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Back to Basics

Pressroom Efficiency

With print-service-providers constantly on the lookout for ways to enhance their production, Rob Fletcher looks at how new technology can help companies improve efficiency

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How can printers improve their production processes?

Excellence in efficiency

Print-service-providers (PSPs) can commit hundreds of thousands of pounds to new equipment, but if they are not running this kit to the best of its ability, then production efficiency is likely to suffer. At a time when margins are shortening and turnaround times are becoming tighter, ensuring that your production setup is as efficient as possible is key to success.

There are a number of ways that PSPs can enhance efficiency; by upgrading the kit they already have in place to ensure it is hitting targets, or by bringing in new technology to support their existing setup. Be it software, hardware or another tool, there are options out there for print companies.

With this in mind, Print Monthly goes in search of some of the latest products and solutions designed to boost production efficiency and help PSPs enhance their setup, allowing them to win new work and retain current customers.

Only as good as your last job Xrite specialises in colour measurement and management products for print. Martin Hill, sales manager UK, imaging and media, at X-Rite, says continuous improvement is vital for any business in the modern, technology and standards-driven era.

“Many of print’s raw material costs have been on the increase in recent years, especially paper,” Hill comments, adding: “Print’s customers are also looking at carbon footprints of suppliers and how they are improving.

“Better throughput and efficiency can lead to more jobs in a day as well as less waste within the process, which all contribute to bottom line figures and greater customer satisfaction. As within all trades you are only as good as your last job and customers are becoming far more demanding in price and quality.”

Hill notes that digital print is part of mainstream print, improving all the time and advertised as ‘zero start-up costs’, while new offset presses are equipped with features to improve start-up and in-run colour consistency efficiencies.

With this in mind, he says that if you have an inefficient process with increased costs for paper, ink, and labour through long makeready times, often the only way to compete is to lower your selling price. However, as we are now in an extremely competitive market, companies must differentiate on quality and efficiency.

This, according to Hill, is where Xrite can help. In terms of offset, Xrite offers three levels of automation for press scanning equipment. The handheld eXact spectrophotometer device has an option to add a scan chassis for reading sheets up to B3 with the option for Ink-Key Control Software to display the press ink keys with polarised (M3) and un-polarized (M0 or M1) all at the same time in one single scan.

There is also the new mid-level eXact AutoScan, which mounts any eXact device on an ISO standardised backing track and can scan B1 and B2 colour bars in 15 seconds anywhere on the sheet and again report back to ink key control.

Available from Xrite, eXact AutoScan mounts any eXact device on an ISO standardised backing track and can scan B1 and B2 colour bars in 15 seconds

For spot readings, the eXact can be taken out of the cradle and used anywhere within the job or to input supplied swatches or paper stocks.

For spot readings, the eXact AutoScan can be taken out of the cradle and used anywhere within a job or to input supplied swatches or paper stocks

For B1 plus size up to 65” presses, there is the Intellitrax2 device that has the ability to go down to 2mm colour bars, which at larger sizes can lead to savings on material costs. Through adding a scanning system alone, Xrite estimates up to 20% savings of makeready time.

Xrite also partners with ‘closed loop’ providers, which Hill says can add greater efficiency through automation to new and old presses, helping to get the most from your assets. With these systems there are two optimisation solutions.

O Factoid: Xrite’s eXact AutoScan mounts any eXact device on an ISO standardised backing track and can scan B1 and B2 colour bars in just 15 seconds O

The first, ‘pre-setting’, is at the pre-press stage, as Hill explains: “Before you start your job, the CIP, JDF or TIFF files of your job from prepress will provide all the information needed to automatically pre-set the ink keys. This is the greatest way to save time and money on start-up costs.

“The systems from Rutherford learn from the final position of the keys when the job is complete to improve and fine tune the pre-set software, which becomes more efficient the more it is used. Start-up savings of 40% alone have been reported through pre-setting optimisation.”

The second part is for completely automating the ink key setting process, or closed looping. This automation, according to Hill, reduces the time spent by a press operator in setting the ink keys and greatly reduces the wastage of sheets. The software interacts directly with your press console and is customised to the console or press type.

Hill outlines: “Once you start a job, the press operator scans the colour bar to both get spectral and density data and the software does the rest. Your press operator will not have to manually adjust any ink keys. During the press run, periodic scans of the colour bar feedback colour data to keep the run consistent. The software gets you to colour fast and keeps it there.”

Key factor

Looking more closely at litho print and MPL, the UK distributor for RMGT litho presses, offers a number of solutions for PSPs running this kit. MPL’s joint managing director, Mark Stribley, says efficiency is critical in order to produce a realistic cost-per-page.

[L to R] Mark Stribley and Murray Lock, joint managing directors of MPL, the UK distributor of RMGT printing technology 

Stribley expands: “Once you cut through the manufacturers’ sales pitches, we believe there is a market price for A4/A5 printed sheets whatever press it is printed on. Cost efficiency is the key factor.

“Print companies can become complacent with either a technology or a specific production method. As with any business, it is vital that printers keep abreast of developments in the industry generally, but more importantly in their own specific sectors of interest. Yesterday’s efficiencies can be quickly surpassed. Printers need to observe, read, and listen to what news is being circulated around the industry.”

Print companies can become complacent with either a technology or a specific production method

As to how both MPL and RMGT can help, Stribley points to the RMGT DigitalXtra technology. According to Stribley, with the majority of PSPs printing less than 5% personalisation work, the economics of operating the DigitalXtra technology of RMGT presses has “brought the commercial crossover point between digital and litho to an incredibly low figure”.

Stribley expands: “Often we find that when the company critically analyses the work produced they realise that personalised print is only a very small fraction of what they expected, and they are running jobs very inefficiently on the wrong equipment.

“RMGT’s DigitalXtra positioning recognises that litho can complement digital and offer wider market opportunities, without the penalties of higher “click charges” for longer print runs.

“The litho printing press of today focuses on the correct format for the work in hand; on-press drying that delivers a dry-to-the-touch sheet at the end of the press; software that enables swift and accurate make-readies, taking the press into the production of saleable sheets within a few minutes; and a machine that is proven to be ultra-reliable and always available to produce.”

Stribley says an RMGT DigitalXtra solution delivering dry-to-the-touch sheets – whether that’s B3 or A1 format – at rates of 11,000 to 17,100 prints per hour, can make a big difference to many printers. He adds that PSPs across the UK are “discovering the real-world benefits of this new, enhanced offset solution”.

Stribley says: “We urge companies to examine closely what digital presses are producing for them – especially in the areas of personalisation and short-run. Which jobs are actually profitable and can they get a sufficient quantity of that kind of work? How could fast, reliable ‘digital offset’ help to keep jobs going out of the door, and cash coming back in?”

Continuous change

Taking a closer look at software developments and David Bentley, Pace product general manager and Midmarket Suite product management at EFI, says that in order to keep up with the fast- paced landscape of today’s print environment, PSPs need to continually examine their production efficiencies and look for ways to improve.
Bentley comments: “Often production employees will find small issues that require a workaround. These workarounds become part of the standard procedure, but in fact, they typically add time and cost to the production. Regularly reviewing production workflows and looking for areas of improvement will help identify these workarounds and ways to remove cost from production.

Bentley adds that as competition continues to increase and end customers are continually looking for faster and faster turnaround times, it is imperative for PSPs to find new and innovative ways to keep customers coming back and find new business.

In terms of how EFI can help with efficiency, Bentley points to the EFI Midmarket Print Suite, which he says is a complete end-to-end solution that allows PSPs to attract new business and keep their current customers coming back.

Bentley expands: “Through workflow efficiencies in order: acquisition, data management, imposition, data intelligence, automation, scheduling and shipping, the Midmarket Print Suite helps remove costs and increase the bottom line.”

The solutions and tools cited here are just some of the ways for PSPs to enhance their production process. As competition for work becomes more intense, it is up to the PSP to ensure that they are operating as efficiently as possible so that they can provide high quality work and fast turnaround to their

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