Future-Proof Your Printing Business with Automation

The present competitive landscape can be “tough sledding” for print service providers (PSPs). With the overall cost of doing business increasing, as production volumes decrease, how can print firm owners maintain profit margins? Rising costs and inflation, labor shortages, supply-chain disruptions, material shortages: Any of these difficult challenges can have a detrimental effect on a printer’s ability to thrive.

“It has been a grind,” admits Jean Paul Natal, CEO of Boss Litho. He points to consumable costs as a particular challenge. “The price of [printing] plates is up 40%, and ink and coatings are way up, too,” he notes. And don’t get Natal started about paper prices, which “have doubled” since the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s a joke! I recently paid $300 per thousand [sheets] for 12-point C2S [coated two sides paper],” he laments.

Natal puts his faith in technology, though, and Boss is proof that implementing industrial automation can help soften these economic blows. Paramount is the ability to print more jobs at a faster rate, and swifter production is precisely where prepress advancements and process automation come into play. Investing in automated tech can pay off for printing/mailing firm owners in at least four ways:

  • Reduced reliance on staff
  • Quicker time to market
  • Lower production costs
  • Competitive advantage

From prepress workflows and web-to-print storefronts to mailing auto-reconciliation, PSPs have several ways to improve operations in print and mail shops through automation. Some prepress automation trends to keep your eyes on: “AI [artificial intelligence], machine learning, and tools that streamline workflow, including proofing, error detection, etc. are three areas to watch,” says Skip Henk, president and CEO of Xplor International.*

Industry consultant/researcher Pat McGrew agrees that the goal is “to service more customers and fill machine capacity to appropriate levels. Most printers struggle to figure out the cost of non-automated processes,” she notes. The follow-up question is: What happens to those costs if some or all of those tasks are automated?

Beyond installing newer, faster print technology, print firm management “typically will employ a SFDC solution to capture data” as it relates to other areas of the shop, including prepress functions and web-to-print (W2P) storefronts, McGrew continues. (SFDC is Salesforce.com’s cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) software, which can manage customer data, sales processes, marketing campaigns and customer service activities.)

“There are tens of thousands of web-to-print implementations, home built and purchased,” she notes, “each with a different story to tell. The only ones who regret their direction are those who did not do their research and ended up with poor implementations or half implementations.”

When assessing return on investment (ROI), “the final question to ask,” McGrew adds, “is ‘What can automation do for up-selling opportunities?’”

Natal, the former print broker who started up Boss Litho near Los Angeles in 2009, asserts that his package printing company in California has made a conscious decision “not to participate in [economic] recessions.” The seasoned chief executive contends PSPs need to spend money to make money. To that end, Boss has invested more than $5 million to upgrade equipment over the past four months in its 47,000-square-foot plant. A big proponent of automation, the firm employees only 40 people, Natal reports, and expects annual sales this year to top $12 million.

Managing Data

Document Data Solutions (DDS) offers several products to enhance print/mail shop operations, including the auditing and reconciliation of mailing jobs.  Additionally, their proprietary iDataPrint inkjet solutions add variable text and image capability to web presses and other equipment.

iDataAudit eliminates manual quality control in applications that require the collating of various materials into a mailing package. Used for vision integrity and piece-level reporting, iDataAudit™ is a stand-alone auditing system that scans items and verifies against a database or file to ensure the entire job is completed. It easily integrates into existing processing equipment, adding closed-loop integrity. The system identifies missing or duplicate items, allowing the operator to correct them before they leave your facility.

iDataManager™ Central Server is a site-wide solution that brings production information right to your desktop or tablet device. iDataManager™ Central Server architecture facilitates the coordination of all DDS systems through your company’s MS-SQL server. This allows jobs to be split across multiple DDS equipped processing lines while still verifying every piece of the job. Having a central point of data collection gives you the ability to see what jobs, or job segments, are running, as well as which operators are logged into every system equipped with a DDS solution. You can also view and print customizable reports accumulating missing, duplicate, pulled and reprinted documents as well as job status, including processing times across your entire operation.


* Xplor is a non-profit association dedicated to the education, evolution, and success of the Customer Communications Management (CCM) industry. Its members design, produce, implement, deliver, and manage high-volume, highly regulated, and highly personalized communications across all channels and in all formats.