5 Reasons to Automate Your Print Production Workflow
Automating your print production workflow offers many benefits including improving your company’s financial health, optimizing production task execution to improve efficiency, and improving production throughput.
Print providers have many software options, from print management information systems (MIS) to web-to-print to workflow, when it comes to improving operational efficiency and future proofing their business.
Looking to quantify workflow automation advantages, NAPCO Research surveyed 245 commercial printers in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom to find out how print providers are pursing automation and the results it is delivering. The research, sponsored by HP, resulted in the creation of two reports. (Click here to read an article on the first research report.)
According to the research report Strategies for Leveraging Automation to Enhance Performance, automation improves results and broader adoption is essential for the industry to take full advantage of all the benefits workflow automation offers. The survey results identify the following key reasons to invest in tools to automate workflow.
1. Automation delivers productivity and profitability. Even a modest degree of automation goes a long way in improving production speed and productivity. An important message from the research is that automation works, and broader adoption will improve printing companies’ profitability, competitive agility, and ability to serve customers
2. Highly automated firms invest in software. Respondents reporting higher levels of automation are more likely to invest in software than respondents reporting less automation. As shown in Figure 1, highly automated respondents invested more in software than those reporting lower automation. Over half of highly automated respondents invested in software to manage/automate prepress workflow, handle shipping/billing, estimate/schedule jobs, preflight work, support managing operations, submit jobs via online portals, and impose print work.
In addition, respondents reporting higher levels of automation accepted more jobs from customers via online submission portals compared to those reporting less automation. Online print job submission is an essential step in workflow automation.
3. Investments in automation lead to profit Survey participants with highly automated workflows report producing more jobs per day than respondents with less automation (Figure 2). High throughput links directly to profitability because it minimizes non-chargeable plant time.
4. People key source of bottlenecks. A bottleneck is a choke point in the production workflow that obstructs the throughput of job volume. Bottlenecks can happen when equipment breaks down or when an external event (for example, a power outage) interrupts the production sequence. Most of the time, however, bottlenecks are the result of ongoing but subpar manufacturing routines – a condition that workflow automation can cure.
Respondents at all levels of automation were asked to consider situations that might create bottlenecks in their printing plants. The factor seen as most potentially problematic was relying on expensive labor or high-touch processes, identified by 76% of respondents as extremely likely, likely, or somewhat likely to be the cause (Figure 3). Given that reducing labor expense and eliminating needless touches are exactly what workflow automation is meant to accomplish, this finding alone underscores the wisdom of adding more automation wherever the need for it exists.
Bottlenecks can occur at all levels of automation, but respondents from highly automated plants expressed the most confidence in their ability to deal with them.
5. Increasing volume of shorter run work. Overall, respondents report that producing and managing a high number of small jobs was unlikely to create bottlenecks. This indicates that the industry is learning how to cope with the decline of long print runs and the rise of on-demand production in small quantities.
Automation is Not Optional
Holding back investment in workflow automation means holding back growth potential – a mistake that no printing business can afford to make in an environment where growth and profit increasingly belong
The extent to which a business is automated has a strong influence on how likely it will be to reach its sales and profitability goals. A key benefit of automation is that it breaks bottlenecks: the inefficiencies and constraints of manufacturing that hamper productivity and profits.
Learn more about the benefits future-proofing your print business with automation in these two NAPCO Research reports:
Lisa Cross is the principal analyst of NAPCO Research (a unit of NAPCO Media) where she conducts market research and analysis on emerging trends and changing dynamics in the commercial, in-plant and packaging industries, and the market forces that are driving those changes. With decades of experience covering the graphic arts and marketing industries, Cross has authored thousands of articles on a variety of topics, including technology trends, business strategy, sales, marketing and legislation.