Me & my: OneFlow Systems’ OneFlow

By Simon Eccles, Monday 21 March 2016

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Guernsey-based IPS Ultraprint offers a mix of international print-on-demand services together with commercial print for mainly UK customers, plus a range of items for local island customers such as t-shirts.

ipsoneflow

Plampton (left, with Fothergill): “The speed we can ‘onboard’ a client is fantastic”

IPS was originally set up in 1989 as Island Scan, a scanning house, subsequently moving into pre-press. It adopted digital printing about 10 years ago, with wide-format inkjets and a web-fed Xeikon press. “The company was bought out in 2011 with the interest of starting and growing the POD business,” says joint managing director Rob Plampton. “A year ago Andy Fothergill bought into the business and we are now 50-50 shareholders and joint MDs.” A pair of sheetfed HP Indigo 5500 digital presses then completed the current press line-up. 

“The company name is IPS Ultraprint Limited,” Plampton explains. “We have two brands. For our local commercial print business we call ourselves Printed. For all our print-on-demand business we are known as IPS.”

There are three arms to the business: commercial print (mainly for financial institutions and SMEs who have bases on and off the island); large format and promotional (mainly local work, though some promotional items are sent further afield, such as mugs and t-shirts); and print-on-demand (sent worldwide, although the majority of clients are UK based). 

“POD is worldwide,” says Plampton. “All products are sent via Guernsey Post and injected into the Royal Mail system at a very high level which gives a next-day delivery rate of well over 90%. This is one reason why two of the personalised greeting card market leaders are also based on the island of Guernsey.” Those are Moonpig and Funky Pigeon. Guernsey has a unique status as a Special Territory meaning that goods imported into Europe (with the exception of the UK) are free of all duty and tax when their value is under €22 (£17).

“Two of our original client companies are Touchnote and Scribbler who are both growing with us nicely,” says Plampton. “We are now producing on a daily basis for 12 companies who are all producing cards and postcards through IPS. Another six customers are about to start production with us in the coming weeks. 

“The main products we print and fulfil are greetings cards and postcards, although there are many variations. We can print and produce most items but we choose to specialise in lighter one-off items for the post. The figure of 10,000 per day is often exceeded during peak periods – so we have little time to explore selling direct!”

This sort of volume takes a lot of automation and organisation throughout the company. To handle this, IPS installed OneFlow, an end-to-end production management system designed to completely automate and streamline the tasks associated with web-based ordering of very large numbers of single copies, short runs or mixed orders (such as photobooks and calendars). 

Precise origins

OneFlow was originally developed for Precision Printing’s own high-volume print-on-demand requirements, which can be up to 50,000 items per day. However, OneFlow Systems is now an entirely separate business and has rewritten the system completely as a cloud-based service that is offered to other PSPs. Currently there are about 20 users worldwide, including Prime Group and ProCo. The technology has been adopted by HP in its new PrintOS.

“When we set out to do this project we had a custom-built platform, but we quickly found it difficult to expand,” says Plampton. “There were also issues at peak production times as it meant physically adding capability. This was not cloud-based and therefore expansion was very costly to cope with the four-yearly spikes in traffic. 

“I got wind of OneFlow through the market and also from our HP rep. It was in beta at that time but we seriously investigated our options throughout 2014 as this was a very big move for us. We made the decision to join the programme in October 2014. Our clients moved across smoothly, albeit Scribbler had to move across on 16th December 2014, which was mid-peak in traffic but thankfully ran without a hitch.”

In general Plampton is pleased with how the implementation process went: “There were some adaptations required as we ran certain fulfillment equipment to cope with high volumes. 

“We worked very closely and continue to do so with the team at OneFlow to improve and enhance the system. We had the joy of running two platforms in parallel for a period, which was difficult but the operators soon got familiar with the OneFlow platform.”

OneFlow handles orders for B2C, brand managing, retailing, production workflow, despatch and shipping. It runs in the cloud, so can be accessed by any computer via a web browser, plus a series of shopfloor barcode readers and terminals. There’s no need for heavy-duty local infrastructure.

OneFlow Systems chief executive Chris Knighton explains why the system was developed: “As orders increase and times reduce, PSPs have to take action otherwise it’s not sustainable.

“Our technology takes orders, validates them, pre-flights, generates barcodes, batches jobs together, queues them, releases them to production, schedules, creates job tickets and sends them to press. 

“After production the system manages the batches. Single orders go straight to despatch, but if there are multiple components, say a photo album and a calendar, they are brought together. We use barcodes and operators have readers that show the instructions. 

“When the job is ready the system prints a label, then contacts a courier company, receives the order number and prints a courier label and customs label if required.” 

Plampton picks up the story from his end: “We set up the account, SKUs and apply or set up the imposition templates for their products. Our clients basically provide two files to our specifications – simply put, a PDF and a text file with order data. We then have settings on the system that tie in with the particular service level agreements (SLAs).

“Products are then ripped to the press for production and follow a routing through the facility – all tracked by OneFlow with screens at each station. Finally, the product will end up at distribution for collection by Guernsey Post with an important ping-back to notify the client that the product is now in the postal system. We also provide a portal to customers so they can track and see where their products are in the manufacturing process.”

Pivotal move

Has it fulfilled its task, does it do everything it said on the box? “Indeed it has,” Plampton confirms. “As I mentioned earlier it was a very big move for us and a pivotal point in our business. We have been through some very heavy periods of traffic and the system has continued to provide a stable flow.

“Yes, there have been some tweaks needed and continue to be a few, but my confidence is very high in accepting lots more business without the worry of the system being capable of handling it.

“Certain areas have given us slight headaches – imposition for one – but this was mainly due to the steep learning curve associated with any beta. We continue to work with OneFlow to perfect it.

“When issues do occur we expect them to be dealt with rapidly. All of our clients have very tight SLAs – several are same-day – so all goods are printed and distributed within the agreed timeframe.

Two aspects of the system stand out for Plampton: “The elasticity of the platform, one week we could be producing a few thousand items, the next week tens of thousands. And the speed we can ‘onboard’ a client is fantastic. As we get better and quicker at onboarding new business to the system we are aware of the pitfalls, we know exactly what to ask for, and we can spend our time ensuring that the client is happy and that everything is as right as can be. The key thing is that once a client is signed up and their products are running through it is all automated. This is the same whether they are sending 10 items a day or 50,000.”

And there are other unlooked-for benefits: “OneFlow has also introduced us to the world of collaboration as we can send or receive files in the same way to and from each other. 

“A ‘summit’ of OneFlow users last year was also a very interesting, fun and useful way for us to discuss our ‘journey’ with like-minded PSPs. It is great to be part of a community of printers who are all, in their own way, pushing the envelopes.” 


COMPANY PROFILE 

IPS has been around since 1989 and was originally set up as purely a scanning house and progressed into pre-press and digital printing both in large format and web fed Xeikon presses. The company employs 18 staff in a 1,200m2 factory.

Why it was bought...

IPS installed OneFlow and added two HP Indigos to the plant with the aim of growing into the new print-on-demand possibilities offered. Today IPS is 100% digital, although it has UK associates that can provide litho printing when needed. The work split is one-third POD and two-thirds local. “Had we not implemented OneFlow, we would still be printing but for fewer customers,” believes joint managing director Rob Plampton. “We are in number one position to embrace the boom in the print-on-demand one-off market.”

How it has performed...

“It has boosted turnover and will hopefully continue to do so,” Plampton confirms. “We are specialists in the greetings and postcards market but have many clients who have different niches within this market. It is good that we know our costs for the year ahead.”

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