Posts tagged: wf workflow automation

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.

2016 InfoTrends, Inc.

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