information systems and other machines to decide and execute the most efficient manufacturing process.

While these concepts may seem as farfetched as the sci-fi technologies used by Jetsons when that cartooned appeared in 1962, the first generation of mass customization and autonomous production are already here. Cimpress, parent company of well-known online print brands in North American and Europe, is a mass customization company. Their brands produced 30 million orders from 17 million customers that resulted in 46 million customized products. The company has subsequently launched a platform, called Cimpress Open, to let merchants and other printers tap into its mass customization capabilities. As for autonomous production, most major equipment manufacturers that supply the industry have initiatives. Heidelberg demonstrated its “push-to-stop” technology at last year’s drupa tradeshow which allows the press to initiate processes, e.g., blanket washups, without needing input from the operator.

Source: InfoTrends

SPM relies on a stack of technology that is changing and evolving. In the table below we list the technology, description, and industry examples available today.

Technology Definition Sample of Industry Solutions
Analytics Software to interpret and visualize data that can be customized to individual users. Canon PRISMAlytics, EFI Fiery Navigator, Kodak Analytics, ONYX HUB, SpencerMetrics Connect
Big data Massive sets of data, often from multiple sources, that requires advanced software to capture, store, and analyze. Heidelberg (PTC Machine Cloud) and Pitney Bowes Clarity (GE Predix)
Business Intelligence Software that combines production data with financial data; often an add-on module to a print MIS or ERP system. Avanti Executive Dashboards, EFI BI, Tharstern BI
Cloud Computing An evolution of IT to pool and share resources (network, servers, storage, applications, and services) often via the Internet. Most cloud-based offerings in the print industry use a cloud computing service, such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.
Cyber-physical systems Smart machines that translate data into actionable information to interface with other machines, systems, and people. Autonomous robots for materials movements.
Industrial Internet of Things A subset of the Internet of Things specific to manufacturing for increasing revenue through improved productivity, workforce transformation, and new business models. IIoT encompasses many other technologies in this list. No specific examples although many industry solutions are necessary parts of IIoT.
Robotics The use of robots to perform tasks, often repetitive, previously done by a person. Several vendors use robotic arms for material movements, e.g., from palette to cutting table, from suppliers like KUKA Robotics.

 

Print service providers of all shapes and sizes need to prepare, plan, and take steps to implement their own version of Smart Print Manufacturing. SPM is not just for the largest printers. While some technologies, due to cost or expertise, are out of reach for some printers, e.g., robotics, others are not, e.g., cloud computing. Those who wait will find it increasingly difficult to compete as the efficiencies of competitors trickle down to their cost structure and market pricing.

Have stories to share or questions to ask, then reach out to @mbossed on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or good ole e-mail.

The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics: Optimizing Substrates

Ryan McAbee
 Oct 4, 2017

In this blog series, we have been exploring ways shops can automate their workflows. One of the goals of any workflow is to increase efficiency and, in doing so, reduce costs from the operation. Labor, however, is rarely the biggest cost component of any wide format graphics job. The ink and materials are the big ticket items, so any way to minimize the amount needed will improve the operation.

Optimizing substrate use through combining and batching jobs for output is a good start. The next level is to optimize the amount of work, from one or multiple customers, that can fit on the same material through nesting. What once took an operator significant time to move and duplicate images within a creative layout program, like Adobe Illustrator, can now be done in seconds. The nesting software uses the true size of each shape, factors the quantities needed, and then fits them into a tight pattern that minimizes the amount of material needed to print. Below is an example of regular versus a nested layout.

Regular Layout

InfoTrends-Regular-WF-Imposition-2017

Nested Layout

InfoTrends-Nested-WF-Imposition-2017

Most nesting software provides additional controls, such as locking rotation or allowing objects to be placed within the white area of other images, for the user to fine tune the layout. As a last resort, users can manually manipulate any object after the initial optimization if it still needs to be tweaked.

Nesting is not unique to wide format graphics and is routinely used in labels and packaging production. The difference is that layouts for those applications usually start with a computer aided design (CAD) file where the nesting pattern is already set to match an existing dieline pattern. Wide format can combine a greater number of unique shapes due to the use of digital cutters instead of diecutters.

Nesting optimization software can be sourced from either the RIP/DFE vendor or from an independent vendor that specializes in impositions and layouts. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • RIP/DFE-based: Caldera, Ergosoft, SAi
  • Independent: Tilia Labs, Ultimate Technographics

Mileage will vary for the cost savings gained through nesting based on the volume of work using a common substrate, the shape complexity, and quantities being produced. Some report materials savings of up to 50%. Considering the costs of many of the substrates used in wide format graphics, any percentage saved will lower production costs and improve profitability.

Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.

Have stories to share or questions to ask, then reach out to @mbossed on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or good ole e-mail.

The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics: Confounding Color

Ryan McAbee
 Sep 27, 2017

Color is one of those things that everyone knows and has an opinion about, but very few understand how it works. We all understand reference colors. We expect the sky to be blue and grass to be green. Getting that grass to be the same green across different print technologies (analog vs. digital), types of ink/toner, substrates (paper vs. vinyl), and lighting conditions (daylight vs. fluorescent bulbs), is the confounding part. Getting consistent color requires commitment, the right tools and people to execute a process, and diligence to repeat and monitor the process.

Color is important to your customers and your operation. In a InfoTrends 2015 study, print-for-pay print service providers indicated that 55% of their work required accurate color matching and expected that requirement to grow to 64% of work this year. Printers cited the benefits of a successful color management program including less rejected/reprinted work, better equipment utilization, and reduction in ink costs. Despite the benefits, color management is not without its challenges. A lack of dedicated staff, time, and skillset were common obstacles but the highest response was due to changing print conditions. To minimize those challenges, it’s important to dedicate the resources to succeed and develop a program that addresses the 5 C’s of color management.

InfoTrends 5 Cs of Color Management

  1. Calibration ensures the printing device is at its optimal printing condition and establishes a baseline for repeatable output. Manufacturers of the equipment provide a recommended calibration schedule but tightly controlled shops typically calibrate a minimum of once per day.
  2. Capture and quantify the color using a color measurement device, typically a spectrophotometer.
  3. Characterization relies on the data from the capture stage and characterizes the color capabilities of the printer using a specific ink/toner and substrate pairing. A color management system (CMS) is software used to create profiles during this step. If variables change, most notably substrates, then a new profile needs to be created for those new print conditions.
  4. Convergence is the interplay between color spaces and how the printer will output the print. For example, a brand color like Coca-cola red is converted from a device-independent color space into the color space (gamut) the printer is capable of reproducing.
  5. Conformance of the printing conditions to the pre-determined color specification or standard, e.g. G7. Measuring the output checks if the printing is within tolerance of your standard, usually viewed as a simple pass/fail report form the color management system (CMS).

While the capture and characterization steps can be time intensive, the good news is that the other steps require less time and can often be automated. If this is your first attempt at developing a program to manage color, then hiring an independent industry consultant or someone certified from your preferred vendor is highly recommended. These experts can guide you to the best process, create a plan of execution, establish standard operating procedures, educate staff on those procedures, and develop a plan for continued implementation. You’ll also need a measurement device and software to create the ICC profiles.

Tools to get started:

  • Spectrophotometer, like those offered by Barbieri, Konica Minolta, and X-rite.
  • There are numerous software packages that can create ICC profiles, but fewer that also offer ink optimization and quality control features.
    • All global equipment manufacturers have their own or license color management software.
    • There are independent vendors including, but not limited to, Alwan, CGS, Chromix, CMI, gmg, and X-rite. There are also many regionally strong vendors.
    • The RIP/DFE vendors usually offer color management capabilities or, at minimum, the ability to use ICC profiles.

Now that you are armed with a basic understanding, it’s time to rally your staff, engage your vendors and experts, and get started! With implementation and practice, what was once confounding will become routine, increase automation, and improve the operation.

Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.

Have stories to share or questions to ask, then reach out to @mbossed on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or good ole e-mail.

The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics: Stop it at the Door

Ryan McAbee
 Sep 20, 2017

Spend any amount of time around a prepress department, and you will eventually hear “garbage in, garbage out” followed by a few choice words. Some design flaws, such as using Pantone 180 C to Pantone 180 U, can be easily addressed. Other design issues, like low image resolutions, cannot be corrected. The quality of the files that customers provide has a tremendous impact on the speed and accuracy of producing that work.

A robust workflow identifies the issues, automatically fixes as many as possible, and then reports the remaining ones for the operator to inspect. Print shops need to stop problem files at the door or the point of onboarding the job. The further downstream in the production process an error is caught, the costlier it becomes to correct and, in the worst of cases, leads to redoing the entire job.

Stop-it-at-the-door-image

Where the preflight check occurs and by whom depends on how the work comes into the shop. Work entering the shop from a web-to-print solution can be automatically preflighted and pushed back to the user to correct or approve existing issues. For most other file submission paths, someone in the shop will need to submit the file into the preflight software and check the results report. The first line of defense for retail shops is employees at the counter or customer support representatives (CSR) for shops without walk-in service. The first pass will identify any major issues that would involve notifying the customer. The second preflight point, focused more on prepping the file based on the job specs and production plan, is performed at the prepress department. These are the folks that can work on and solve the hard-to-fix issues.

What common issues can preflight software identify and correct?

Identify Fix
Low resolution images No
Color spaces (RGB, Indexed, CMYK, etc.) Yes, conversions
Color name remapping – renaming or consistently naming spot colors Yes
Rich black Yes
Ink Coverage/Total Ink Limit Yes
Overprint/knockout controls Yes
Transparency settings Yes
Page geometry/dimensions Yes
Page bleed – image/object extension Yes
Font embedding Yes
Object manipulations Yes

 

There are several options for preflighting in wide format graphics, all with varying degrees of sophistication. The best approach is to test existing files with known problems against each preflight solution in addition to reviewing its technical capabilities.

  • Independent preflight software solutions, such as Callas, Enfocus, and Markzware. These solutions support all segments of the print industry which make them robust but more complex to setup. There are usually options for automation, e.g., hotfolders or APIs.
  • Included or add-on modules at the RIP/DFE. This option is best as a late stage check before production.
  • As part of a workflow management solution. These offer similar capabilities to the independent preflight solutions and, in many cases, are licensed from those same vendors.
  • Preflight as part of the web-to-print solution. Usually a limited check for image resolution and color space, i.e., RGB.

Preflighting, just like the pre-flight checklist for pilots, is required to ensure everything is in proper working order for a safe and successful journey. Without it your workflow is headed for a bumpy ride.

Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.

Have stories to share or questions to ask, then reach out to @mbossed on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or good ole e-mail.

The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics: Managing the Work

Ryan McAbee
 Sep 13, 2017

Managing the diversity of work possible within a wide format shop is challenging. Quotes must be created for customers from estimates based on as-accurate-as-possible costs. Once the order is placed, materials need to be ordered and/or staged for production. The job needs to be scheduled, costs tracked, and deadlines met. Oh, let’s not forget these tasks are multiplied by every job received which is enough to cause panic in the most stoic of managers.

With so much to manage, one would expect that every wide format shop would own a print management software solution. According to the FESPA 2015 Census, only 17.7% of shops owned a print MIS compared with 72.7%% of general commercial printers from that year’s InfoTrends US Software Investment Outlook. While adoption rates have likely increased over the past couple of years and will be reflected in the upcoming FESPA Census, it is unlikely that wide format shops have closed the gap. One reason most print providers avoid changing their existing or adopting a new print MIS solution is the complexity involved which equates to time and cost. Most print MIS solutions need over 6 months to fully implement but the core system of estimating, quoting, and job ticketing can go much faster, so view it as a journey not a sprint.

Print MIS Adoption for Wide Format and General Commercial Printer

Sources: FESPA 2015 Census, 2015 InfoTrends US Software Investment Outlook

Print MIS solutions can also act a central record of truth for the work. If all jobs are entered in the system, then the order’s production status can be tracked, production costs assigned, service level agreements met, and data captured to provide real-time insights or post mortem analysis, i.e. estimate versus actual costs reporting. Having the data in one system unlocks the potential for customizable dashboards to track performance indicators for true business intelligence.

There are many types of solutions that can be used depending upon your situation:

  • Wide format-specific print MIS solutions like Clarity and ShopVox are browser-based solutions that were specifically designed for the needs of sign and graphics.
  • General print MIS solutions, that often started in commercial printing, have subsequently added capabilities for wide format production. Examples include, but are not limited to, solutions from Avanti, EFI, IQ, Optimus, and Tharstern.

The pressure to manage more jobs and increase efficiency is increasing due to customer demands. Shops responding to the FESPA 2015 Census cited shorter turnaround, just-in-time requirements, and shorter runs as the top three trends from customers. The speed of business has changed and seems to get faster each passing year. What might have been possible to manage through manual processes, like creating estimates in a spreadsheet, won’t suffice going forward.

Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.

Have stories to share or questions to ask, then reach out to @mbossed on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or good ole e-mail.

The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics

Ryan McAbee
 Sep 7, 2017

Today’s print service providers know that their bottom line is less about the equipment and more about how fast they can get work to the equipment and on to delivery. That is why automation and efficiency have been at the top of strategic initiatives for commercial printers in our annual software investment surveys for the past several years. Leading commercial printers view the intellectual property around their workflow processes as a distinct competitive differentiator and make investments in software and staff to grow that advantage. In general, wide format sign and graphics isn’t there yet.

The wide format sign and graphics market has some distinct workflow challenges. First, equipment choice still has great influence on what types of applications can be produced and so carries more mindshare. Second, there can be more finishing variables, such as lamination, mounting, stitching, and adding grommets. Then there is still the last mile of installation. Last, sign and graphics is rooted in a RIP-and-print type workflow where the operator still performs many tasks using the RIP software attached to the printer. Here’s a typical workflow for sign and graphics (not all steps are required for every type of product):

InfoTrends-WideFormat-Graphics-Workflow

Source: InfoTrends

A good place to start is to audit your workflow and identify all your current processes. How many of your workflow steps require an operator? Do those steps have options for automation? The good news is that several of the workflow steps for sign and graphics have many paths to automation because those steps are common to other types of print production. For now, let’s start by looking at ways to automate customers submitting files.

Unless you design all work in-house, most jobs start with receiving the customer’s file. Solutions to automate this process range from simple online file transfer to more complex web-to-print. The advantage of online file transfer is that almost everyone knows how to use it without explanation but the downsides are that files usually require an operator to push the file into the next step in the workflow and the job specifications are unknown. There are solutions, such as HP’s PrintOS and Enfocus Switch, that can take files from online transfer and route them into the next step of production, normally preflight. Talk to your preferred vendor to see what similar solutions they may offer.

If you have already been using online file transfer services or simply want to enhance the automation, web-to-print is the next logical step. The advantage of web-to-print solutions, such as Caldera’s Webshop or EFI’s Digital StoreFront (just to name a few), is that the customer’s intent is captured during the order process which can enhance the downstream automation. Getting customer’s trained to use the site and integrating it with the rest of your workflow require time and effort to get in place.

If you are still using FTP, e-mail, and hard media to receive files, there’s opportunity to improve!

Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.

Have stories to share or questions to ask, then reach out to @mbossed on Twitter, or LinkedIn, or good ole e-mail.

Delivering on Customer Engagement at the XMPie User’s Conference

Ryan McAbee
 Oct 30, 2015

Earlier this week the XMPie User’s Group conference was held in Miami, Florida. The theme of the conference was “The Art of Customer Engagement” and brought together users of XMPie software from around the globe for three days of networking and learning. The opening keynote titled “On Bridging Print and Digital” was delivered by Jacob Aizikowitz, president and founder of XMPie. Jacob urged attendees to become digital first, focusing as much on digital technologies as print – a point driven home by the fact that 75% of marketing spend is expected to be on digital channels by 2019.

XMPie continues to evolve and expand its product offerings to support a digital-first mindset which was reinforced by the introduction of Open XM at the show. Open XM is an XMPie technology stack that can be incorporated into any website without relying on any specific design tool.

User-driven conferences continue to provide an ideal environment for learning and networking with other service providers who face the same opportunities and challenges. This was evident in the sessions and conversations I had with attendees at the show, from discussing pricing strategies to users trading contact information to help out with technical issues once they arrive back home.
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