Depending on the system, orders may be raised from estimates, from previous orders (e.g. reprint work), from customer-facing web portals (such as FRONTDESK), through Electronic Data Exchange (EDI) or manually. If an order is raised from a previous order or an estimate, then again no re-keying of data should be necessary. Re-orders can be quickly expedited with a simple job duplication function. Job creation is automated based on previously specified technical and commercial information.
Auto-planning features can enable similar labels, or labels with different shapes on one plate, to be ganged together. This data can then be sent to pre-press systems such as Esko’s Automation Engine, for automated pre-press, step-and-repeat, ganging, etc. But more of this later.
A combined customer-facing web portal and automation system enables customers to place, track and manage all of their orders, and to transfer those orders directly into the converter’s MIS and production system automatically. Custom product categories can be set up for each customer’s orders, with robust file upload and optional online document editing and VDP capabilities.
With E-Commerce a company’s market reach can be expanded, while customers can be empowered to fulfil ever more of their needs online.
E-Commerce offers round the clock customer service tools for processing online order requests, reviewing job status, tracking shipped jobs, and reprinting invoices. By providing client relationship services and tools online, skilled personnel are free to concentrate on revenue generating activities.
If Electronic Dara Interchange (EDI) is integrated with a company’s MIS, then computer-to-computer transfer of standard business documents in a standard electronic format from one company to another can be achieved without manual intervention.
Several documents are produced directly from the order, namely:
The job bag, which lists works instructions, printing information and any outwork requirements.
The work sheet or work ticket, which lists every item of labor, materials to be used and outwork on the job.
The order acknowledgement, which prints, faxes or emails a letter that can be sent to the client accepting their order.
Orders may have additional areas to enter work-specific instructions, delivery information and client reference numbers and it may also be possible at this stage to set pre-press and proofing schedules, as well as target dates against the job. The ideal situation is to use a very flexible software tool for entering, tracking, and interacting with production data in real time and available to everyone in the organization using a simple web browser (or tablet) interface. This is becoming ever more important.
Market pressures in the label and package printing sectors today, mean that the order life cycle is growing shorter and shorter. Printers and converters are being pressurized to produce more and more jobs, in smaller quantities, with the same people, presses and ancillary equipment. This requires working systems that orchestrate and link together the different production and workflow stages that include estimating, scheduling, quality control, shipping, online web ordering, customer proofing and approval, file management, and prepress production.
Before proceeding further, it should be noted that there are important differences between MIS systems developed for the commercial print market and those developed specifically for labels and packaging converters. These include:
In label and packaging printing, estimates are often made for a longer period of time, e.g. one or two years, and frequently contain the pricing rules (staggered prices per 1.000) and the technical alternatives (conventional/digital)
The creation of products in line with the estimate may take place before the first order for a product comes in. The aim is to get prepress done before orders are there. This is all about product creation and approval.
When sales orders come in, these are nothing more than product, quantity, price, shipping details. In other words, an ‘entry’ point to decide what to do, which can be one of three options:
Purchase the products (e.g. sales orders for blank labels that are not directly produce in-house).
Take the products out of stock (e.g. when they are produced in larger quantities and shipped in smaller quantities, but retained in stock in between).
Produce the products
For immediate delivery.
An order confirmation will be sent.
Only in case ‘3’ above will there be production jobs that require time and material.
Many MIS systems can only work with ‘jobs’: they can define the different products within a job but they are stuck with partial production/take out of stock and with the purchase of products.
So the function of creating a label or package printing job is to:
Group all sales orders with products ‘to be produced’, based upon the same estimate
Find the cheapest production route among the production alternatives within the estimate
Combine (gang) labels on frames
This means that it is sometimes not one estimate that is ‘turned into’ a job. The estimate will be re-used several times for job creation and will, in this role, be the source for production, to be improved after every production cycle when there is quality control feedback, therefore continuously optimizing for repeat production.
Only after all the order processing and job information has been entered into the system does it becomes possible to start production planning and scheduling, assign job priority, track jobs in progress, view press or process capacity, track and maintain materials inventory using barcodes, monitor quality control, as well as order and receive materials electronically . all on-screen and without leaving the desk . and finally taking the job through to costing and into accounts. Order processing is therefore a key stage in the workflow process (see Figure 3.1).
Figure 3.1 The place of Order Processing within the MIS workflow process
Essentially, an effective MIS order processing module becomes a centralized hub that captures, holds and displays all the information needed about each particular job. Any person in the management or production team should be able to view any job component or production stage and be able to instantly view any job in the process of production at any time.
Order processing software can go on to perform a number of additional functions: automatically raise a cost sheet and record times against a job; prepare and issue delivery/shipping note documents; and print out the required pallet, carton or shipping labels . whether for a single job or delivery of multiple jobs to different clients. The system should also be able to maintain a history of orders in a quick and easy to navigate list which provides a full searching and filtering facility.
Built-in production reports can help to keep track of all active orders, bookings (see Figure 3.2), pending proofs and invoices, required materials, press job allocations, delivery response times, sales turnovers and much more. If required, an extensive drill-down view of all aspects of any particular job, or group of jobs, can be created.
Figure 3.2 A 12-month rolling average of bookings. Source- Label Traxx
High-speed database search facilities, with some MIS software offering color highlighting to identify features, machines, substrates or personnel can be extremely effective. Sales and order histories in a system can be broken down by client, type of work or sales representative so as to calculate sales commission figures or perform detailed analysis of orders.
It is also important that the MIS job management module/software enables the tracking of all production extras such as 'author corrections' with an automatic reminder for inclusion during charging. It may additionally have an ‘extras authorization’ facility for additional work identified prior to commencement or unexpected cost that have arisen . such as artwork amendments, additional proofing . as well be able to compare the estimated and actual job costs so that variances can be highlighted or reported. It is also possible to generate reports that show orders/bookings over a period of time as required. See Figure 3.2.
When booking the job in from an estimate, a good order processing system automatically looks into the stock modules and allocates all the necessary materials to the job. If the materials are not in stock or unavailable, the software will raise a purchase order to the preferred supplier.
Stock allocations and purchase orders can be modified at any stage. However, the system should not let an order be forgotten or forget to allocate materials to a job – a valuable safeguard when under pressure.
FEATURES IN AN ORDER PROCESSING/JOB MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
Put together, some of the key features that a printer/converter can expect to find in a good order processing or job management system include:
Creating and printing order acknowledgements
The tailoring of work instructions against requirements
The ability to provide electronic on-screen or hard copy job dockets
Being able to automatically raise purchase orders for any required materials or outwork
The automatic display of customer notes
Drawing attention to additional charges
Materials information (availability, pricing, etc.)
Providing job docket management
Timesheet posting and operator performance analysis
Enabling job quantity amendments and automatic re-calculation of estimate or production data
The facility to import and highlight order changes
Customer and supplier information
Manage the product approval cycle
Initiate production planning (drive pre-press)
The ability to provide work in process analysis and reporting
Integrating with finished goods stock
Automatic job creation from an XML or CSV file
Preparation of unlimited production notes against estimates or jobs
Providing delivery schedules and consolidated delivery notes
Analysis of sales and order histories and the creation of reports, including WIP, added value, profitability, overhead and budget recovery
Preparation and issue of delivery notes
Printing out shipping labels
Create detailed work-in-process analysis
INTEGRATION BETWEEN MIS AND PRE-PRESS
Today, MIS is increasingly being integrated with pre-press jobs and production jobs. After all, it seems logical that pre-press will need to be involved with any new product emanating from a sales order. Pre-press is therefore automatically informed and a JDF sent to, say, Esko’s Automation Engine, so as to create a ‘pre-press job’ with the same identity. Where a product is a reprint . without any changes . this step can be skipped.
Note: Automation Engine Connect is a toolkit that allows integration from a third party product with an Esko component (WebCenter, Automation Engine or ArtiosCAD).
A job in Automation Engine represents a production order that organizes the data storage for the job but also the job’s metadata, its link to order ID, due date, customer info, Customer Service Representative contact, etc.
Besides these administration attributes, a job can also contain the graphical specifications like barcode, inks, RIP options and so on. This job information can be used in any workflow to take advantage of all the data that is already there, avoiding double entries.
With pre-press jobs, the MIS asks the pre-press department’s Automation Engine to create a new product based on the technical information provided in the estimate. New artwork for the job may then be delivered, with pre-press making it print ready, proofing it and obtaining approval for printing. When a new product is created in MIS, it automatically creates a ‘pre-press job’ in Esko’s workflow server Automation Engine. Both the MIS and Automation Engine always look at the same pre-press information. Time savings can be quite significant, as can be seen in Figure 3.3.
Figure 3.3 Shows what can be achieved with automated pre-press in Esko’s Automation Engine
Some solutions may also offer ‘production jobs’ in prepress the facility to undertake step-and-repeat, RIP-ing and plate making, the sending of jobs direct to a digital press, or to gang or combine (Figure 3.4) similar labels or labels with different shapes on one plate layout, with data being sent to Esko’s Automation Engine for automated step and repeat.
Figure 3.4 Combining labels in lanes, next to each other to save production switch times (digital or offset). Source- Cerm
When proofs are ready to be sent to customers in the integrated MIS job management/Automation Engine the MIS selects all the ‘Proof ready’ products and e-mails them to the customer for approval, automatically attaching the proof to the outgoing e-mails.
The JDF created by the MIS can additionally contain Lead-in Lead-out (LILO) information, enabling a job information barcode label or identification ‘print frames’ to be printed at the start and end of the job (Figure 3.5), or print further LILO labels containing the cutter color so that print clicks can be saved for off-line finishing.
Figure 3.5 The use of identification print frames in between the good labels
MIS DRIVING PRINT AND FINISHING
The impressive rise of digital print for labels has pushed major developments in both MIS and pre-press software. Even to the extent that Step-and-Repeat functionalities are now available in many Digital Front Ends: Gallus LabelFire, HP Indigo, Xeikon X800, Screen, etc. However, it’s not just digital printing that benefits from this integration. Flexo presses can also benefit from an MIS interface. The Cerm- Gallus press-link for example, can drastically reduce the set-up time of the press and will feed back information to the MIS.
If press set-up time can be drastically reduced, what about inspection and finishing? It perhaps seems obvious that when the small-run problems in digital print disappear, then a new bottleneck in finishing soon becomes apparent.
One of the first to benefit from an electronic MIS/production interface was AVT Camera Inspection. With a link to the original pre-press PDF for image-comparison and instructions for Step-and-Repeat, AVT can now reduce the set-up time of their camera inspection systems to zero.
The MIS creates the print frames, while pre-press creates inspection files per frame (in an AVT folder). The press prints the barcode of the print frame, with the AVT camera reading the barcode and verifying the output. See Figure 3.6.
Figure 3.6 AVT Zeroset system uses a printed barcode for verifying the output
AVT have also introduced their ‘iCenter Platform’, a cloud-based technology that provides tools to set cross-site quality standards, auto-analyze PDF files for inspection, and extract business intelligence from the production floor with a seamless connectivity to MIS and pre-press solutions for optimized automated workflows.
Another early innovator of MIS integrated production technology was ABG International. The manual set-up time of their slitter-rewinder for labels has been reduced to less than 1 minute with an MIS interface in which the operator retrieves MIS job instructions on the slitter, which provides all technical information, and for an automated set-up of the slitter knives.
In other developments, X-Rite Incorporated, a global leader in color science and technology, and its subsidiary Pantone LLC, have recently introduced the latest version of ColorCert Suite 2.7. This Suite of software products is now able to provide real-time color and print quality process control and reporting (see Figure 3.7) to help packaging printers and converters better manage the complexities of CMYK, extended gamut, and spot color workflows, regardless of the printing process, substrate, or industry standard.
It also includes a number of connectivity features that make the communication of color specifications and performance metrics easier and more streamlined than ever; from pre-press and the ink room to production process control, it helps organizations manage precise color and print specifications, uniting traditional silos of information into one common workflow.
Figure 3.7 X-Rite’s ColorCertProduct Icon Desktop Tool
Also introducing new color management software is QuadTech. Described as a unique, highly adaptive new solution for packaging applications, ColorTrack operates without any hardware modifications to the press, integrating with ink formulation software to simplify workflow and reduce the number of ink corrections needed to achieve accurate, optimal color.
Described as a ‘color expert in a box’ ColorTrack (Figure 3.8) automates the process of delivering absolute consistency from press-to-press, shift-to-shift, and plant-to-plant’, and is said to be the only software that offers such a level of press-side connection between color management and ink management.
Figure 3.8 QuadTech’s ColorTrack automated color management solution
SYSTEMATIC JOB CONTROL
The overall aim with an integrated MIS order or job processing system is to know and understand where every label or package printing job is in the workflow process and to provide for systematic job control.
The system should offer quick and easy database searching and flexibility of job viewing and provide a clear chain of custody process that is accessible to everyone in the factory and which tracks and monitors every stage of production across the shop floor in real-time and throughout the entire lifecycle of a label or package printing job. See Figure 3.9.
Figure 3.9 Monitoring shop floor data collection. Source- Label Traxx
Some of the job management software solutions on the market are able to configure their individual workflow requirements to address the specific production management needs for a range of products that they offer, including labels, shrink sleeves, in-mold labels, flexible packaging, blown film extrusion products and folding cartons.
These technologies enable the entire production workflow to be integrated, standardized and substantially automated. They also cover detailed quality control and optimization of print files and images using RIP and associated software, as well as individual solutions for the imposition of PDF files or flattening of transparencies – all done automatically.
Print data is automatically subjected to a quality control and then optimized. The automated production of die-cutting moulds or laser-cutting configurations, standard cut lines, a white background and the automatic dispatch of a release PDF to the customer for approval saves labor time and staff resources.
If time sheet posting is provided then it becomes possible to also capture operator activities, including wage rate and appropriate shift, to allow accurate costing of jobs and performance analysis of operators. There may also be options for the estimated labor, material or outsource costs to be automatically apportioned to a job following production, enabling complete costing analysis.
Depending on the MIS being used, press operators may have the capability of consulting their works or job schedule per machine, view milestones for scheduled jobs (Figure 3.10), and even enable them to indicate what they are doing. A change in schedule will be picked up automatically on the shop floor, with no need to re-distribute work or job lists. Semi-finished goods can also be tracked.
Figure 3.10 Press operators can view milestones for scheduled jobs direct on the shop floor. Source- Tharstern
A useful feature of job management software/modules is the ability to assess real-time activity in a dashboard style or executive snapshot view, showing current work-in-progress (WIP), current scheduled capacity, sales, added value and overhead and budget recovery.
With some job management systems it may also be possible to have a credit checking link (to, say, Accounts Link) to ensure that customers do not exceed approved credit limits or to make sure that any jobs on ‘stop’ or ‘hold’ are identified and flagged up.
THE USE OF EDI ORDER PROCESSING
For those label converting or packaging printing companies that regularly deal with some of the large supermarket and retail groups . Walmart, Tesco, Sainsbury, Safeway . or consumer products groups, there may be the opportunity to receive orders and send invoices electronically. It may be something that they are already doing or perhaps been asked if they can implement in the future. There are certainly a number of key benefits that can be obtained by embracing EDI. So what is EDI order processing?
EDI is the abbreviated name for Electronic Data Interchange, a means of computer-to-computer transfer of standard business documents in a standard electronic format from one company to another. Quite simply, EDI orders are automatically created in the system so that no manual order entry is needed.
By moving from a paper-based exchange of business document to one that is electronic, businesses enjoy major benefits such as reduced cost, increased processing speed, reduced errors and improved relationships with business partners.
Such a system will generally need to be set-up with a customer’s head office IT department but once established and configured to the needs of both participants, then job orders, invoices, etc., can be generated and transferred automatically. Confirmations and alerts can be sent through the email system to keep everyone informed of what is happening or not happening.
Accuracy is improved with EDI. Time is saved as automated systems can send data at any time of the day or night so that orders will already be in the system whenever the management or production personnel arrive.
EDI replaces postal mail, fax and e-mail. While e-mail is also an electronic approach, the documents exchanged via e-mail must still be handled by people rather than computers. Having people involved slows down the processing of the documents and also introduces errors. Instead, EDI documents can flow straight through to the appropriate application on the receiver’s computer (e.g., the Order Management System) and processing can begin immediately.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions are not new and, when used correctly . or even integrated with an existing or new MIS . can significantly enhance a label or package printing business. However, there are many different systems and software packages on the market, including bespoke software, and it can be difficult to choose the right software for a business. It also needs to be a system that grows with the business.
The overall aim of CRM software is to provide a means for businesses to manage their customer orders and data and their interactions with customers, to automate the sales, marketing and customer support operations (see Figure 3.11), to better manager employee, supplier and business partner relationships, as well as providing access to business information. It can also be used to manage business contacts, sales leads and successful orders.
Figure 3.11 CRM software provides a means for businesses to manage sales, marketing, orders and support services with customers
Used well, CRM software will enable businesses to provide better customer services, aid sales teams in cross selling, enables sales personnel to be more effective, drive enquiries to a company or sales website, assist in closing sales orders, offer a means of retaining existing customers. Importantly, CRM systems will enable marketing, sales, customer service teams and management to have a better understanding of their customers and what they expect. Automated reports can be prepared and available to both users and non-users.
Additionally, if they make use of a mobile CRM app (such as that available from Tharstern) they can be fully integrated with the MIS to provide all the information that they need about each and every customer whether they are in the office, out on the road, or visiting a customer facility.
Dashboards are available to view all data in one key central location.
Label and package printing businesses can install CRM software in their own internal network facility or, today, can have access to web- or cloud-based applications, accessible from almost anywhere, on any device, in which the required software is hosted by an external provider as required.
Integration with existing MIS and data systems is usually quite simple.