Live from FESPA 2018: Steve Urmano’s Top 3 Picks

Ryan McAbee
 May 18, 2018

Live from FESPA 2018: Ron Gilboa on Mass Customization

Ryan McAbee
 May 17, 2018

Software Technology Highlights from the 2018 Pitney Bowes Software Analyst Summit

Ryan McAbee
 May 7, 2018

Last month, Pitney Bowes held a Software Technology Analyst Summit in San Diego, California. With 25 analysts in attendance from around the world, including senior executives from Pitney Bowes, the software team reviewed the company’s progress over the last year and offered insights into the short-term strategic directions of its software division. The event highlighted the launch of location-driven data services, user experience (UX) improvements to the location intelligence portfolio, expanded data and analytics features in the Spectrum Technology Platform, and a streamlining of the EngageOne communication platform. Pitney Bowes also showcased the upcoming introduction of its first fast and adaptable chatbot platform, EngageOne Converse.

Bob Guidotti and the Knowledge Fabric

Bob Guidotti, Pitney Bowes’ EVP and President of Software, brings his years of enterprise software experience to apply a disciplined growth strategy for the company. During his two-year tenure, Pitney Bowes’ software division has trimmed costs, streamlined its portfolio, slowed revenue declines, and shifted its investments to growth areas—primarily around digital—while also launching additional services and products within existing focus areas. Guidotti’s team is leveraging Pitney Bowes’ decades of intellectual property (IP) around location intelligence, layering other vetted third-party data sets, and packaging it as a service to enterprises with location-critical use cases. To deliver the message to the market, Jeff Winter (VP of Marketing and Communications) announced a new campaign focused around Pitney Bowes’ Knowledge Fabric. Simply put, the company’s software solutions can weave physical and digital points of information to derive insights for connecting people, places, and things. Read more »

Printer Spotlight: Consortium Companies in Edison, NJ

Ryan McAbee
 May 1, 2018

At the crossroads of New Jersey, just off the bustling Turnpike and Parkway, lies the town of Edison. The town was named after one of the most iconic figures in American history – the prolific inventor, Thomas Edison. Over a century ago that Thomas Edison moved his research laboratory to the Menlo Park area. It was there that Edison would invent solutions that continue to impact our lives today from the phonograph to the electric light bulb.

Against this backdrop in history, the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of Thomas Edison can be found today in the nearby Consortium Companies. The multi-generational, family owned print service provider offers a diverse range of products and services for clients in New Jersey, nearby New York City, and across the country. Whether customers need personalized mailers, oversized signage, fulfillment services, or marketing/novelty items, the group of Consortium Companies can deliver.

Read more »

Solution Focus: Corebridge – A Modern Management Solution for Wide Format

Ryan McAbee
 Apr 25, 2018

Look around. What do you see? Chances are good that you see signage used to promote, inform, or direct. The ubiquity of signs makes it an attractive product for print service providers looking to capture a piece of a growing market. Due to advancements and growth in digital printing equipment, print shops can get started quickly at many different price points.

Buying the equipment is only one part of operating a successful print shop producing wide format applications. How will customers know what you offer, get pricing, and confirm their order? How will they upload artwork files? Once the order is confirmed, how will accurate job details flow through each department of the shop? What happens when there is an issue and how will that be communicated internally and externally to the client? As you can see, managing a wide format print operation has a lot of moving parts beyond just printing. Read more »

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.

2016 InfoTrends, Inc.

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