Controlling the controllables to challenge the challenges

Tim Carter, director, Ricoh UK
Tuesday, September 20, 2022

There’s not much you can do about spiralling energy or paper costs, but where you do have control is in internal processes and physical and digital workflows. Ricoh’s Tim Carter suggests a fresh focus here can accrue benefits today and tomorrow.

Carter: continuous improvement should be the aim
Carter: continuous improvement should be the aim

Everyone knew what the industry’s biggest concern was going to be in most recent BPIF Outlook survey before they looked at it, but it was there all the same: energy costs came top, followed by substrate costs.

There is little to nothing that printers themselves can realistically expect to do to alleviate either paper prices or spiralling gas/electricity bills in the immediate term, so cost savings must be identified elsewhere.

This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for printers:

  • Are there ways of doing more work with the same or less resources?
  • Is there potential in evaluating what you do now and identifying smart alternatives – shortcuts to greater efficiency?

From our experience as a supplier and partner to many businesses in this industry, over many years, the answer is yes. After all, there will be very few print firms in the UK that can truly say that no element of the way they work can be improved.

I’m not necessarily advocating buying a new press, although sometimes that is the answer. I am saying that through looking at areas such as workflow (both physical and digital), organisation, process efficiency and sales approaches, printers can find solutions to challenges such as productivity, profitability and skills shortages.

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Proven strategies
Investment is part of this, since there are many underused software tools that can help printers to automate manual processes, handle labour-intensive or data-heavy tasks, and analyse production and operational metrics to illuminate areas where significant improvements can be made.

Alongside investment on this scale comes consultancy and a willingness to embrace external voices as you review what you do, how you do it, and to what degree your business is enabled, or not, by these issues to ascend to its peak performance. Very often we find that there are cost constraints and process constraints that are holding print businesses back. And there are myriad solutions around training, factory optimisation or process automation that don’t involve a big capital investment.

The important aspect is that matters of workflow, factory organisation, and the integration of technology with people, are looked at in the round – an end-to-end appraisal that identifies gaps and opportunities, pain points and as-yet unclaimed efficiency benefits.

Evolving processes
A great example of a print company that has undertaken a process similar to this is < print > evolved, the web-to-print-based print supplier in London. Its managing director, Spencer Slee, came to Ricoh some time ago with a specific request. Relatively new to the business, he wanted take stock of the business’s real capabilities – not just the machines, but the workforce and the processes that were being used to manage work to the presses. After a thorough review, the weak point became clear – the company had capacity, but there were challenges in managing work through the factory in a seamless, organised and scalable way, such that would make it more profitable and sustainable.

<print> evolved details its positive change

Working with Ricoh, <print> evolved went through an end-to-end improvement programme that impacted on both physical and electronic workflows, identifying and eliminating bottlenecks. Employees were engaged in the process throughout. Production efficiency was improved by 33%.

Filling schedules
Of course, more efficient processes are little use to a printer that has no work coming in, and the ability to gain clients and build them into valuable relationships is another area that printers should be looking at closely. Making online ordering easier with a web-to-print store front is one consideration. Be creative, be thorough. Consider, for example, forming collaborations with other organisations, where working together might open new doors to business for both parties, or where the joint offering makes for a profoundly stronger offering.

Make sure your sales team truly understand the key benefits for your customers of the technology you have and can talk about it on those terms. Make sure they have great sample kits that highlight the really great work you can create. None of these initiatives cost much money.

There are many great messages here for print business owners, and one further should be added. Such a process, such a mentality, must not be allowed to stand still. Continuous improvement should be the aim. The journey does not end with first fruits – it must be ongoing and ever-more ambitious.

Do you want to learn How To Do More with Less resource? On the 12th of October we will be joining forces with the IPIA for a VIP seminar where we share proven strategies of creating business efficiencies. Come along and join us!

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