My colleague Toon and I recently discussed what we called the 5 stages of automation with Deborah Corn of the Print Media Centr. Deborah called it from "Manual Madness to Automation Nirvana".
We talk about the increasing role of the CSR in the onboarding process, the tools available, and how to start by automating the small manual tasks that collectively create large bottlenecks.
You can listen to the podcast here.
But even with breaking the process down into 5 stages that’s still a very broad topic, with lots of intermediate stages, and little practical advice on how to get started and improve. It’s very difficult to cram all that information into a 20-minute podcast.
So, we’ve decided to run with this topic for a few months and we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts and features on how to start, how to measure and how to improve your file reception and the time it takes to get a job actually into production. With this post, I want to kick off the series by looking back at where we came from.
The art of getting a job into production
This task like most other tasks within the industry has changed very much over the years with the digital/desktop publishing revolution. The days of someone arriving with a physical job bag filled with film, plates or even artwork boards are long gone.
The first changes started to happen with jobs arriving on floppy disks or SyQuest drives (remember those). These contained native documents such as Quark Xpress, Freehand, Illustrator, PageMaker and all their associated assets like images, graphics, and fonts.
At that time, it was the task of prepress to take the data, save it onto a file server and then report back to production whether the supplied data was complete, and if it matched the quoted job. Which of course it normally didn’t. Not to mention if the files needed manipulation to print correctly.
In those early days, preflight software simply did not exist, so it was a skilled task for a prepress operator to dissect a file and its component parts, work out if it was going to print as intended, and then report back to Customer Service or Production.
As technology progressed the transfer of job data moved from moveable storage devices to data transfer methods like ISDN, subsequently email and the other myriad of delivery methods that we have today. Proofs and hard copy output from the customer visualizing how the job was expected to look, also disappeared with electronic delivery.
If we look at the situation today of course and compare it to those times, the industry is very different, and the customer expectations are very different.
Native file delivery still takes place but talking to our customers it’s now reduced to between 20-30% of jobs for some of them, with a lot of customers actually insisting upon and receiving almost 100% PDF files.
PDF files are not used just for publishing and commercial print as they were then but are now commonplace in all forms of print production, notably large format, labels and increasingly in packaging.
The job onboarding process
The tasks are receiving a job, checking it, ensuring it matches the quotation, resolving any inconsistencies and then placing the job in production as quickly as possible. This is recognized as a major bottleneck for a lot of printing companies.
The task itself has not really changed; the processes are the same. It’s the production environment around it that has and now makes a demand for this process to be quick, efficient and preferably automated.
Presses today are much faster than ever before, with lightning fast make-readies controlled and managed by software. Many presses are now digital devices which means the prepress function and time to press is much faster, without the need to prepare imposed film or printing plates.
Additionally, the jobs themselves have changed, the run lengths are smaller and that means in order to feed hungry presses, there need to be more of them, and they need to get to press faster.
And then finally, the margins on jobs are smaller. Pricing is very competitive in most markets, which means production needs to have a minimal amount of human touch points in order to be efficient.
The Pain Points
So, what are the pain points we at Enfocus hear about from customers?
It's really all about speed and efficiency.
- The whole process takes too long.
- It’s too manual.
- Tasks that actually take a little time, take a long time as nobody is available to do them.
- It’s a process that takes time and money, but you can’t really charge for it or charge extra for it when there are a lot of issues
- Some of the tasks are laborious and repetitive
- Customers don’t get a timely response, and when they do it’s not always positive.
Interestingly, a recent presentation from Heidelberg showed that 55% of the time taken to produce a job is typically spent before the press. Getting a job into production is a major contributor to this figure.
The Solution (or the start of it)
Well you probably imagine improving this process is going to be complex, but not necessarily so. Firstly, you have to know where you are, and then you have to plan how to get to where you want to be, or at least the first stage of where you want to be.
Quick wins can be implemented easily and need not always require some investment. Automation is the way to go to increase efficiency and produce savings in both time and money.
So if this post sounds familiar, if you are a printer who is struggling to compete; if you have issues with getting jobs through the door and into production in a timely way; if you have many manual processes, zero automation and you know you need to improve.
Please join us for our ongoing series on how to start making your life easier.
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