Commentary & Analysis
Transforming and Automating Workflows: Can I really have it all?
David speaks with a print service provider with a variety of disparate equipment that implemented a business and production workflow system to handle it all, and his only complaint is that he wishes he had done it sooner.
By David Zwang
Published: February 26, 2014
To date, this series has been dedicated to business and process automation systems and processes, and how they can help you streamline and optimize your operations. We have heard from many of you excited to tell us about the successes and challenges of how you approached this important topic in your businesses. So we have been listening, and will be showcasing examples of companies that have taken this important step, what challenges they faced, and what the final results were.
In this first case, I had the pleasure of speaking with Tom Parrot, President of Excell Color Graphics of Fort Wayne, IN. Excell is a full service commercial print provider that started as a prepress company in 1990. Today the company occupies a 27,000 square foot plant and has annual revenue in excess of $6.5 million with a current staff of 28. Excell provides Offset, Digital and Wide Format print services to its customer base, primarily advertising and marketing related products as well as catalogs and brochures.
To support its client base, Excell has a fairly disparate mix of equipment. Starting with two Heidelberg offset presses, a Speedmaster XL105 and a Quickmaster. Additionally, the company has two digital color presses, a Kodak NexPress and a Xerox 800. Rounding it off, there is an Acuity and a VUTEk QS2 Pro for large format work.
About a year and a half ago, when Excell purchased its XL105, the company decided to go to an all Heidelberg workflow for the plant. The first installation was the Platesetter along with most of the Prinect suite of products, including Prepress Manager, Color Manager, MetaDimension, and Imposition. After that, during the time the XL105 was being installed, Prinect Business Manager, the Heidelberg MIS solution, was also being installed. While Excell was not a beta site for Business Manager, the company was on the bleeding edge. In fact, Excell staff found themselves pushing Heidelberg to learn more quickly and accelerate the implementation process since they were anxious to get all of their new solutions working together.
All of Excell’s jobs come in from its clients “old school,” either through sales representatives or its FTP site. Excell currently has found no client or internal need to implement a web-to-print storefront solution, but continues to evaluate. Once a job comes into the plant, the process starts with Business Manager, where an estimate is prepared. Once it is turned into an order from the estimate, a JDF file is created that represents instructions and the production planning templates used in creating the estimate. This JDF is sent to the Prinect system for processing whether it is going to the Heidelberg equipment or any of the other print production equipment on the floor. This means that all of the jobs get color managed, normalized and imposed, if necessary, prior to sending them to input queues of the other non-Heidelberg devices. Excell uses the Prinect color management software to characterize all of its devices in order to have a good color representation across the devices.
The Heidelberg presses, CTP device and Prinect prepress systems all communicate bi-directionally with Business Manager. So the production time is tracked automatically through the Heidelberg equipment and systems to establish job and personnel costing and performance. For the other non-connected devices and processes, there are touch screen terminals that the operators log jobs in and out of which are connected to Business Manager. Excell gave some thought to trying to integrate the non-connected systems to Business Manager, but determined that for now the manual approach offered the needed flexibility. This is especially true when working with quick turn digital files. However, as the company starts to look for additional equipment, it is taking system connectivity into account as a part of the due diligence process. The last piece of the solution installed was the scheduling module. Now when an estimate becomes an order, it starts to populate the schedule, and it is updating real time with feedback from the production floor. So at any point in time, management and production staff know exactly where a job is and how machines and people are being used in the execution of those jobs.
The implementation took about a year, but a lot of that had to do with the early adopter state of Heidelberg Business Manager. As Heidelberg now has more installs under its belt, and the equipment configuration database is starting to fill out, Excell feels that if the process began today today or if another company were to do the same thing, it could take about 6 months. Tom doesn’t feel it should be a major problem for any company to do this type of implementation. He has not found any need to implement or supplement the Heidelberg workflow solution with any custom development, or other systems. It is just working out of the box …
This new system has allowed Tom to change his focus from how to operate his business to generating new business. He said he understands the reluctance of some business owners in investing in workflow automation systems and processes, but “in all honesty,” he can’t even put a dollar amount on what this implementation has saved him to date. He believes he has been able to drive out “at least 15 to 20 minutes from each job”, and if you do a few thousand jobs a year, and if you do the math, that can equal a few man years. In fact, sometimes he thinks back to the time he didn’t have the automation and wonders how much he could have saved had he implemented earlier. Although Tom no longer looks back, only forward…
In the next article, we will look at a how a large format graphics company has found that automation can create amazing efficiencies, but that it doesn’t all have to be done at once.
Remember, if you have any topics you think are important and would like us to cover during the balance of this series, please let us know! Or if you are a print service provider with a unique, integrated end-to-end workflow and would like to be featured, we’d love to hear from you.
For more detail on some ways to automate and transform your workflows, download an informative whitepaper, "Automating and Optimizing a Book Production Workflow"