Where Are We Now?


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by Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Learning new stuff that will help your business can be something of a chore. Raise your hand if you’ve ever dozed through PowerPoint presentations at a conference where the drone on the stage read the copy off the slides. Or when, sitting in your office, you’ve struggled through documents that were sure cures for insomnia. Then you passed those dreary pages to your staff, who gave up after the second page, knowing there wouldn’t be a quiz. Or when you’ve been polite to some joker from a vendor whom you desperately hoped would leave before you tossed him off the loading dock. Ahh, yes. I see the hands going up.

I know the pain. It’s a real thing. You’re trying to make your business work better and just want to get a corner of a clue about something you think will help can help, yet accessing that fragment of info can seem like an advanced course in particle physics. Happily, there are alternatives. In a previous article I pointed out three Canon videos that helped simplify color management. This time I am reacting to a series of market-research-based reports conducted by NAPCO Research for Canon, that delve into areas owners of printing businesses should know about and share with their teams. The sharing is important because the better informed everyone on your team is, the more value they bring to the shop every day. Having smarter people around is always a good thing!

Digital Printing 5.0

Today, with full color digital print being mainstream, we are entering the age that Canon describes as “Digital Printing 5.0” where new digital technologies, infrastructures and workflows are having profound impacts on our industry. This is the overarching title of the reports, each detailing separate yet related areas: Where We Are Now; Beyond the Press: Defining the Infrastructure for Operational Success; Optimizing Color Across Print Platforms; The Rise of the Digital Print Enhancement Opportunity; and Best Practices for Digital Finishing.

All are timely because optimizing and streamlining production processes is key to being competitive. Most customers, expect nearly any printing project will leverage collaborative workflows in which communications and revisions happen in real time and where messages are tailored to individuals rather than a group. From creation through delivery, tasks are increasingly consolidated and automated.

I’ll be describing these reports over the next several weeks. I won’t go into the details but will provide some key takeaways and encourage you to read the reports for yourself, share them with your team and put some ideas into action. And full disclosure here, although more than a dozen years of my career were spent doing market research, I was not involved with the studies behind these reports and have no idea who wrote them. But having penned dozens of such reports and papers and written and edited many articles about digital print and the print business, I can be fairly objective. These are worth downloading and reading. Here’s a look at the first one:

Digital Printing 5.0: Where Are We Now?

The owner of a direct mail company once told me he would never buy an inkjet press and that his old offset presses and his monochrome toner boxes were fine. Well, never say never. The old machines are long gone and he is installing his second full color inkjet press.

That’s a big deal because among the take-aways from this report is the manner in which successful printers are embracing technology and adopting new systems and practices that can literally transform their businesses. As more than one printer I’ve visited recently explained, it is necessary to have offset, toner and inkjet presses on the shop floor to meet customers’ needs. The demand spans direct mail, transactional print, books, packaging and more.

But no matter the applications commercial printers usually cite two major pain points. First is managing and producing a growing number of small jobs. Second and closely related, is concern over increasing throughput with demand for shorter production times. Of course neither is new, but as print windows have shifted from several days to several hours, the level of automation—or lack of it—in a print shop can have an immediate and sometimes painful impact on how incoming jobs are managed from receipt through production and delivery.

The report notes that automation not only speeds throughput and promotes accuracy; it reduces labor costs and the persistent difficulty of finding and retaining a skilled workforce. Every manual touchpoint increases labor costs and the possibility of human error. Automation helps lower costs while reducing the likelihood of mistakes. Moreover, many print jobs today have complex imaging requirements, such as an expanded color gamuts and/or demanding variable-data specifications. While printing of these jobs may take only a few hours, file preparation and data management may triple the time required. This can be dramatically altered through automation.

One thing I’ve noticed in my travels and in many conversations is how nearly all print applications benefit from automation, especially workflows, with the most successful printers seeking ways to increase automation in their operations. Automation, they find, equates to business growth. This first report goes into detail on these and other issues while showing how high-growth print providers are lowering their production and running costs through automation.

Take a moment to download Digital Printing 5.0: Where Are We Now?
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