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Always Follow the Money. Always.
Digitalization leads to Profitability

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

You could not help noticing that the press operator was a little tense. “It sure would be useful,” he remarked, making sure you heard him, “to know ahead of time about the jobs in the queue so I could plan better.” You asked what he meant. He said the production department crew sending the jobs to the shop floor did not have the complete picture about the 41-inch 8-color press he ran. He described how the incoming mix of PMS colors and four-color process work, which included some black-only jobs, meant several wash-ups would be required, limiting how much printed work could be accomplished during the shift. It would be more efficient, he explained, to know which jobs scheduled for the press operator’s shift required wash-ups between each of the scheduled jobs, or even better if the jobs could be queued to minimize wash-ups.

Having heard stories like this from shops around the country it seems there is often a disconnect about what is being called “press optimization” between the production department and offset print operations. This is being exacerbated as experienced production people and seasoned press operators are retiring, and entry-level personnel are joining the world of print. This transitional disconnect costs business owners money. However, there are software tools that can automatically optimize a print queue to help make print production more efficient, more streamlined, and ultimately, profitable. As shorter or fast-turn jobs are increasing, press optimization is becoming a critical part of a press operator’s daily production schedule.

The Digitalization Path to Profitability
Automation is certainly an alternative. Such expansion of digital technology (called digitalization) in print workflows makes sense but I needed more detail. To learn more, I called Walter Chmura, VP of Technical Sales at Koenig & Bauer. A few decades back Chmura was an assistant press operator on a 40-inch offset press, moved up to running one, and is familiar with the growing disconnect between production departments and press operators running the printing presses. He described how digitalization, in the form of Koenig & Bauer’s Job Optimizer for example, helps ensure the optimum job rotation on press for each shift. Pressroom management assures the lithographic plates, substrates, inks and other consumables are prepared ahead of time to optimize the workflow in the pressroom. This helps optimize press use, can increase productivity, and be the main driver of increased net throughput.

Digitalization, explains consulting firm Accenture, is data being processed using digital, instead of analog (manual) processes. Job Optimizer sorts the printer’s production jobs into the most efficient sequence at the press of a button, complementing this with delivery schedules, the substrates to be printed on, and the number of different PMS colors or process colors required to complete the production run. By implementing a just-in-sequence strategy, a printer can reduce makeready time and maximize the effectiveness of print production processes. This ultimately helps everyone in the production chain work more efficiently, enabled by digitalization software.

In the scenario described above, for example, three or four wash-ups would be needed in an 8-hour shift, consuming excess time. Job Optimizer (digitalization) could automatically re-sequence the jobs, reducing the number of washups from three to one, meaning more productive time on-press; perhaps enough time for another job to run. Materials for upcoming jobs would be organized and supplied to the pressroom. Spread over multiple shifts, such time savings can enable more jobs to be produced per day, per week, and per month.

What struck me is that digitalization goes beyond easy stuff like the work mix or sequencing of jobs. Suppose, for instance, a paper delivery is late. Now, instead of having four jobs on first shift, you now have two, both jobs due tomorrow. Sound familiar? The paper you need finally arrives late afternoon. Now you have two additional jobs on second shift because the ones that could not be run on first shift are still due tomorrow. Based on their due dates, Job Optimizer automatically re-sequences the jobs on second shift so the time-critical ones are printed first, perhaps moving one or more of the others to third shift or the following day. While this might be a fire drill for most production departments it happens automatically with digitalization. “Not many people,” notes Chmura, “can sequence jobs in ways that optimize the performance of a press.” This makes digitization a valuable addition to the capabilities of a busy offset shop.

How it works
With Job Optimizer, digitalization begins upstream of the press in your MIS. Starting with job submission, it looks at the characteristics of the jobs scheduled for a given shift and automatically arranges the print queue with on-press efficiency as its first order of business. In the case of the print queue that was creating frustrations for the press operator; Job Optimizer would have automatically adjusted the order in which the jobs would be printed so all the PMS and four-color process jobs would be printed one after an another, then all the and black jobs would be printed, instead of being interspersed with four-color process jobs. This saves time and increases throughput, yielding a happier, more productive press operator.

Digitalization is a clear way to help make offset printing faster and more profitable. It enables you to get more out of a press and takes some of the pressure off less experienced production staff and press operators by automating some critical time-consuming tasks. Applying digital technologies to offset printing is a sure way to keep your business productive and profitable.
Interesting article.

I wonder what effect ChatGPT and other AI tools will have on software companies that create digitizational optimizing programs.?
I'm surprised this isn't a priority. Even when I worked at a print shop with two single-color presses, we had a red ink day, a green day, a couple of black days . . . We always worked to minimize press wash-ups.


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