Production Workflows that Bridge the Digital and Physical Worlds
The printing industry and the demand for print have been profoundly impacted by the Internet and the online migration of consumers through social media and smart mobile devices. But now that we are hyper-connected, what does it mean for print providers?
Industrial Revolutions in a Nutshell
Before we explore what’s to come, we need to go back in time to see how the industry already changed.
The late 1700s, in what was to be called the first industrial revolution, was when steam-powered machinery was invented. This is the beginning stages of how we began to mechanize manufacturing processes, in this case using water and steam.
As we move forward nearly 100 years to the late 1800s, we start to see the development of the next stage of industry. Powered by electricity and the division of labor, Industry 2.0 opened up the doors to mass production. A perfect example was Ford when they started mass producing the Model T. There was only one model and one color, but they had figured out how to mass produce these cars using electricity and a growing labor force.
Jump ahead again to the late 1960s and you start to see automation enter the manufacturing space. Industry 3.0 was powered by the invention of microprocessors. Each device in a manufacturing line had intelligence thanks to the microprocessor, but they didn’t communicate with each other down the line. At least not yet.
The fourth industrial revolution combines Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) into a hyper-connected digital industry. Bridging the digital and physical worlds through data collection, cloud computing, big data analytics, augmented and virtual reality, real time devices and artificial intelligence is being called the “Industrial Internet of Things” or “Industry 4.0”.
Now, we are able to produce mass quantities of goods, but thanks to the hyper-connectivity of the industry, we are able to customize these mass-produced products to our customer’s needs.
According to the BI Intelligence back in 2016, by 2020 more than 1 billion connected objects will equip our factories. A factory could be a print factory or it could be an automotive factory. But that's 1 billion devices now capturing data. This represents an annual growth of more than 55 percent. These connected devices, according to the same study, are going to help us improve productivity by 40 percent by 2035.
But how does this apply to print? What are the benefits to you as a print provider?
Building Your Strategy
There are four areas which will benefit you if you can make them part of your smart print factory strategy as you build your workflow design for the future.
It starts with operational efficiency. The key here is to optimize your assets and try to recover any lost revenue. If you have a machine that's not producing output, it still costs you money and you're losing revenue. You need to recover that lost revenue in regards to operational efficiency.
By doing that, you then need to look at increased productivity and that leads us to resource optimization. Now that you’ve looked at the operational efficiency of your production environment, you can make decisions on how you optimize your resources. You will start understanding when you will have failures — because you will have failures. Unexpected failures cost money, but if you can optimize your systems to recognize when something is going to go down, you can better optimize and organize your labor. The key to increased productivity is optimizing your workforce and the devices on your pressroom floor.
This leads us to the next piece, increased service levels — both internally and externally. How do you decrease the loss of service and reduce the required compliance activity? This touches on cybersecurity, which is something you need to consider when building intelligent workflows, because if you open it up you have to understand the liabilities and the risks.
In many cases cybersecurity is really about compliance. Some print providers go through audits. You need to make sure you can validate and mail everything, and verify that what you said was mailed has in actuality been mailed. There are all kinds of organizations — i.e. HIPPA — that, from a compliance standpoint, are now demanding specific information. Being able to create a structured approach to workflow will help in regards to increased service level requirements for the compliance issues print providers are now facing on a daily basis.
The final piece is about predictive maintenance. This is really about partnering with an organization that can put a device on your floor — and it doesn't have to be a printer. It can be any device, including finishing equipment. You need to be able to monitor all of these intelligent devices in real-time. At Canon Solutions America, they see this as an opportunity to be proactive. What if you could schedule your preventive maintenance? If you know at a certain point the device will fail, wouldn’t it be better to fix it before it breaks during your off-time or when you’re not running at peak volumes? If you as a print provider can ensure to the best of your ability that your device will be running when you do hit your peak times, it will increase your productivity.
Smart Print Factory
This is where a smart print factory comes into play.
Not only do you have the typical physical output center, but you also have production and a dashboard. Think of the dashboard of the brain of the operation. It’s controlling and reporting to you, giving you an overarching view of your operation. It's monitoring productivity. It's monitoring consumable usage. It could be tying data back into your accounting system. It's there to help you reduce costs based on the data it's capturing.
A lot of the opportunity of a smart print factory is in the production area, where devices are receiving multiple inputs. The data that’s coming in is then added to a database. It’s the metadata in those job tickets — the input the devices receive —that helps us make decisions on what to do with those output files. That data coming into the database comes in and then heads off to a business process engine.
So now you can start making decisions on:
- “What type of media does that job need?”
- “What kind of SLA does that job have?”
- “When does it need to be delivered?”
None of this has to be a manual process anymore — as long as the devices are intelligent and connected to the business process engine. This two-way discussion with the database helps the system itself — the smart print factory — make decisions about how to process and output the job. This means less human touchpoints and less of a need for manual processes.
A smart print factory is different for everybody. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. You really have to go deeper into your operation and see where you can make the changes to support intelligent automation.
A quote from Mahatma Gandhi is very apropos: “The future depends on what you do today.” As you think through where you want to be, you have to start acting today to build the plan to get there. Partner with people and companies who can bring expertise to help you get there — you don’t have to go it alone. That's how you will get to where you want to be and leverage the opportunities created by Industry 4.0.