Workflow Optimization in Print – Adapt and Survive

With printers constantly asked to broaden their range, operations are getting more and more complex. Optimizing workflows is needed to ensure a sustainable profit for print shops. Getting there, however, is not that simple.


Print shops nowadays face challenges that were unheard of just a couple of years ago. Jobs in the printing industry are getting more and more complex. They require more knowledge and skills than they used to. And as if that wasn’t enough already, print operators are asked to do way more, too, as they are now required to play a significant part in their customer’s marketing strategy and hence have to offer a way higher range of services.

But how are they supposed to go about all that while remaining profitable? The solution lies in improving their workflow which is, of course, easier said than done. Over the years, operations have become so complex that changing one single step would imply consequences spanning across all phases of production.

“Workflow is the core differentiator between competitive print providers; as digital production printers become more commonplace, the competitive differentiation that used to exist in terms of artisan skill in optimizing quality on offset presses (i.e., ink/water balance, etc.) start to disappear,”

says Marco Boer, VP, IT Strategies.

The Keyword Is Automation

In order to improve workflows and the velocity in which they can be executed, printers will have to look at automation. Removing human touchpoints and thus potential sources of error as far as possible is vital for ensuring a smoothly running operation. This is not news, printers know that and yet adoption of new automated workflows has been slow.

Keypoint Intelligence director for InfoTrends Production Workflow Service, Pat McGrew explains:

“We know that PSPs [print services providers] in North America should be assessing their workflows and working toward elimination of manual touchpoints, supplicative software tools and bottlenecks, but it’s going slowly. Larger PSPs are doing a better job of integrating new tools than their smaller PSP counterparts but, as a whole, there is a lot of opportunity to become more efficient and automated.”

Printers are perfectly aware that they need to optimize workflows, they just don’t know where to start. And honestly, who can blame them for that?

“Look at It from the Big Picture”

This is not an easy issue to solve, as Marco Boer points out:

“Do I start afresh, or do I try to integrate into existing workflow? Who do I turn to for integrating into my existing workflow? A software provider? A hardware supplier? Should I self-develop?”

Printers often stick with what has worked in the past. And why would they change a running system?

Sadly, this mentality doesn’t lead to a sustainable business in print. In order to stay competitive, businesses, not just in print, have always had to adapt and will continue to in the foreseeable future – survival of the fittest. It is, however, not an easy task to change up workflows that have been working fine for years.

Mark Bohan, Prinect & CtP at Heidelberg USA has an idea how to approach this:

“Look at it from the big picture – the whole of the workflow – and then try to take things in a step-by-step process. You can start with the low hanging fruit and get the easy-to-address issues, then grow from there. Don’t try to solve everything all at once.”

According to Bohan, for most shops it breaks down to: What are the parts that need to be the most efficient? Printers have to assess and move on from there. However, different situations require different workflows. Printers need to move past the notion that says automation equates to “human vs. technology”. It’s more about integrating the two, he says.

Automation Requires Data

With big data emerging throughout our everyday lives, print shops are no exception to the rule that understanding data more or less determines a business’ success.

Print shop owners already have to evaluate data to understand which operations run profitably and which do not. Understanding these key figures helps them make the changes significant to their future. It also puts sales people into better positions regarding contract negotiations.

But data is only as powerful as the one interpreting it. If done correctly, it can help figure out slow-downs and bottlenecks and eventually lead to a better workflow.

And in print, a better workflow leads to a better business.

How have you approached workflow optimization? Tell us in the comment section.

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