Leveraging Process Integration in a Hybrid Environment Leads to Profitability, Productivity
Today's print buyers are demanding a wide range of value-added services such as personalization and multi-channel communications, together with shorter run lengths and faster turnaround time—and, of course, with no compromise in quality. For print professionals, this means that both business and production processes must be as automated as possible. The more human intervention that is required across the entire workflow, the more time, cost and potential for error should be factored in.
Increasingly, industry professionals are processing jobs using a combination of both offset and digital printing technologies, and in many cases, a single job may contain elements of both. In addition, many commercial printers are adding wide-format capability to address the growing demand for signs and display graphics, and also as a way to serve a broader array of customer needs. To efficiently address these requirements, a single point of entry into the workflow is a definite plus.
These evolving market dynamics have placed integration across various systems and solutions throughout the entire printing operation high on the list of important goals for modern printing businesses. Inevitably, this requires multi-vendor collaboration to ensure seamless integration with as little hassle as possible.
Many suppliers to the industry are working together to meet these demands. Doing so is in the vendors' best interests, as it makes it easier for vendors' joint customers to automate business and production processes and to reduce demand on staff and operators.
Modern Litho, in Jefferson City, MO, is a stellar example of a company that has jumped on this automation bandwagon wholeheartedly. With a primary focus on publication printing, Modern Litho makes it possible for its customers to upload content for publication issues and, within moments, receive a digital proof—a process that not so long ago took a minimum of four to five days. This has been made possible by an in-depth integration of the ERP software it has from one vendor with the prepress workflow it has from another.
In addition to the customer benefits this integration delivers, Modern Litho has achieved significant internal efficiencies. The company was able to take on 50 new publications in 2013 and experienced revenue growth in excess of 25 percent, all without the need to add prepress staff. In addition, costs have been substantially reduced, delivering a healthy bottom line for the printer.
With implementations like that at Modern Litho, not only is there automation in the world of offset, but true automated hybrid production also becomes a possibility. In a hybrid scenario, prepress workflow software routes jobs processed through a Web-to-print or MIS solution to the most appropriate and cost-effective devices, whether offset or digital, as shown in the diagram below.
Single Point of Entry
Jim Tomblinson, Modern Litho's vice president of operations, says this type of integration benefits his company because it gives him "the ability to have a single point of entry for a hybrid workflow."
Modern Litho also runs its Web-to-print software through its prepress workflow, which ensures that submitted jobs end up with the correct impositions based on press format. The integrated workflow also means digitally printed jobs can go straight to a digital press' digital front end (DFE).
This type of integrated workflow environment doesn't just make current day operations easier, it can help a company eliminate growing pains as it adds other companies or equipment. Tomblinson says the integrated workflow is helping Modern Litho work through two acquisitions, "and will make it easier for us to add new equipment and services over time."
An efficient hybrid workflow creates a single workflow management system for offset and digital printing, and can also incorporate wide-format. Print professionals can process, print and track jobs using a common interface. A single workflow can route jobs to the appropriate printing device based on a number of considerations, including run length, sheet size, turnaround time, substrate and finishing. Many prepress steps can also be automated. For example, a printing operation can impose a job on-the-fly as it is redirected to a particular press.
Need a few copies for an event or for review by stakeholders before producing a long run in offset? Not a problem. Not only can the routing be automated, but automatic scheduling tools deliver the best possible utilization of printing and binding assets with the least amount of human intervention.
With a growing number of hybrid projects, color management across different printing technologies can also be a challenge. The DFE on your digital press can help make it much easier for operators to ensure a near-perfect match to offset output. These days, buyers of print should not be concerned with which printing technology is used to produce their work; but they are certainly concerned that the work is of the utmost quality. Print professionals can easily address these concerns by integrating color management into an automated hybrid production workflow.
Integrating business management software into hybrid production environments can also lead to dramatic productivity boosts and cost reductions, as demonstrated by the Modern Litho experience. In situations where a digital printing DFE is integrated with print management information systems (MIS), organizations have reduced their order processing times up to 50 percent in hybrid print environments that include large-format, digital and offset printing. In addition, direct integration with prepress workflows act as a force multiplier, allowing users to maintain their familiar job management interface to lower training costs.
PointOne Graphics of Toronto took a unique, and profitable, approach to workflow integrations of this nature. In a unique twist on digital printing, it uses its digital color press primarily to generate proofs for its offset business. "Proofing actually delivers a much better ROI than short-run production with our digital press configuration," explains Rick Lee, vice president of quality assurance.
Previously, PointOne used wide-format proofers producing continuous-tone proofs on inkjet proofing paper. "While the proofs looked great," Lee comments, "they were hard to match on-press. With our digital press configuration, not only are we able to provide the client with accurate color, we can do so on paper that is similar or the same as the paper that will be used on-press for the final job."
Given the pace of business today, printing firms have to transform to stay ahead of client needs. Savvy shops are moving quickly to integrate and automate business and production systems across their operations. Leveraging process integration in a hybrid environment offers a clearer path to profitability and productivity. PI
About the Author
John Henze is vice president of marketing for EFI's Fiery DFE business.