Making the Work Flow – Automatically


An Interview with DPS Magazine

In your opinion, what types of software are utilized to add automation to the print production process?

There are many pieces of production automation software. In the front end, particularly with jobs that are reasonably rote or repetitive, we start with order entry. Typically, CRMs will get involved in describing the job in MIS/ERP systems. This provides not only job specifications, but can trigger the workflow to operate in a particular way.

Then you get to production software. Preflighting will assure that all the pieces of a job are available for processing correctly. Sometimes this could include editing software to fix problems in the file (or to make customer-requested changes; or AA’s). Automated print production takes the file and prepares it for the press—traditional or digital. Color management will get involved to assure the job’s colors are printed correctly, no matter the output device. Often a layout optimization application will prepare the plate or print job to save as many resources and materials as possible.

Somewhere there is the artwork approval process to allow for (typically) soft proof reviews, edits, and approvals. From there, the job is sent to a RIP for output.

How does it extend to finishing?

Finishing is part of the complete print process. Just as with printing instructions, a good print production system can communicate effectively with finishing equipment, providing cutting, folding, stacking, etc. instructions.

In your opinion what are the most common areas for automation in a print environment? And the least?

We find that most areas have been automated within companies. Perhaps packaging companies require greater time-to-market efficiencies to compete. Maybe it also has to do with quality or error reduction. However, we find that web-to-print, prepress/preflight, color management, estimating/scheduling, MIS/ERP, document composition, imposition, output management, post-press, and inventory management systems are commonly implemented.

Those areas that we find less often include CRM, data analytics, and content management. Perhaps this is because these are not 100% directly tied to production. These are very important tools in their own right, but more to serve customers, offer a marketing service (in the case of content management), and tools to help printers improve their processes.

How have these tools evolved in the past two years? What is a driving factor?

When discussing the effects of COVID, the obvious requirement is communication and the ability to operate effective, secure production processes from outside the walls of the facility—and all the others who are involved in the supply chain. COVID has driven everyone to figure out how to offer easier access away from the office.

Where does artificial intelligence fit in?

We are not finding artificial intelligence. Perhaps it is found upstream with the brand, but not during print/packaging production.

There is one facet, but we would not really consider it ‘intelligence’. A good workflow system can be driven to go through different steps automatically, dictated by customer job specifications. Would we consider this intelligence? Not really. We would just consider this as conditional logic built into a very functional workflow system.

What are the biggest drivers for automation in the print production workflow (labor shortages, more digital work, e-commerce demands, etc.)?

We find that most automation is driven by customer requests—and the greater prevalence of digital presses. With product extensions, more SKUs, greater variety, and faster turnaround required, the use of automated production workflows is the only way to produce artwork fast enough to feed presses and meet brand deadlines.

In your opinion, what leading challenges/issues are leading to bottlenecks in print production workflows today?

We find that reluctance of the printer to reject technological change is one of the greatest differentiators between failure and success. By embracing new technology—and this is not only by management but by every operator on the plant floor—we usually find that almost anything is possible.

Another important determinant is the connectivity between Web2Print, MIS, and production workflow systems. This not only speeds the communication of job data throughout the facility and allows workflows to adapt to each job. It also allows a printer to tie all business functions together—estimating, job setup, production, approvals, shipping, billing, etc.

Can you describe a highly automated print environment? What differentiates this from an environment with medium or low automation?

We have seen companies introduce different software pieces of print production for decades. So, what makes a highly automated print environment? It’s the ability to integrate everything together. This means Web2print, CRM, MIS, and production systems. Those who are not doing this are markedly less efficient. The way we describe it to people is very simple. Is paper transmission to different departments efficient? Do you think Amazon is printing a ticket to assure it sends an order to you?

Please describe your workflow automation solutions for print and finishing. Where does it fall in the production lifecycle? What types of devices/equipment does it support?

We connect all of HYBRID Software’s solutions to everything. As we like to joke, ‘We’re the monkey in the middle’.

Without data, you’re not manufacturing. Customer job information is always ultimately handed over to prepress. As prepress systems, our solutions gather, collect and fix customer data and files. And we connect the job to the customer for review/approval. From there, it goes to finishing.

We’re the ones in the middle, taking graphics and data and preparing a job for print.

Our apps include:

CLOUDFLOW is a modular production workflow suite for file processing, asset management, soft proofing and workflow automation. It is a web-based application platform specifically tailored for the packaging graphics with support for PDF, color separation, trapping, screening, proofing and much more.

PACKZ, for labels and packaging, is the unique blend of automated actions and dedicated prepress tools. With its editing and quality assurance functions, the professional PDF editor makes designs print-ready for any printing process. PACKZ enriches designs with priming and finishing separation, handles ink sets and object-based screening, applies trapping and generates dynamic marks and panels.

The application also produces unique seasonal packaging and personalized labels with the VDP wizard, produces warp and 3D visualizations, and even optimizes substrate utilization using numerous step and repeat solutions, and more. Running on OS-X and Windows, the adaptive multi-display work environment in PACKZ ensures maximum performance and usability.

STEPZ is a powerful PDF editor based on the award-winning PACKZ technology. The complete and easy-to-integrate prepress software is perfect for digital printers looking to increase production efficiency and improve the quality of their prints. STEPZ offers solutions for variable data printing, step and repeat, print optimizations, quality control and more. STEPZ transforms the condensed prepress cycle into a time-effective operation.

What sets your software apart from the competition?

We like to think that HYBRID Software solutions are the most open packaging production workflow systems available. All our applications are based on open, data standards. They are easy to access from any other application. I’d like to think that is why we were the first to ever receive FTA Technical Innovation awards in two successive years.

In terms of customer service, we offer a favorable licensing model that is scalable and expandable and provide world-class support. It’s why I think people want to buy solutions from us.

What segments does HYBRID Software support?

Of course, an automated production workflow system could work almost anywhere. However, our systems are more configured to work among label and package printers, general commercial printing and, in some cases, wide format. We are found among print facilities that use traditional presses as well as those who feature digital print.

How do your tools integrate with others to support end-to-end automation?

We connect very well to just about any application. We have an open API, and our applications are built on industry standard formats. We believe we never met a database we couldn’t talk to.

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