Is there a Value in Production Workflows?

Written by Howard Fenton, Senior Technology Consultant at NAPL
If you have worked in the industry for a while and perhaps have some grey hair on your head, you may remember a time when your equipment and production workflow were powerful sales tools in your arsenal. Years ago, companies would rave about the quality they achieved from their Hell scanners, Scitex equipment, digital dot proofers or thermal platesetters. But those days are gone. Now, sales and printing experts joke about the days of using your equipment list to help sell your services. However, that does not mean that the value of a good production workflow is gone. As we all struggle to differentiate our products and services in this hyper competitive environment, there are still advantages for companies that make it easier for customers to deliver faster or manufacture for less.
In the simplest of terms, a good production workflow can create, enhance or add value in three basic ways. A good workflow reduces bottlenecks, minimizes pain points and helps companies add new products and services that better address their customer’s changing needs.

  • Bottlenecks are places where work gets stuck. As made famous in the book “The Goal,” bottlenecks determine productivity, cost and turnaround time. Companies that focus on bottlenecks are the fastest and lowest cost manufacturers.
  • Pain points are manual and time-consuming steps. Pain points can be redundant and error prone such as handwriting the same information on several different paper forms or re-inputting specifications for a job into the estimating system as well as a job ticketing system.
  • Last but not least, a good workflow can facilitate the creation of higher value products or services such as variable data printing, design services, large format output, as well as web-based services.

The advantages of a good production workflow are subtle but significant because it automates production, improves the customer experience and results in greater convenience and faster turnaround. The value of a good production workflow has not changed, but the way we sell it has changed. It is no longer possible to discuss the quality differences associated with equipment. Today, quality has become the “table stakes” required to get into the game.
But just because quality is no longer a differentiator does not mean that the workflow is no longer an advantage. Today the benefits of production workflow have to translate into tangible customer benefits such as turnaround time, convenience, cost and the ability to provide additional services such as cross media benefits.
How do you translate production workflow benefits into tangible customer benefits?
Howard Fenton is a Senior Technology Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research. He is a paid contributor to this blog.

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  1. Phil Larson June 1, 2011 -

    One of the greatest benefits is the ability to match production workflow with the clients workflow. By integrating a productive workflow for their ordering and receipt, we allow our clients freedom to be who they are. It works.
    One of our clients told me once, “working with you in like sliced bread.” What they were communicating was the ease of matching our workflow to theirs to support reduced people time on their end. It makes sense.

  2. Tom Croteau June 5, 2011 -

    (Xerox Employee)

    IMHO, workflow productivity is the key area in uncovering new opportunities to bring to the customer. As mentioned, quality differences are not as readily evident these days so how does one differentiate themselves from the pack? Through efficiencies gained through workflow improvement and automation. Henry Ford did not invent the automobile but instead invented the assembly line which led to mass production of autos.

    The ideas brought to a customer must be able to fit within the scope of the customer’s current workflow. Anyone could walk into a customer site and recommend everything be replaced from technology to staff. However, offering a process improvement measure that fits inside the customer’s workflow can offer huge productivity improvements whilst preserving the integrity of the customer’s workflow.

    I would recommend starting small. For example, a customer may be taking advantage of the fact most of our EPC offerings charge for 1 color click despite sheet size. I long recommended to customers to print everything 2-up on 11×17 if possible (and feasible… if the customer has a cutter) and to do so easily, I would help the customer create virtual printers/hot folders that imposes 8.5×11 2-up on 11×17. Very simple yet very effective. This approach negated the need to manually step the 8.5×11 image which takes time. Assuming it takes a skilled operator 3 minutes to perform the manual step… multiply by 50 jobs in a shift… or 100. The time and resource savings add up rather quickly.

    Once you’ve made a recommendation and implemented it, and it proves successful, your customer will view you as a trusted consultant and will often seek you out for more tips and recommendations.

    Once you’re “in”, the possibilities are endless.

  3. carro July 21, 2014 -

    The advice to “focus on botttlenecks” is a good recommendation for almost any improvement strategy.

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