Flexible Packaging asked industry experts at EskoArtwork, Kodak and Radius Solutions about how digital workflow management systems can increase automation, reduce human error and improve a converter’s bottom line
Q: What are the top ways a digital workflow management system can save a flexible packaging company money and resources?
Jan De Roeck, Director Solution Management Packaging Software, EskoArtwork: One of the significant ways to drive the cost out of the process is by using workflow automation to reduce the risk of human error, by avoiding the need for operators to process repetitive tasks.
Another way is by implementing technology to provide better quality while also reducing ink and substrate waste. For example, the latest screening technologies, such as Groovy screens for flexo and Concentric screens for offset can offer 15 to 30 percent less ink consumption with better color rendition. Costs are lower, and the environmental footprint is reduced by using less ink and by spending less energy to dry the ink.
Paul Bengtson, Vice President of Sales for Radius Solutions: Digital workflow management can save flexible packaging companies money and resources by 1) Automating more of their processes in production (trapping, pre-flight, versioning, distortions for shrink wrapping, etc. and 2) Reducing turn around time with more use of on-line tools such as soft-proofing, automatic email notification, instant pre-flight tools etc.
Steve Miller, Product Manager, Packaging Workflow, Kodak’s Graphic Communications Group: Packaging prepress suppliers are under constant pressure to improve the appearance of the finished product, while lowering production costs, and reducing the time it takes to get products to market.
The only way to achieve these objectives is to implement a workflow solution that is highly automated, capable of being integrated with other computer systems and provides innovative solutions for managing color and screening that make the finished packaging product “stand out” on the shelf.
Savings are found through the elimination of redundant manual and computing processes, and from the prevention of mistakes that lead to increased labor and material costs. In addition to saving money, workflow management solutions provide for improved services and product capabilities, which lead to top line growth.
Q: Workflow management systems tend to increase automation. What are the pros and cons of such a shift in operations?
De Roeck: By reducing the risk of human error, a workflow can prevent mistakes that could end up on the printing press-where it becomes very expensive. As work progresses from the prepress department, platemaking, the press and, in the worst case, the store shelf, the costs of an error increase not linearly, but exponentially. Workflow automation significantly reduces the risk that an operator makes an error.
The cons of workflow automation are that it requires a change of habit of everyone involved. They must be trained to think about automated systems rather than manual steps.
Bengtson: The pros of increasing automation is that it can reduce cost by getting the digital files much closer to a production ready state, with less operator involvement. Also digital workflow management systems can interface seamlessly with MIS/ERP systems, to pass scheduling and job costing information without manual entry from the prepress operators. The only downside of having a more automated workflow management system is the potential for mistakes to be replicated faster and caught later in the cycle due to incorrect job setup, and less time to recover from errors due to more compressed schedules.
Miller: Automation increases
efficiencies and consistency within the workflow, and provides prepress operators
and managers more time to focus on needs of their customers and their
customer’s production files. Properly implemented, there are no downsides to
automating and eliminating redundant steps within any production workflow.
Q: If a converter is looking to purchase a new workflow management system, what specifically should it be looking for?
De Roeck: The top priority is that it must be packaging-savvy. It must understand packaging and its many nuances and requirements. There are many systems that purport to be ‘one solution fits all’, many of them inspired by commercial print. These workflow systems are typically much different than packaging systems, dealing with different parameters, such as a third dimension, distortion in shrink wraps, diecutting and functions that go well beyond the press, such as filling, packing and delivery.
Bengtson: Look to purchase from a company that has experience and references in the flexible packaging industry, and can demo files that are specific to your company.
Miller: Automation functionality that allows for conditional logic to be defined within the workflow that makes decisions about how files will be processed based on job requirements, addresses problems with files as they occur and efficiently routes work through the shop un-attended.
Q: What is the next evolution of workflow management systems, with regard to flexible packaging, and when do you expect that innovation occur?
De Roeck: The packaging supply chain is evolving toward fewer players. We see an ongoing consolidation of the industry with fewer steps in package preproduction, integrating steps together. The workflow will continue to add processes that seem disparate, such as design.
Bengtson: The evolution to all PDF workflows with on-line interfaces to pre-flighting and soft-proofing, on-line ordering, real-time status and tracking, and direct interfaces to the MIS/ERP system. If you observe the evolution and changes of digital workflow management in the commercial print industry, packaging will typically mirror that same evolution, five to 10 years later due to the more complex, trapping, editing, layout and printing issues in the flexible packaging industry.
Miller: The next evolution in workflow management systems will incorporate more interaction with upstream and downstream computer systems, and the automation of workflow processes that have traditionally been defined as steps that could never be automated.