Efficiently Connecting Software, the Workflow and Production
A number of printers and converters we know have conventional flexo and more than one digital press. For the volume of business these converters receive, there is certainly sufficient printing press capacity. But what is often lost is that press or finishing equipment capacity is not the key determinant for overall production capacity.
With production runs getting smaller, more orders have to be processed throughout the plant. This puts more pressure and strain on prepress and order administration. So, even with sufficient printing capacity, the true bottleneck of a converter is typically its capacity to manage the jobs. With this in mind, MIS, all of a sudden, becomes very relevant for every packaging and label converter, but especially for a converter using digital presses.
The next logical step would be integrating MIS and prepress, which can create a supercharged automation system, sharing workflow data, automatically driving prepress and ultimately delivering pre-production capacity on par with printing and finishing capacity. Now we can start running a cost-efficient converting operation.
What is MIS?An MIS is any software system that enables a business to operate with more information. The intelligence that comes with more available data can help businesses run more effectively, making well-informed business decisions. The data collection and reporting areas are varied, covering all facets of a business, including financial reporting, quoting, sales order processing, sales management, scheduling, production floor management, purchasing and inventory – to name a few.
If conceived well and prepared properly, a printer does not need a large staff of developers on-hand to maintain the system. System maintenance overhead costs can be kept to a minimum, while return is maximized.
Nor does one have to start with a complete system. Some companies begin by focusing on one area of their business, and expanding as they gain confidence and expertise. A business can grow into a full, dedicated system. It is all in the preparation.
MIS software can come in many sizes and flavors. They can exist as prepackaged, off-the-shelf software. Many of these systems are available specifically organized for printing or packaging. Some can be a bit more complex to implement, but less intrusive to a business, allowing a printer to customize the system to fit their specific way of doing business.
But, as we discussed earlier, a printer does not have to start out so complicated. Sometimes, a Filemaker Pro database with predefined forms is good enough. A customer-managed database can be just fine. The trick is then to integrate the system with the production workflow.
Integration and Information SharingThe rationale for integrating an MIS and prepress system is simple. In flexible packaging, the entire manufacturing process is extremely tight, under strict deadlines. We all bemoan the fact that it takes months to develop the product concept, weeks for design and approval, but only days to get it all done. It is critical that the process is managed efficiently. It’s about data transfer, and the power of information flow throughout the production cycle.
Integration of MIS and the production workflow also reduces the risk of operator error. For example, if a barcode is needed and it is available from the business system, it can be forwarded to the production workflow, i.e. the workflow operator does not have to enter the value, where there is a significant problem if entered incorrectly.
Information typically flows in both directions. For starters, the MIS offers a transfer of job specifications. Information that is usually sent to the workflow include job order details, due date, involved product, plate layout specifications including gang printing, and output specifications – colors, materials, etc. With this information, prepress actions are launched, including all of the workflow tasks and the plate layout, typically created automatically.
In return, the production workflow offers status feedback. Product files are delivered, including links to PDF and .jpg image files, along with reports. The brand owner can receive updated status reports, along with requests for internal approval milestones. Has the proof been delivered and approved? Are the plates ready? All this information is fed into the MIS so that anyone with access to the system can receive feedback when the job is in process.
Combining the two systems makes it easy to see the benefit to the converter, particularly when the workflow can draw data from an external database. Production workflows can actually pull information from a business database, and that content that can be automatically placed into the design. Certain examples of these dynamic content databases include the aforementioned barcodes, as well as smart marks that can help the production process – such as color bars, registration marks and job information.
From a business proposition, converters can develop tighter relationships with brand owners, and the integration of these systems forge tight interaction between them. For the printer and brand owner, the MIS system is at the heart of the information flow. The MIS is fed the status of the project on a regular, real-time basis and the brand owner can receive regular updates.
By tying in business systems with production workflows, other opportunities open up where a converter or trade shop can provide additional value-add services, like developing copy translations, overseeing ingredient copy for brand extensions, and the management to get text placed and approved correctly. Once the integration between systems is in place, the prospects are endless.