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Commentary & Analysis

Workflow Automation: Stories from the Trenches

Senior Editor Cary Sherburne recently had the opportunity to have in-depth discussions with three leading companies about their success with workflow automation and what it has meant for their businesses.

By Cary Sherburne
Published: November 15, 2016

The best part of my job is being able to talk to a wide range of printing companies and learn how each of them, in their own way, is doing innovative things to both differentiate their businesses and make them more efficient.  My most recent discussions were with three different companies around workflow automation. These are their stories.

CyberChrome: Thousands of Small Jobs Per Day

CyberChrome has an interesting history. The company actually got started manufacturing prepress hardware in the mid-80s, with desktop color separation and film output systems. Today, the company positions itself as an expert in direct marketing and digital printing solutions. It has a couple of Xerox iGen5’s, a Xerox Nuvera and a Konica Minolta KM C71 label printer, among other equipment. While CyberChrome serves a number of markets, arguably its most complex application is the production of clinical trial materials for human clinical trials. These usually consist of binders with custom tab banks, multiple page sizes and various types of foldouts. When they get a request, it is usually for a very small number of copies/reprints and with a very fast – often same day – turnaround. It was this application that drove the company to seek more automation, since it could take two to three hours to set the job up on press!

As Workflow Specialist Dave Wray explained the current process, using EFI Fiery JobFlow, the job is set up once and assigned to a specific set of workflows. When reprint requests come in, the customer service rep simply drops the job into the customer folder in the workflow. File naming conventions and job metadata help drive automation from there as the job automatically works its way through a choice of 300 to 500 different workflows to end up print-ready and pre-programmed at the press. The operator simply releases the job to print in seconds instead of spending hours setting it up each time.

They have done a lot more, but this was the highlight of the conversation for me.

Arlington County Print Shop: Exceptional Customer Service

Paul Sprow runs the print and mail operation in Arlington County, Virginia, as a charge-back operation with no right of first refusal. That means he really has to be on his toes in order to offer the pricing and service levels that will keep County departments coming back. When he first started looking at automating workflow, he was dealing with lots of paper – jobs coming in on paper, paper job tickets and more – and longer lead times than perhaps his customers would have liked.

All of that has changed now. Sprow and his team have been able to educate the customer base on the value of submitting jobs digitally through EFI Digital StoreFront and has an automated workflow in place that processes those jobs for printing and sends them to his Xerox Color 1000 press.  He is now able to deliver work more efficiently and cost effectively, often having work on the customer’s desk the next morning. In many cases, work can even run unattended all night so that when staff arrives in the morning, they are packaging it all up for delivery.

Sprow is required to periodically do pricing surveys in the local region to make sure that his costs are in line with the market, and he has been able to keep them that way largely due to these workflow efficiencies, continuing to grow customer loyalty and the overall business, delivering value to the County.

ZenPrint: A One-Stop Shop for Branding Needs

ZenPrint’s s mission is to be the easiest and most intuitive on-demand printing platform in the world. The company, which was founded in 2006 as a Web2Print platform to solve a business problem for a Mexican restaurant franchise, added printing in 2009 in order to have more control over the entire process. Its full-service platform handles ordering, printing, fulfillment and customer support for print, marketing and photo products.

As the volume of fast turn short run jobs continued to grow, the company was faced with the need to automate workflow to handle the more than 100 print-on-demand products in its online catalog and thousands of jobs every day. The task was complicated by the fact that the company runs a multi-vendor shop with presses/printers from Xerox, Ricoh, Roland and Epson. The biggest issue was the two to three hours spent every day preparing jobs for print.

By implementing EFI Fiery with Command Workstation on the Xerox and Ricoh presses, including JobFlow, the company can now manage all of its printers from a single interface and automatically configure jobs, including imposition, routing them to the appropriate printer.

Now, instead of spending two to three hours each morning processing jobs, staff walks in to preprocessed, queued jobs that are ready to go. “This has significantly reduced reprints,”Jason Biggs, President and COO told me. “Basically, the only time we ever reprint a job is if a human messes up.”

ZenPrint has also added a barcode generator to the mix so that barcodes can be placed on work to track it through the shop as appropriate. In addition, ZenPrint has incorporated its storage arrays into the mix to eliminate the problem of the limited storage capacity on its imposition server. Biggs explains, “We process thousands of PDFs every day, and that can exceed the storage capacity at the imposition server. So we use our more than 80 terabytes of network storage to store imposed files for retrieval as needed instead of being limited to the space restrictions on the imposition server.”

How Does Your Workflow Stack Up?

It’s always great to be able to share these stories in hopes that other firms will be inspired and be able to adopt some of these workflow strategies. If you want to hear directly from these companies, we just did a webinar, where they shared their expert insight! Watch it here.

Cary Sherburne is a well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries.

Cary Sherburne is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us.

Please offer your feedback to Cary. She can be reached at cary@whattheythink.com.

 

Discussion

By Randall Blinn on Nov 15, 2016

I have done several projects to integrate a StoreFront to an ERP/MIS solution. With one Monarch client, we can receive 600-1000 orders (sub-jobs in Monarch) and they are loaded in 3-5 minutes. This is integrated with the digital press (data collection), ProcessShipper and allows for the creation of a detailed Customer Invoice in Monarch. I'm convinced that the only way to be profitable in the digital world is with an automated workflow.
I just finished another project with a PSI client. In their case, I create the PO to the outside vendor (signs, posters that the client doesn't manufacture) and "pre" voucher it waiting for the actual invoice to arrive. Lots of rules to define and set-up, but they have been running flawlessly for several months.
I would really recommend that you spend the time to define the workflow, develop and test it well before you launch it.
The other thing that I've found is that each site is different - I can oftentimes take the "core" and reuse it, but the auxiliary features are normally different from client to client.
Glad to see a discussion on the automated workflow subject - shouldn't be overlooked in any plant who is doing digital work.

 

By Cary Sherburne on Nov 15, 2016

Randall, thank you for sharing your experience and advice. I agree, this is a critical topic.

 

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