Pat McGrew, managing director and inkjet evangelist for the McGrew Group, was my special guest for our fourth Innovation Week webinar, “Essential Software for Inkjet Innovator.”
Pat and I discussed all the places where software is essential in an inkjet environment, emphasizing that software is what turns you from just someone who owns a press into an inkjet innovator. However, in order to grow your business by enhancing your workflow, you first need to get the right software for your particular needs.
According to Pat, “It’s going to have to fit into your business and production ecosystem. Not every piece of software was made for every single company. So do a little homework. Take some time to understand your current software platform. If you bring new software in, what’s going to have to give? What kind of training will you need? Who’s going to do what? The best software in the world with the wrong infrastructure, will not help you be successful.”
So what are those things that need to be considered? First, you need to understand that most hardware comes with its own software and this should influence both your hardware and software buying decisions.
“Your job is to understand everything that the software that comes with your hardware does,” Pat said. “It’s also important to understand what of it you must use, and what of it you have an option to replace or turn off.”
Start by understanding the capabilities of the RIP and DFE (Digital Front End). Then investigate your options and add-on modules, while considering the impact of the speed, resolution and personalization on the RIP. Also look for automated quality controls and jet-out correction.
I always like to emphasize that there is always a cost/quality tradeoff that you can control to a large degree. Make sure your color management tools allow you to manage for all aspects of production, including profiles with and without pre-coatings and post-coatings. Also think about having a profile for every paper or substrate and the different quality levels you may sell. Once you have these profiles, make sure your operators have standards that they stick to.
“Software can make your business life better,” McGrew said. “It can create this really frictionless environment, but it’s not like making instant coffee. We want self-configuration, but that’s not where we are. So make sure that you understand how all the pieces of your software tie together.”
If your software isn’t configured to your needs, money and jobs may be falling through the cracks. If your system isn’t fully integrated across all platforms, estimates and quotes could be overlooked, losing business. Completely understand ordering and pre-flight. And remember that workflow automation is key to profitability.
The goal is to get to a completely touchless workflow. That usually involves a fairly intelligent process for combining jobs that run on the same media and figuring out how they fit into the finishing process. This helps you avoid excessive waste and downtime. This may mean that you need to transform your resources and files to optimize imposition. This could allow you to schedule and load balance across different devices or locations. If you can track the whole lifecycle, then you can also integrate with quality control, to continue to improve the process.
“Look at the jobs that are coming in and try to get control of them,” McGrew said. “The software can help you, but you have to let it.”
The bottom line is, the more you print, the more margin you can attain through inkjet. A high-speed device gets cheaper the more you run it. Consider the total volume on each device and how long you can keep it running. You don’t want to stop for paper changes and bad files or breaking things into smaller batches for administrative purposes.
The goal is to keep your machine running with the fewest stops possible. And yes, upgrading your software is costly, but you must take into account the time you’re saving through effective automation.
To see this with your own data, check out the “Business Case for Essential Software Calculator” The calculator allows you to plug in your own numbers to help you get a handle on your budget, to understand how much pay-back you’ll gain from your investment. Hint: savings can hit in the six figures pretty quickly when automating for a high-speed device.
Now, how does all of this translate to your customers? Why do they care what kind of software you use? Because the right software makes their interactions with you so much easier. First, you can get your ordering process off email. Customers like self-service if it’s easy to use and creates a reference source for their needs.
“An awful lot of jobs are regular jobs and the way some companies get notified is by a fax or phone call,” McGrew added. “You need to have a consistent way to communicate with your customers that becomes part of the customer record.”
Providing automated testing support is another area of software driven customer value that is incredible for transaction printing. You can help customers cut 70-80% off their testing time. Customers are going to love you when you save them time and they can clearly see what’s going on, all the way through billing. And that makes getting paid much easier too.
The thing that wraps around all of this is security. A lot of markets need to deal with data. As we do more personalization, we have more access to data. It continues to get harder and harder to keep that data safe.
You have to look at the security features of all the software you buy, like virus protection, at-rest and in-flight encryption, data redaction and scrambling and mobile device management.
“Remember that everyone who has an email on the server is a potential problem,” McGrew said. “If any one of them clicks on a risky link, you can shut the whole company down.”
Fortunately, if you run into problems, your vendor can probably help. More and more hardware is coming with software that helps OEMs help you. So look at what OEMs are offering, like remote support and monitoring, as well as predictive maintenance scheduling.
“I love dashboards,” McGrew said. “They give you a view of your business. The problem is, what’s in your dashboard may not be helping you. What you really need to know is what’s going wrong, so you need to make sure whatever dashboard you’re using is providing the right kind of information to the team members who have access to those dashboards.”
And you have to take the lead on this. Understand all the dashboard options and how to capture the metrics to see where you can improve. Compare your estimates to actual numbers, model alternative workflows, inform management and your teams and manage your client scorecards.
So what software is new and cool? A lot of the new software revolves around RIPs. As inkjet gets faster, this brings another challenge – massive data files. There are recent advances from two major RIP providers that address this.
Global Graphics recently announced their Direct software that reads and writes directly to your press, without needing a harddrive. We covered Direct detail in a recent article.
We also had the opportunity to have a sneak peek at some new things coming out of ColorGate. They are addressing the data challenge, but in a different way – through the render. They are now able to address color at the object level rather than examining each pixel. “They’ve gone through a major upgrade and got a 410% RIP speed increase,” McGrew said. “I’m a big fan.” Other reasons to be a fan include their spectral color module and the ability to automatically set color correction to a particular deltaE tolerance while protecting spot colors from adjustment. This is just a glimpse of all the upgrades coming in their version 20.
Automating the well-designed workflow can be a complicated process, but how you put it together can greatly affect your bottom line.
This is where Ultimate TechnoGraphics comes in. They are focused on imposition and finishing automation. Advances coming soon to their Ultimate Impostrip solution can reduce labor, calculate jobs and save a lot of time by using complex nesting algorithms while adding increased scalability to an already solid platform. Ultimate Technographics also recently released “Future-Proof Your Business – Part 1,” written by David Zwang, which uncovers opportunities to use software to grow margins and expand your product and services portfolio.
Finally, another company that’s streamlining workflow is Racami. There are two main areas of the solution – the Alchem-e Dashboard and Alchem-e Flow. This isn’t just viewing. You have to take action from the dashboard, so it’s more of a two-way street. Racami also has a host of new innovations coming to their platform from a basic streamlining of their UI to AI assisted onboarding and job scheduling.
To get the detailed discussion on software and these cool new software updates, watch the full “Essential Software for Inkjet Innovators” webinar, and check out the other Inkjet Innovation Week event recordings.