In today’s environment, jobs need to be produced in the most cost-effective manner to meet the customer’s budgetary and quality expectations, while still driving profitability. In many cases, clients are agnostic about how the piece is produced; that it is communicating the marketing information or specific message in the best possible way for the customer. To this end, the choice of printing process may often fall at the discretion of the printer. In many cases, the decision to select the printing process is increasingly based on economic or production matters rather than the unique characteristics of the different print processes.
There can be many technical reasons for choosing one process over another, such as finishing requirements, the inclusion of variable data, special coatings, the required color gamut or print quality requirements. When these are not deciding factors, the MIS can help optimize the financial and scheduling impact of the print production process by analyzing different scenarios: whether to include ganging, the size of the press used, material and labor costs, and the printing processes used. The MIS can identify which jobs can easily be switched at minimal cost, as well as select which print process is suitable to load balance jobs across the whole facility and can consider all scheduling to ensure the optimal operational efficiency of the production processes, always allowing for finishing requirements.
There are production workflows that will efficiently manage and automate the jobs independently of the printing processes using automation to seamlessly move the production files and prepare for final output, either to a computer-to-plate (CTP) device or a digital press.
With reduced run lengths, there is often not the opportunity to manually enter a job ticket into an MIS or fix files in a prepress system - at that point any profit on the job could have been lost! Each point where there is human intervention opens up the possibility for errors to be introduced to the job. The jobs need to flow through with minimal human touchpoints and decision making, with only the exceptions flagged to require actions. Exceptions are called exceptions for a reason!
Industry recognition, such as the InterTech Technology Awards, highlight the continual increase year-over-year in the productivity of different press technologies and it is important to see how these change the commercial marketplace. The recent “PIA Management Alerts” highlighted the importance of productivity over the cost of capital investment by a factor of three times, significantly impacting the cost per printed sheet. Coupled with the continual improvements with operating procedures, the standards used for the cost justification need to be continually assessed for the most effective print solution.
Color management allows the right color to be reproduced across many different print processes and for customers to know that their message is being effectively communicated to their target audience. Predictable and repeatable color is essential when deciding between presses and/or processes. Color management is now a predictable part of modern manufacturing and something that can be counted on day in and day out when the correct processes are in place.
The color can be achieved using a single gamut that is capable of being produced on all presses, or using the largest color gamut on each device and obtaining a pleasing appearance using a calibration such as G7. Understanding the customer expectations of the color match required will determine the solution to be used.
From the production perspective, the effective switch between presses will not be achieved without process control, press maintenance and standard operating procedures for each of the presses. With process control, it is the case that boring is best — the continual attention to the details. It is not something difficult, but needs to be maintained.
Continual changes being made at-press will quickly ensure that the color match to the target and between processes breaks down, resulting in poor matches and unpredictable color with excessive waste and makeready time. Too many times we see changes in the mechanical performance, the consumables used or the color management settings being altered or changed. The first reaction is often “color management is not working!” but, in reality, the print condition needs to be first checked so that it conforms to when the color management was carried out. The more items that can be standardized within the production, from the substrates through to consumables used, will aid greatly with the predictability of the prints.
File submission needs to be as automated as much as possible through the use of Web-to-print solutions or customer portals, with customers directly uploading and/or selecting the files to be produced. Through this workflow, they will be entering much of the production data themselves. As part of this upload, the preflighting of the files can be accomplished without interaction from prepress and this is now a practical solution that can be employed. As one user recently commented, “the use of automated preflighting, prior to hitting our workflow, is worth its cost multiple times over by eliminating unnecessary actions and customer interaction — while improving customer satisfaction as their speed to finished item is faster.”
The later in the workflow that a decision can be made regarding the printing process used provides increased flexibility, work simplification and load balancing within the production facility. For many years, in color management, there has been advocacy for late binding, where you apply the color management at the last possible moment in the production workflow. This has production benefits and allows increased flexibility.
Combining different printing processes requires workflow optimization, process steps and product expectations to obtain efficiency, consistency and productivity. Beyond the printing process, this decision will impact the entire product life in the company, from the initial sales process, estimation, job submission, prepress, production, bindery, shipping and, most importantly, billing.
There is an increased use of business intelligence platforms allowing further analysis of the optimal production scenarios, combining the best of the production and business workflows to understand the global impact on the business as a whole. Too often decisions are made on a job-by-job basis without consideration of how these decisions impact the other jobs in the facility.
Our industry is increasingly using workflows to drive multiple printing processes in the most cost-effective and color-appropriate solution for both printers and their customers. Integrated MIS solutions, color management, process controls, scheduling and automated workflows all ensure the print quality required, and the most profitable solution for the printer and most cost-effective solution for the consumer.
This functionality drives the overall efficiency of production facilities and will positively impact the cost per sheet and profitability.