If it absolutely, positively has to be printed, there’s not much the right partner can’t do for marketers – thanks in large part to technology.
When it comes to their printed communication needs, most corporate marketers have several demands. Usually, they need consistently accurate color reproduction. Sometimes they need a print job turned around super fast. Once in a while they may have a complex project that they’re not sure their printer can handle. But most of all, marketers need a print partner they can count on, which does not pose a problem thanks largely to support from modern technology.
Subscribe to Out of Office:
Overall printed product quality is the most important factor cited by 370 of 402 marketing executives surveyed in a Printing Industries of America (PIA) study commissioned last fall by FedEx Office.
- The ability to handle necessary volume ranks second, at 88% (identified by 351 people).
- 350 (87%) also mentioned both cost and consistent color as being important.
- Turnaround time and print-on-demand capabilities are equally important to 326 (81%).
- Seventy percent (281) want their printers to handle mailing and shipping services.
Indeed, today’s commercial printers can juggle a lot of proverbial balls in the air, and here’s a real-world example of how they do it: In mid-2015 FedEx Office revealed how it has optimized its commercial print production with customized software technology from Electronics for Imaging (EFI), creating “a faster, cost-effective and streamlined way to deliver professional print services using EFI’s industry-leading productivity software.”
5 Years in the Making
The EFI software system directs large or complex print jobs to FedEx Office’s 17 Centralized Production Centers (CPCs). All print projects are processed at and routed through the Network Fulfillment Center (NFC), where team members can quickly view and assess production volumes and direct jobs to more than 100 color and monochrome digital presses across the country at the CPC facilities. The production network has been in place for more than 10 years, notes Mike Preston, VP of network planning and operations who designed and runs the NFC. The RFP (request for proposal) went out five years ago or so to better synchronize operations. “EFI’s end-to-end solution was the best fit,” Preston told PrintingNews.com, and the build-out commenced.
The EFI team used modules of the firm’s Productivity Suite to customize a solution. “We had the concept,” explained the firm’s print workflow pioneer and senior director of product management, Udi Arieli, who with his team added the integrations used and also optimized facets of the existing product. “Our goal was to automate as much as possible,” he said, “using so-called ‘smart software’ with rules that can make a lot of decisions for you….”
Arieli cited one example of bidirectional communications with other programs, which facilitates faster job creation: “When a job is created in one of FedEx Office’s retail centers, it is sent to the NFC. Pace [EFI’s integrated management information system] can create the job intelligently from the specifications, with very few touches; there may be some inspection and a few changes; a click here or there,” the workflow guru continued. “With Fiery [digital print servers] and Fiery Central [software], even the imposition is created automatically.”
To better manage printed output, Fiery Central integrates multiple digital printers that use the proprietary raster image processing and servers (and other select printers) into a unified print production system. This system, in turn, uses common prepress tools and also can communicate with business management systems.
How the Work Flows
Arieli breaks down the FedEx Office customized workflow into eight steps, stressing that the NFC dashboard is web-interfaced:
- A print job/order comes in and is sent to EFI Pace, where validation is quick and semi-automated.
- The job is then sent to PrintFlow for dynamic scheduling to determine which jobs will run on which print engines at which CPC and when.
- Fiery Central takes the schedule and creates a job ticket, with instructions, that feeds the Fiery servers — with no employee intervention required.
- Pace and Fiery Central give commands to take content and move it, with the ticket, to the chosen print engine at the right time.
- Fiery reports status back to Pace and PrintFlow in real time.
- PrintFlow takes all the data, including new jobs and status, back from Fiery and continues scheduling and optimizing nonstop, automatically, 24/7 if necessary. It also has the ability to adjust schedules when paper jams or a given press goes down, for example.
- Fiery returns paper consumption, clicks, run times, and other machine details back to Pace.
- Pace captures all data for future analysis and reporting.
(courtesy of PrintingNews.com)
Tweaking and Fine Tuning
“It took about three years to enhance and finalize it,” Preston shared. The improved EFI system, which now has been running live for 30 months, has increased production efficiency by more than 15 percent, FedEx Office reports. Final implementation was completed in the spring of 2015, he added.
FedEx Office has been running “marketing and advertising promotional print jobs through the system for large and mid-size clients,” senior sales VP Aimee DiCicco told PrintingNews.com. “We’ve extremely reduced [our] timeframes,” she said, pointing out the additional benefits of more flexibility and repeatable scale and color. Advanced automation yields labor savings on both sides. One of the new system’s biggest expediting factors, she noted, is that clients do not need people to manage files internally. This alone can cut delivery times in half or even more, “from concept and file receipt to delivery,” according to DiCicco.
The bottom line, says EFI’s Arieli, is that “this workflow is a game-changer …, and [it’s] not just for large companies.” He calls it a disruptive technology that can totally change how commercial print firms are run and managed. “This product can help [printers] … to be more efficient,” he told PrintingNews.com, “… because the information is all right there, not [scattered] in 20 different places.”
This development marks “the first time that we have combined business and production processes, such as estimating and job planning, into one workflow,” Arieli said. Such synergy bodes well for corporate marketers who now can reap the benefits of integrated print production technology.