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This article was written by Kavita Sabharwal-Chomiuk and featured in the November print issue of Print Action magazine.
Competition and efficiency are just two reasons why analytics are important to a print shop. In a recent webinar about the Smart Print Shop held by Heidelberg and moderated by PrintAction, industry players highlighted how they were able to use the data produced by their automated offset presses to plan the rest of their equipment acquisitions and process flows. Here are just a few reasons why a smart print shop, and automated equipment, are helpful for printers.
In terms of training and professional development, April Burke, vice president of operations at Bellwyck, pointed out that analytics and data points can help a printer decide on plans for skilled trade operators. She also noted that data produced by an automated offset press helps an operator understand a shop’s capacity loading and operations, and aids in driving some decisions.
“They’re more informed decisions, as opposed to the emotional decisions that we can get caught up in,” she said. “It doesn’t take away that this industry is a very tactile and sensory industry where we still have that emotional connection to the visual product that we produce. However, we need to remain competitive and lean at our operations and become more efficient and when we can really do that is by understanding, truly, how your machines are operating.”
According to Richard Kouwenhoven, president and COO at Hemlock Printers, the data provided by automated offset presses helps operators see how they’re doing against benchmarks. This is something Hemlock is really focusing on right now, he said, adding that the company is designing a new dynamic feedback system for operators.
“We’re spending a lot of time on that kind of design for the reporting system because we don’t want it to be a rear-view mirror; we want it to be live to the operator because it’s not really that valuable when it’s a month old,” he said. “For a press operator, [we’re focusing on] what kinds of cues help them change their habits or give them some feedback to how they’re measuring against the standard without it being overbearing or negative.”
During the webinar, Kouwenhoven added that every shop is different, and it takes quite a bit of commitment to get the data out of the printer, and then be able to use it effectively.
Using and reporting the data created by Hemlock’s automated offset presses is where the company is focusing its efforts now. In order to manage and analyse the data being created by Hemlock’s automated offset presses, the company hired an intern to help with some workflow mapping, which has now become a full-time data and workflow analyst position.
“It is no small undertaking,” he said. “This person is in high demand at our company because every department wants to map and dissect workflows. We really didn’t have that role in the company, and now it’s a central role.”
The data and workflow analyst at Hemlock helps administer the analysis and the reporting, something which Kouwenhoven said is becoming invaluable because it’s helping the company tackle some long-term tasks, such as sales reporting.
“We’re really just at the beginning of that journey, but I’m quite excited to see what we’re going to be able to accomplish in the next year or so,” added Kouwenhoven.
For Jay Mandarino, president and CEO of CJ Graphics, the data is important to track jobs and determine whether the company is charging enough for a job, or other client-related decisions.
“We use it for more than just tracking automation, we use it for all aspects of our operation,” said Mandarino. “It shows all the special colours we use. How many special colours, how many long run jobs, short run jobs, so we’re able to plan production-wise; we can guesstimate, we can come up with averages.”
According to Mandarino, the data is also vital for making decisions such as getting like-minded machines and technologies to “talk to” one another.
“With the machines and manufacturers willing to work more together than they used to and share information, we can track a lot of things that we couldn’t track before, but some [manufacturers] don’t allow their machines to talk to other machines, so it’s hard to get that full integration when you’re using all different types of machines,” said Mandarino. “If they don’t all talk to each other, it’s hard to track some of that stuff.”
Burke added that the data can impact how a print shop operates because challenges could arise that a shop perhaps did not recognize as challenges, but that’s precisely the value of analytics that come out of automated presses.
Mandarino agreed. “In this day and age, data is more important than ever. I mean, we’re not just using data in our pre-press, we’re using it in our mail division,” said Mandarino. “We’re using it when we’re doing variable data and selective marketing campaigns. And all these bits of information put together help come up with how we’re going to do certain things.”
“I think what we’re trying to do is not just use that data that is in our manufacturing to improve our productivity and quality, but we’re also trying to figure out how to use that data further upstream to benefit the planners and the estimators so you get a real-time picture on how we’re performing against their standards, and also to add value to the customer experience,” added Kouwenhoven, mentioning order status or automated pricing as two examples. “I think that’s the thing that can give a printer a competitive advantage, if you’re able to leverage that insight to the customer in a variety of ways. Those printers that are able to harness that information and make it travel upstream, I think they’re going to do well.”