The Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics
Today’s print service providers know that their bottom line is less about the equipment and more about how fast they can get work to the equipment and on to delivery. That is why automation and efficiency have been at the top of strategic initiatives for commercial printers in our annual software investment surveys for the past several years. Leading commercial printers view the intellectual property around their workflow processes as a distinct competitive differentiator and make investments in software and staff to grow that advantage. In general, wide format sign and graphics isn’t there yet.
The wide format sign and graphics market has some distinct workflow challenges. First, equipment choice still has great influence on what types of applications can be produced and so carries more mindshare. Second, there can be more finishing variables, such as lamination, mounting, stitching, and adding grommets. Then there is still the last mile of installation. Last, sign and graphics is rooted in a RIP-and-print type workflow where the operator still performs many tasks using the RIP software attached to the printer. Here’s a typical workflow for sign and graphics (not all steps are required for every type of product):
A good place to start is to audit your workflow and identify all your current processes. How many of your workflow steps require an operator? Do those steps have options for automation? The good news is that several of the workflow steps for sign and graphics have many paths to automation because those steps are common to other types of print production. For now, let’s start by looking at ways to automate customers submitting files.
Unless you design all work in-house, most jobs start with receiving the customer’s file. Solutions to automate this process range from simple online file transfer to more complex web-to-print. The advantage of online file transfer is that almost everyone knows how to use it without explanation but the downsides are that files usually require an operator to push the file into the next step in the workflow and the job specifications are unknown. There are solutions, such as HP’s PrintOS and Enfocus Switch, that can take files from online transfer and route them into the next step of production, normally preflight. Talk to your preferred vendor to see what similar solutions they may offer.
If you have already been using online file transfer services or simply want to enhance the automation, web-to-print is the next logical step. The advantage of web-to-print solutions, such as Caldera’s Webshop or EFI’s Digital StoreFront (just to name a few), is that the customer’s intent is captured during the order process which can enhance the downstream automation. Getting customer’s trained to use the site and integrating it with the rest of your workflow require time and effort to get in place.
If you are still using FTP, e-mail, and hard media to receive files, there’s opportunity to improve!
Read more in the Rise of Workflow Automation in Wide Format Graphics blog series.