This is a great daydream and, in fact, a worthwhile goal for printers and signmakers to have in mind each time they consider acquiring new equipment. It also provides the opportunity to evaluate short-term requirements against long-term objectives. However, technologies don’t evolve evenly and making a workflow that pulls together can be challenging.
Organic or organized?
The reality is that most businesses have grown organically, adding capacity and capabilities in response to customer requirements. A small company printing banners, pop-ups, kakemonos and simple signs might, for example, add a larger printer to do backlits, then a cutter to satisfy a customer and “grow the business.” Similarly, a large format printer might add a super-wide format printer from another manufacturer, to enhance productivity and broaden his applications offering.
These developments can happen fairly rapidly – even in response to the arrival of a large job or a new customer. Another route to growth is bringing in-house work that was formerly outsourced to improve margins, provide greater control over quality, and reduce delays. This growth is positive, profitable and exciting, but because you’ve been reacting to what’s come in the door, it has not been systematic. Before you know it, you have a machine park with equipment from half a dozen different suppliers (using different inks and drivers), operated by Macs and PCs (which don’t always play nicely together), and closed Linux systems, as well as operators who are able to run only one machine.
While the company has grown organically according to need, the workflow has become scattered and fragmented. This seemingly good growth has inadvertently created many opportunities for delay, different file formats and no standardisation.
Suddenly, you realize you’re dependent on the loyalty of each individual operator, and that achieving consistent colour between printers has become a major, time-consuming operation. This, ironically, is called the price of success.
Diagnosing the pain points
Unfortunately, there is no single source of delays in the production line. Each stage, and all components have to function optimally and integrate properly for the whole workflow to run smoothly. While many problems can be avoided by good file preparation, verification, RIPing and preflight, others can arise from printer drivers, software compatibility issues, media profiles and inks. Add some special requests for finishing (punch and cut marks), or variable data printing, and a whole new category of issues arises, especially if you are using different types of printers or cutters.
Then there are the “ordinary life” issues: how well can you cope if one of your operators is off sick? Can someone cover his work? Can the jobs he’d be working on be readily moved to other equipment? Or, similarly, suppose a printer goes down; can it be transferred to a different printer, or does the work just stop?
Finding a solution (or solutions) to each of these may already be part of your daily routine. They are solvable, but spending time resolving issues diverts the focus from the primary business of getting jobs out the door and bringing in new work. A large number of large format printers and signmaking companies employ fewer than ten people. In such businesses, each person’s productivity is critical to the overall success. So, as jobs become more complex and deadlines shorter, unless long-term solutions are found for inefficiencies and bottlenecks, there will be an unmistakable impact on profitability.
There is a great danger in looking at a too-easy solution: to decide to take only those jobs that run smoothly and don’t challenge you. The margins are okay, for now; the work is there, and it’s the clear line of least resistance. The danger is that you can soon realise that you are doing yesterday’s jobs with yesterday’s equipment; your staff is becoming stale and all that’s happened is that your customers have shared their stagnation with you.
It’s a buyer’s market, and in the prevailing conditions, the need to innovate and command the attention of consumers and customers are paramount considerations.
In short, neglect addressing the pain points at your peril!
No pain, no pain
There is, of course, a better solution than ignoring the problems, doing only easy jobs, or running up and down the production line sorting out issues. One such option is our recently-introduced PixelBlaster print production software, a unique solution that gives professional signmakers and large format digital printers control over workflow and equipment.
The modular system is also scalable so it can grow with your business, adding capabilities as needed. Using PDF-based software, PixelBlaster offers a complete solution for the whole production process, from the file preparation, colour management and RIPing stages to printing and automated cutting.
With the ability to operate (and switch between) Mac and PC environments, PixelBlaster standardises colours based on industry accepted profiles to ensure each printer – regardless of brand, ink or substrate – generates the same, predictable and repeatable, quality and color.
What this means to printers and signmakers is that by using PixelBlaster, they have instant compatibility of virtually all their hardware and software. Jobs can be rerouted to different printers via different computer platforms, and printers and cutters can be run by any operator. In this way, PixelBlaster not only provides a smooth workflow, but protects against computer and printer failure as well as operator absence. During busy periods load balancing can be carried out across over multiple stations - regardless of platform – eliminating prepress, RIPing and output bottlenecks.
PixelBlaster is versatile and has modules to create and fine tune profiles and manage spot colours; store profiles and media libraries; enable output viewing before printing or cutting; manage printing and cutting and control finishing (including calculating spacing and placing for grommets, folds and bleeds).
Along with supporting step and repeat, variable data printing, nesting and other standard processes for printing and cutting, PixelBlaster offers support for the growing requirement to generate white for printing on glass or dark materials. It also supports true N-Colour for non-standard ink sets (for ceramic or glass, for example).
If you’re a large format printer or signmaker, it’s likely that the challenges you’re facing are numerous and the demands you’re contending with are changing quickly. Fortunately, SAi’s PixelBlaster offers a single solution to manage these challenges, improve profitability and grow your business, while at least making it feel like a fresh start.
By Eyal Friedman, Vice President, Technical Services, SAi