By Barbara Pellow Printing firms need to automate and connect with their customers to compete. April 5, 2005 -- Several weeks ago, I attended the NAPL Top Management Conference and had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on Workflow, JDF and CIP4 standards with David Motheral, COO of Motheral Printing in Fort Worth, Texas. The company's roots trace back to 1934 when Fitzhugh Motheral and his wife, Ella, purchased the C.C. Paxton Printing Company. Today, the third-generation of the family--which includes David along with Jim, Roger and Bill Motheral--pride themselves in staying on the bleeding edge of technology. They command of a well-equipped company featuring a four-color Heidelberg Quickmaster DI press; a five-color 40" Komori; an eight-color 40" Mitsubishi; and two 38" full-web heatset presses. On the panel, David's most important message was that printing firms need to automate and connect with their customers to compete. Using information technology, a printer can make internal operations more effective and efficient. While Motheral has leveraged automated workflow to enhance internal operations, the company has also applied the same concept to outside relationships. Motheral has created workflows that include its customers, consumables, upstream process suppliers like prepress companies or designers, and downstream partners like fulfillment houses, mailers, and shippers to create an automated supply chain with a high level of visibility for all participants. According to David Motheral, "It is about automating production, manufacturing, customer-facing and business systems." While printers frequently question the reality of the Digital Smart Factory, Motheral Printing has built one and is benefiting from it. The Customer Base "With workflow automation, we have put our customers in the driver's seat and let them make last minute changes without disrupting our operation. --David Motherall The primary application focus at Motheral Printing is on short- to medium-run finished products that are 8 3/8 x 10 7/8 or 5 1/2 x 8 1/2. This positions the firm as a leader in publications with controlled distribution, including association and membership mailings, catalogs, and targeted direct marketing and sales support materials. According to Motheral, "These are applications where time is of the essence. Magazine publishers want to maximize the time they have to sell ads and minimize the production window. Cataloguers want to change prices up to the last minute. With workflow automation, we have put our customers in the driver's seat and let them make last minute changes without disrupting our operation." The Technology Motheral's workflow automation is built on several Creo products including Prinergy, Synapse Prepare, Page Assign and an InSite Server. "We provide our customers with the Prepare software free of charge because it saves time on both sides," explains Morherall. On the creative desktop, for example, designers are instantly notified whether a file has passed or failed preflight. Messages and reports outline file error detail making revisions easy. Successful files contain annotations with the file specs and a logo seal of approval. "Using it is critical to our workflow due to all the automation we have in place," continues Motherall. Nearly all our jobs go through Prinergy untouched. Knowing we are getting reliable, print-ready PDF/X-1A files every time ensures that the automation continues to work consistently. Customers save time because they do not have to go back and rework files. Doing the job once correctly is always a big time-saver." But this is part of a larger communications process. Keeping in Touch Users are able to proof the job on the screen and can make as many edits as they want until the last page is finally approved. The company also works with customers to manage client information, add/remove participants, and provide e-mail notification for each change. Synapse InSite is used for streamlining job submission, job-status tracking, on-line collaboration, and remote proofing or approval. It is also used as an Internet portal into Motherall's prepress environments, providing customers with secure, controlled Web access to their print jobs. The end-customers can log in to see the status of their jobs, view a thumbnail of all pages in each job, make annotated comments, and approve pages. "Customers benefit by having real-time knowledge of a job's status within the prepress environment at any time," says Motherall. "Web-based proofing shortens lead times and lowers costs to our customers. All job information is visible in real time and accessible from anywhere over the Web. This ultimately reduces the number of hard proofs a customer requires. Most importantly, it eliminates errors and puts the customer in control. It's a one-two punch in file creation and job approval." The implementation at Motheral is designed to eliminate steps in the traditional work process and to ensure accuracy. Users are able to proof the job on the screen and can make as many edits as they want until the last page is finally approved. Once that occurs the user is locked out and the job is released to the platemaker. Automating Color Quality increased by 50 percent--which should shock traditional pressmen who think the only way to achieve a high-quality print job was through their skill in adjusting the fountain and ink keys Motheral Printing has also succeeded in automating color management to the point where the traditional fountain game of color matching at the press is virtually eliminated, resulting in a 35 percent boost in productivity. Even more astonishing, David told me that quality increased by 50 percent--which should shock traditional pressmen who think the only way to achieve a high-quality print job was through their skill in adjusting the fountain and ink keys to match the proof. When David summarizes the overall operational benefits his company has achieved, it becomes clear that good automation works. "We used to run three shifts a day for four working days to produce a proof for one of our regular jobs. We would then send it out for review and resend corrected files. Since the proofs were sent out as hard copy, delivery delays were a part of the process. Now the proofs are produced in an hour and a half, and plates are ready in another two hours," he says. "Staffing requirements for both the company and its clients have been reduced to a fraction of what they were." The operational benefits he has realized are as follows: Prep department has gone from 46 to 3 employees even as volume doubled. No preflighting. RIP, Trap and Output at 1.27 seconds per page Prep is a bigger profit center than press Spoilage has dropped from 8 percent to just 0.27 percent Time to change plates and start a new press run has dropped from 1.5 hours to 16 minutes. Prep costs are so low they are no longer tracked. But It's About My Customer…Selling the Value Motherall is giving back to customers a precious commodity: Time. Critical to Motheral's success has been selling the value to clients. Basically, Motherall is giving back to customers a precious commodity: Time. Using the automated process has collapsed scheduling requirements. A magazine publisher can now sell ads until the day before the publication needs to go to press-- resulting in improved publication revenue. Cataloguers can change prices until they "go to press," enabling the company to develop a responsive competitive edge in the market. And the sales process is different, too. Motheral cites five critical concepts to be considered when you focus on workflow as part of the selling process. The client must "buy in" to take advantage of automated workflow potential. The sales person can't be selling traditional print. The value must be demonstrated as part of whole workflow. Sell to both the buyer and the production person. They will need to be educated on how the process is being re-engineered to save time and generate efficiencies. The economics associated with automation are easier to sell to the top person. The salesman may not be the best to pitch value of technology--include technical people for backup in the sales call. In today's market you need to automate and connect to compete At Motheral Printing, it is all about leveraging technology for growth. T he realities of greater productivity and higher quality have taken hold, the cultural shift has been established, and there is no turning back. According to David Motheral, "Our business projections indicate that we will increase volumes by 100 percent in the next 36 to 48 months. In today's market you need to automate and connect to compete, and to deliver that type of growth."