By Kevin Horey, VP workflow & Solutions, Xerox
It’s either a pipedream or the Holy Grail of printing.
Impossible or just elusive, zero downtime is the dream for printers. It’s the dream because the opposite is a nightmare of idle machines that no printer wants to see haunting their plant floor.
The more jobs a machine processes, the quicker it pays for itself. The trouble is, cost pressures are squeezing cents and dollars from margins, so the print technology you invested in needs to work harder to pull its weight. Which means the price of an hour’s downtime is higher than ever.
So how do you push productivity to eleven? Here are some tips for the road to zero downtime.
The right tech for the right job
Before we start the journey to our zero downtime dream, we need to kick the tires on the hardware that’s going to get us there. Maximizing uptime is all about automating the friction out of workflows. But boosting productivity isn’t necessarily a good thing. Bill Gates famously mapped out the two roads that automation can take your business down: the road from good to better, and the road from bad to worse.
He said: “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
What does this mean for you? Make the most of the equipment you have, and play to its strengths. Scale up your most efficient, lucrative activities and try to wean yourself off the rest. If you spot gaps in your infrastructure that are holding you back, invest in the technology that will open up that opportunity – if the returns will justify the investment. Innovation is no good if the result is clunky processes and half-speed workflows.
Work the flow
When printing doesn’t flow, it fails. And as you push towards capacity, the process pitfalls that lie just beneath the surface get bigger and bigger. To stop the cracks from appearing in your workflows, you need to do two things well: automate and simplify.
What does this mean for you? Make it easy on your customers and yourself. Use web-to-print portals so customers can easily order prints to their preferred specifications again and again. Simplify pre-press processes wherever touches can be removed and automate decision-making using smart workflows and conditional logic. Look at the end-to-end process instead of a series of segments: super-slick silos are still silos, and stitching together processes leaves gaps at the seams.
(For more on this, you might like our recent eBook: The Craft of Automation and The Automation of Craft.)
Since reliability is paramount, work redundancy into your flow so important jobs can be moved to a backup printer if needed. This may seem like a downtime catch-22, where working to capacity requires spare capacity, but no one said dreams were easy to nail down!
Read our post on Five Workflow Jams so you can stay out of them.
Keep your eyes peeled
You can’t fill the gaps in your workflows if you don’t know they exist. Visibility is everything, so make sure everyone who needs it has access to reporting dashboards and other relevant metrics. Set up automatic alerts that immediately notify the right people when something goes wrong, not further down the line when it causes a bottleneck.
What does this mean for you? Keep your team in the loop so they can monitor job status reports and identify any issues quickly. Customers need clear visibility of their order too, so keep them up to date with email notifications as part of your web-to-print service. They’ll be happier, and your staff won’t be bogged down on the phones answering customer queries.
It’s not just about filling your order book
Before you try to supercharge your operation, take time to see where the efficiencies and inefficiencies lie. Find your sweet spot, whether that’s a job type, like custom variable or wide format, or a customer type, like small companies in specific verticals that you can really partner with to cover all their print needs.
If you’re on the journey from print service provider to marketing service provider then look for opportunities to process more value-add jobs and cross-media services. This will help to solidify your status as a strategic partner for the long term.
Holy Grail or pipe dream, zero downtime represents a very real ambition to get the most out of your production printing equipment.
Could you take a slice off your downtime by tightening up your workflow automation? Learn more here.