Rohan Holt on PacPrint, GEON, and the Future of the Australian Printing Industry
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Press release from the issuing company
Sydney, Australia – Metrix Software, developer of Metrix®, the intelligent, automated job planning and imposition system, announced today that Rohan Holt would be attending PacPrint May 21–24. Holt will take up residence in the Fujifilm Australia stand, #1200, where he will demonstrate Metrix and give presentations throughout the show.
Holt’s return home to attend PacPrint comes at a rather trying and soul-searching time for the Australian printing industry, with the recent and painful demise of GEON, a Metrix customer since 2009. Rohan Holt’s history with GEON and the companies that were absorbed into GEON goes way back. Holt reminisced: “I was working as a production planner at RT Kelly when I made the decision to leave and start writing software. I had spent the better part of 10 years drawing layout diagrams for prepress, and I had seen a lot of investment going into new prepress software and hardware systems, yet I was still hand-drawing diagrams for them. I thought, ‘there must be a better, more automated way to give production planning instructions to prepress.’ I had my tradeshow debut at PacPrint 1996 with SuperImpose [which later became Creo/Kodak UpFront – ed.]. SOS Printing (now SOS Print + Media Group) was the first company to license SuperImpose, followed by Chippendale Printing, and then RT Kelly. Over the next few years so many great Australian printers bought SuperImpose/UpFront – Agency Printing, Concord, Diamond Press, Franklin Web, Hannanprint, Inprint, McPhersons, Mockridge Bulmer, Offset Alpine, Pot Still Press, URI, Vega Press, Websdale Printing, and many other great pre-GEON era companies. Looking back, what a privilege it was to be involved with such a significant change in the production planning process in our industry!”
Holt was disturbed by the closure of GEON, first and foremost because of the “loss of jobs by hard-working and loyal employees, some of whom I had either worked with or met in the nineties while working as a production planner or selling SuperImpose.” But the demise of GEON also hit close to home for Holt. “My company, Metrix Software, lost over $25,000 between the failures of GEON and Vega Press this year,” he said, adding that, “$25,000 may not be a big deal for larger companies, but it is a substantial hit for smaller guys like us.” After a brief pause, Holt went on to say, “But what bothers me most is that I’ve seen companies fail that shouldn’t have. Some traditionally successful companies drag their feet and only begrudgingly make incremental changes while all the time their industry is actually in the midst of a revolution. In many cases the switch to Metrix is simply too little, too late.”
When pressed for details, Holt revealed that Penfolds Buscombe “…first trialed Metrix in 2007. By that time they already knew that ‘gang printing upstarts’ were making huge amounts of money with Metrix, but now that Metrix could handle bound products too it was time to try it out. They trialed Metrix from July to September 2007 but it seemed no one was in a hurry to make a decision. The status quo of using UpFront and Preps was too comfortable.” He continued, “UpFront computerized the planning process, but could not automate any ganging of jobs, so it could not help them find any new efficiencies. However, they had trouble thinking differently, partly because they had so many spare UpFront licenses from all the printing companies they had acquired. What a terrible reason to stick with an old, inferior product! Eventually GEON got another Metrix trial going in June of 2008. After months and months of tests, proving a clear and compelling ROI, GEON finally purchased Metrix in December of 2009, eighteen months after engaging!” Holt elaborated, “Yes, GEON were a larger than usual customer and large companies can move slowly, but I suspect the delay in acting says volumes about the disconnect between senior decision makers and production realities. Metrix had won the GATF InterTech Technology Award years earlier in 2005; they knew many printers who were using it to bring unheard of productivity downstream right into their Prinergy workflow. Why delay eighteen months? Ironically, when they did finally purchase they swore us to secrecy as if no one else knew about Metrix.”
So who were the “gang printing upstarts” that compelled GEON to try and eventually purchase Metrix? There are a good number of successful gang printers in Australia, some of whom in the mid-2000’s were using Metrix and making profit margins of 40% – yes, 40%! Some of these gang printers were able to routinely produce over 500 jobs in one shift, with just two offset presses. No wonder GEON had to sit up and take notice. While conventional wisdom at the time was – and still is – that printers can expect a 1-3% profit margin, there were these cheeky gang printers, laughing all the way to the bank with their 40% profits!
Competition has grown and things aren’t what they were, but Metrix is helping several dozens of printers down under, some who gang and some who don’t. How? As Holt stressed, “The efficiencies that can be had by integrating Metrix do not come simply from doing the same old tasks faster, though Metrix does indeed speed jobs to the press. No, the efficiencies come from producing work in a new way. Metrix approaches job planning as an economic problem, not a geometric problem. User-defined costing data – how much the stock costs, how much the press time costs, how many make-readies are needed, and so on – is used to calculate the most profitable way to do even one single job. Is it cheaper to produce on the Komori Lithrone G40, or is it cheaper to print on the GTO? Or the HP Indigo? Is it cheaper to produce sheetwise? Or work-and-turn? And what if a 2nd or 3rd job can be combined onto the sheet with the first one? One click and Metrix will throw them onto the sheet and tell you that the additional jobs may be almost free to produce.”
Holt is emphatic about the transformation of the printing industry. “Printing must be approached as a manufacturing process, not as a craft. We have already moved away from individually customized and crafted products, restricted to a select few professional buyers, to a mass market of casual purchasers who view printed products the same way they view any other commodity. True – a printed piece is still a custom product – but the customization is more and more embedded in the content of the piece and not in the manufacturing of it.”
Bringing the conversation full circle, Holt said, “Printers who refuse to recognize this paradigm shift – no matter how big – are doomed to fail, as was GEON. Even though they finally integrated Metrix into their production apparatus, replacing Kodak UpFront and Preps and reporting incredible ROI and efficiency gains, it was too late. Besides, that alone wasn’t enough. They didn’t change their business processes enough to keep up with the way the print business was changing.” Holt added, “On the other hand, some believe everything is going digital and personalized, so they focus strictly on the iron in the press room. But offset can be incredibly profitable – as long as it is not done the way it used to be done.”
Holt bolstered his argument for the potential profitability of offset by saying, “Andy Tribute recently came out of retirement specifically to write an article titled ‘Offset – Technology for the Future of USA’s Printing!’ In it, he links web to print, offset, and Metrix, and mentions a German gang printing customer ‘with multiple VLF presses and a web-to-print front end [who] reportedly has executed 500 make-readies for a total of 12,000 jobs in a single day.’ Tribute emphasizes that the ‘revenue and profit that this offset approach can give is vastly more than can be done with any digital printing technology.’” Holt concluded, “This is what I’ve been saying since 2004! I feel like a broken record, but also feel compelled to continue driving home the point, lest more colleagues lose their jobs when great printing companies go under. Though the demise of GEON is very sad, I suppose there is a silver lining for the survivors, in that a lot of new work will be up for grabs. My hope is that GEON’s failure has shaken up the ‘business as usual’ mindset, and that the survivors will step back and look at their businesses objectively and determine to manufacture smarter. It may require a cultural shift, which takes decisive leadership. But even ganging one or two jobs per week and saving those few extra make-readies and plates can make a huge difference over the long haul.”
Holt concluded the interview by saying, “I would like to encourage everyone to go to our website,
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