Work smarter – and make your tech work harder

Jez Abbott
Friday, June 22, 2018

It was a big ask. But Creation Reprographics wanted to get even smarter by improving connectivity of workflows, optimising processes, reducing manual workloads and improving efficiency.

So back in June the specialist in packaging artwork, reprographics and plate production went live with yet more software after months of preparation. It was not it’s first system, but it might have the biggest impact on the East Midlands business. Creation offers repro and platemaking to flexo printers and packagers, cartonboard and cup manufacturers.

The challenge

Creation embarked on a collaboration with Label Traxx about a year ago. The latter provides software systems for narrow web flexo and digital label converters, and many of Creation’s clients already used the company’s technology. This was the problem, because Creation didn’t, says its managing director Matt Francklow who up to that point thought he was “quite forward thinking”.

After all, his 18-staff company in Daventry, Northants, had only recently rolled out an overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) strategy to fine-tune productivity. Meanwhile three years ago it booted up Esko WebCenter software to deliver streamlined communication and boost client satisfaction. The clients were happy, but could be happier, sensed Francklow.

“Ordering jobs was still a lengthy, time-consuming process that created production bottlenecks,” he says of a typical job. This would involve a flurry of JDF, XML and JavaScript forms, trails of emails and the submitting, then resubmitting of information that always left room for human error when it came to the tedious job of inputting all that data.

“More and more people didn’t want this because it was an additional pain. For us meanwhile it could have serious long-term implications by hampering our chances of getting more work: nobody likes bottlenecks and slow turnaround times. If a client wanted a colour change for 20 new designs, you still had to input that data 20 times. Somebody has to do it and bottlenecks are inevitable.”

With printing becoming more sophisticated and output quality seemingly improving by the day, printing infrastructure has had to become more advanced, says Francklow. The global print industry continues to transform and “we must move and improve with it”, he adds.

“The many technological changes taking place increase the urgent demand for premium quality products and services. These can only be supplied by a high level of productivity, and this requirement needs sophisticated processing systems and more automated manufacturing.”

The method

Creation Reprographics approached Label Traxx, based in the US, but with more than 400 customers worldwide, last year. Francklow wanted to be able to tap into the label software system used by his clients – but not at that time Creation – to use the data to help wipe out these bottlenecks, save time and slash administration tasks.

Label Traxx designed and developed a software system that gives customers the ability to send digital print orders to Creation to provide a leaner production environment. This involved embedding the Label Traxx technology in to Creation’s own automated digital workflow system. It integrates everything from artwork to plate production into a single automated process.

Though this part of the project – surprisingly – wasn’t a very expensive process, it was very tech heavy. Francklow hired a third-party software company to help extract and code data and integrate systems. It was, he says, almost like computer programming and only for the serious tech junkie.

“It’s real techie stuff because everyone’s system is different and we have to be able to take all that information, decipher it, pick out the bits we need and throw away the rest. 

“In truth the nitty-gritty is a bit beyond me, Label Traxx did configuration at their end and we have experts at ours, so it ran very smoothly. All we had to do was train our operators in the coding of all the client systems.”

Though the tie-up with Label Traxx was cost-effective – and, for clients of Creation Reprographics, free – the big cost was three years earlier when Esko’s WebCenter was installed for £80,000. This generated savings through streamlined communications, paperless operation and increased capacity, and Francklow is expecting similar results with the latest software system.

“Label Traxx provides a central system to manage the entire print workflow from beginning to end. By using the system, a label printer can place an order for flexographic plates online and the purchase order feeds directly through to Creation for processing 24/7. About 70% of work is being processed this way.”

The result

The new software system is “embedded very very deep and totally ingrained” in every part of Creation Reprographics’ system: costings, invoicing, accounts, key performance indicators for customers, job tracking and data for ISO accreditations. Francklow’s team can tell any customer exactly where their projects are in the system.

“For us, having this in place for our customers has been revolutionary in terms of business performance and driving customer satisfaction. It has resulted in less manual operations resulting in fewer human errors, less waste and leaner production. It has also enabled us to offer our customers cheaper prices because there is less administration.”

Clients can order plates at noon and have them delivered by courier two hours later. The process frees up people in the studio laboriously inputting data. Francklow reckons the new technology is making a 40% time saving on each job through the system because there are no more lengthy email trials or printing for job folders and ticketing. The savings, he says, add up to two people’s wages.

“But it won’t lead to job losses at all. We have reassigned staff to account and management roles from the really boring, repetitive tasks and are getting much more value from them. Meanwhile by reducing the printing of things like job folders we are saving time and making environmental savings, in line with the ISO 14001 environmental accreditation we are going for later this year.”

As well as the accreditation, Francklow is looking at new Esko technology – “they’re always bringing out something new” – and investigating in a new Asahi platemaker due out in the next few months. It is “aggressively” seeking to add £400,000 to take turnover to the £2m mark.

“So it’s ‘more of, please’ with technology. At Creation we challenge the status quo so we pioneered the technology for its stand-out performance. We have invested heavily in developing a streamlined reprographics, plate production process, and software systems. The number of repeat clients now utilising the technology proves that its calibre is appreciated.” 


TOP TIPS

“It’s more about the idea than the technology,” says Francklow. He recommends that firms focus on their end needs first and then look at the technology options rather than obsess over the technology first.

Talk to customers and find out what aspects of your processes are causing delays, annoyance or extra workloads.

Call in the experts; Creation Reprographics used a third-party technology expert to deal with the really nitty-gritty IT issues.

Asses the outcomes to ensure the investment has been worthwhile in terms of time, money and efficiency savings.


VITAL STATISTICS 

Creation Reprographics

Location Daventry, Northants

Inspection host Matt Francklow 

Size Turnover: £1.6m; Staff: 18 

Established 2004

Products Packaging artwork, reprographics and sleeve and plate production, such as photopolymer plates, for the UK and European flexographic printing industry 

Kit Esko and GMG suites of software and colour management tools, platemaking equipment including Esko CDI, Asahi and Dupont, and a Kongsberg cutting table 

Inspection focus Improving throughput through smarter business systems

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