In the labels business, as in so many market segments, the on-demand culture has arrived. Lead times are shrinking, runs are becoming shorter and more frequent, and label converters often struggle to keep pace. The key, of course, is automation—taking as much time and as many touches out of the process as possible without sacrificing quality.
I’ve recently spoken to several players in the labels and packaging world who have tackled this challenge with great success. Two examples include Cyber Graphics, a multi-site premedia house serving the label and packaging industry, and Blair Labeling, a family-owned a prime label, tag, and film printer. While these two businesses are quite different, they had remarkably similar stories about their automation experiences.
The key for both was the ability to integrate workflows from the time they receive customer files until the order ships out the door. Both reported that it could take 30 minutes to an hour to process a file manually, to ensure it was ready to print. Both found that using Esko Automation Engine, they could automate the process almost entirely, except for the most complex files. This exception management approach enabled them to significantly increase throughput without adding additional resources. It also meant that the investments in automation paid for themselves relatively quickly.
One thing that struck me was a comment from Marco De La Vega at Blair Labeling about the implementation process. It can be intimidating, especially for smaller companies, to consider implementing automation. Most companies have systems in place they have been using for some time; they may feel they are working, and they may fear the disruption of trying to implement a new, more automated system. De La Vega reported that Esko did some pre-work to initially configure the system, and then was on site for a week of training. He had looked at the screens ahead of time and was, indeed, a bit intimidated! But once Esko staff began explaining the screens, it snapped into place for him, with the navigation making a lot of sense. He laughingly said it was easier to use than Microsoft Word. Even more telling was the fact that the following week, when using the system on his own, he discovered he wanted to change somethings on a template and was quite pleased he could make those changes himself, without the need to wait for a call to be returned. He had been close to hiring another person to help with prepress, but with the new system, that hire was not required, and they were able to get a great deal more work through the plant, more accurately.
Parato’s case was even more complex, as a multi-site operation, but he stated they were easily able to establish workflows that allowed them to perform tasks in the most logical location, moving work around easily and in an automated fashion. For example, prepress might be done in one location, while platemaking might be done in another.
Both indicated that looking back, they can’t even imagine how they functioned without the automation. Their advice: if you haven’t taken automation seriously, now is the time.
Wishing you Bon Voyage on your automation journey!