Category: Workflow

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.

From Chaos to Calm: The Power of Print MIS

Pat McGrew
Jul 20, 2017

Power of Print MIS

If you come from the transaction side of production workflow, you have an array of business systems that control how jobs are accepted for production, when they are released into production, and how reporting is managed for compliance. If you come from the graphic arts side of production workflow, you have the same need to control job onboarding, the touchpoints of a job while it is in process, and to record the relevant information about the job all of the way to the point of billing. In some shops, the process is managed using a Print Management Information System (Print MIS) that integrates all facets of accepting and producing print work using software programs, data capturing tools, and reporting dashboards to ensure that all work is tracked and reported. On the other hand, in many shops some or all of these are activities achieved using sticky notes, whiteboards, projected spreadsheets, and envelopes with job notes carried from desk to desk and machine to machine during production.

If you are in that latter camp, this is a good time to start considering some automation. Many of your competitors are already adding automation to their business software portfolio to allow them to onboard and produce jobs more efficiently. This gives them an advantage at several levels. A good Print MIS program offers insight into the jobs that are onboarded, where each job is in production, what jobs are experiencing delays, job costs, and ultimately a view of the revenue. Most can generate e-tickets for job tracking, and even track waste data. Most importantly, a Print MIS becomes the system of record for all jobs, which means if job specifications change during job execution, the information is entered into the Print MIS and available to all departments immediately.

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Tuning up at GMC Analyst Day

Pat McGrew
Jun 30, 2017
Matt Swain and Pat McGrew

As analysts, we are often invited to meet with vendors for analyst events where we often don’t know what the announcements or focus will be. That was the case when we travelled to Nashville, Tennessee’s Sound Kitchen Studio last week for a GMC Software event billed as “Not Your Typical Analyst Summit!”

ScottDraeger

Scott Draeger opening the GMC Analyst Day!

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Interacting with Ricoh Customers!

Pat McGrew
Jun 28, 2017

When vendors decide to host user meetings they have two obligations: provide value for the time spent and help customers build a network. The Ricoh INTERACT meeting in Boulder last week met both requirements. The agenda was the best mix of technical education, market education, motivation, and fun for the attendees.

2017 Interact Template

It is a big request when vendors reach out to customers and ask them to leave their businesses for several days on the promise that they will learn things they can take back and use to grow their business. It requires a delicate balance between presentations and discussions. The INTERACT meeting hit the right balance by including several of their customers as featured presenters.

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For workflow, to scale or not to scale? That is the question!

Pat McGrew
Jun 19, 2017

It’s time to ask the question that is often missed in discussions about workflow – is the current workflow scalable? Scalable isn’t only a question of getting bigger; it is also a question of complexity. If your workflow was built to handle one type of job, like books or bills or bingo cards, and today you are handling magazines, direct marketing mailers, and posters, there may be a mismatch between your work and your workflow.

The mismatches often begin with how jobs are sold and onboarded. A common change in sales is the addition of a web-to-print solution to open your doors to a wider audience. When that addition happens, your scale of operation generally changes. Instead of sales coming in via relationships with your sales people, who know your capabilities, there are jobs coming in from customers who may not have paid attention to your website, and may not have followed your instructions. While most web-to-print solutions allow for rules-based interrogation of the incoming job, in many cases, contrary to how the systems are intended to work, someone in the shop is assigned to look at the jobs and determine if they can move into production. When you think about scalability, the more jobs that come in through a web-to-print application that require physical review, the less scalable that process becomes.

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Is it time for a Workflow Intervention?

Pat McGrew
Apr 17, 2017

Workflow ChaosBAs we come to the last few items in the Workflow Quiz it is time for some of the heavy lifting that comes with optimizing and right sizing tasks and processes in the workflow. Not everyone will be happy with the process because it uncovers their pet projects and sometimes lead to power plays that start with “this is how we have always done this job” and end with annoyed team members. Despite all of those risks, it is time to look at all of those places where it takes some type of manual intervention to get a job from start to finish.

Let’s start at the beginning. When you take on a job from a new customer, how much of the job setup requires a person talking to a person or a person talking with a group of people to get all of the specifications identified and coded into the system? Are there manual checklists sitting on a service representative’s desk in addition to what is in the system? Sticky notes on monitors in prepress and account management that detail what is missing in the job notes? If so, you have opportunities to optimise because all of those notes are taking time to manage!

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Geomarketing in your Workflow: Linking Seller to Buyer

Pat McGrew
Apr 13, 2017

When you look at the opportunities across the spectrum of marketing outlets the choices can be daunting. Which of the many channels should you use to communicate the value proposition of your product or service? There are hundreds of lines of blog content and millions of pages of guidance in books and magazine articles, and they all provide points to consider. What is missing in much of the guidance is a specific pointer to technologies that can help to change the marketing narrative.

One technology that is underused is geomarketing, the art and science of using location data in innovative ways. It can help to change the brand narrative by creating direct links between where the sellers of products and services can be found and the people who want to buy them. It can add valuable new revenue streams to the menu of services offered by marketing and print service providers. And while geomarketing techniques can work for any communication channel, marketing and  print service providers miss the opportunity to offer this valueable service.GeoServices - locr

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Key Take-Aways of Xploration 2017

David Stabel, Matt Swain and Pat McGrew

On March 28-30, Xplor International held its annual Xploration 2017 conference in Orlando, Florida, providing more than 60 educational sessions for vendors, service providers, enterprise attendees, and other industry experts from around the world.

xplor17

The educational sessions covered a broad range of customer communications management (CCM) and related topics including customer experience, workflow and automation, data management and compliance, e-presentment/payment technology and much more. This year, senior analysts from Keypoint Intelligence – InfoTrends hosted multiple educational sessions, participated in several panel discussions, and hosted a special Industry Analyst Workshop. Here are our key takeaways from the conference.

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