Toby Burnett, Director of Sales EMEA at PrintFactory
When wide format printers think of automation, what often comes to mind is a printing operation with fewer and fewer people working on the production floor. A facility filled with robots. Automatic data exchange between printers and software for driving business decisions. Minimum intervention on a massive scale…
In reality, it’s not an all or nothing approach. For many wide format printers, the move towards automation is more of a journey with multiple stages – one where ‘lights-out’ is the end-goal, rather than the starting point. Whether wide format printers operate three standalone printers or a network of 33 devices, there are massive productivity gains to be made even by taking just the first step on the journey – ironing out the day-to-day inefficiencies in a workflow.
So what does the journey to automation look like? How does each step deliver added-value benefits? And why are small improvements to the workflow key to making massive efficiency gains?
A journey of three stages
Automation is about using technology to help people do more with less. The automation journey is about taking small steps that remove manual touchpoints in a wide format workflow. Freeing up businesses to focus on what matters. More quality, less wastage; more productivity, less intervention; more profit, less overtime.
Getting there is a three-step journey:
The journey starts when a workflow has many time-intensive touchpoints, just to get a job ready – file corrections, layouts and chasing colour. This is where improved colour management and small workflow changes, such as centralising the RIP, can make a big difference.
The efficiency gains delivered by adopting Level one alone can be significant. Leading visual communications company, Signtech, for example, boosted its production levels by 25% – just by making better use of intuitive colour management tools.
The company no longer needed to lean on a small number of experts for file corrections and accurate, consistent colour reproduction across its printers and media. And the teams waiting for those changes were no longer being paid to wait around: the overheads associated with overtime all came down. As an added bonus, team morale went up – significantly.
Once reliable colour reproduction has been achieved, Level two on the automation journey is where wide format printers start reducing the need for manual, repetitive tasks. This means using hot folders to perform the most common actions and relying on templated jobs as much as possible, rather than creating them from scratch. With the print sector facing a looming skills shortage, Level two frees up time for businesses to make more of their in-house talent.
The third and final level of automation is ‘lights-out’. This is Industry 4.0 territory – intelligent large or wide format printing where XML instructions automate pre-flight processes and file corrections. Where nesting is done automatically for minimum media wastage and ‘just-in-time’ job scheduling ensures the most efficient load balancing – all the while achieving proof-perfect colour on an industrial scale.
But there are no shortcuts to success. Without taking the steps on the automation journey successively, the efficiency gains of an intelligent automated workflow can be lost.
Looking to the future of accessible automation
Automation isn’t just for enterprise-scale operations and increased accessibility is essential to the continued evolution of the print industry.
Software as a Service (SaaS) is helping to open up every step of the journey for print businesses of every size. The scalability and flexibility of SaaS supports printers to add new software features and functionality as needed – whether they’re looking for Level one or Level three automation. Automatic updates delivered via the cloud also ensure printers can be confident that they’re working with the latest version of software.
Every wide format printer is on the road to automation – whether they know it or not. The key to unlocking technology’s full potential at each stage lies in identifying where those businesses are on the journey … and providing or accessing the tools to take the next important step.