Product Reviews

Print Management Systems

July 20, 2005

Communication between converters and customers is a powerful technological achievement in software for converters.

The user of a computerized print management system will reap many benefits, but the greatest of them is perhaps the savings of time. That, of course, translates to savings of labor and more opportunities to pursue sales leads.

Many narrow web converters today make use of print management systems available from several well known suppliers. Others, who have IT resources at hand, craft their own systems, which are tailored to their specific needs and products. There are those, however, who do not make use of fully integrated, single software systems, but instead have different programs in use in various parts of the company, all attempting in one way or another to communicate.

“It’s shocking,” says Gerry Clement, president of Computer Productivity Services, based in Oakville, ON, Canada. “I come from a wholesale distribution background, and in that field they have it figured out, so that a transaction takes a minute. When I came into this industry in 1993 I discovered that people spend a lot of time on transactions, on administration, and in some cases the front office was an afterthought.

“We focus on how long it takes to process a transaction,” he notes. “The label company might have its estimating function in Excel or in a stand-alone system. They have different functions in separate systems, and maintain multiple versions of different databases. We looked at how long it took them to go from a quote to an order to an invoice, and some companies spend 30 to 45 minutes per transaction. Our goal is to get it down to five minutes with no errors and no duplication of data. In the past two to three years we are seeing more interest in full integration.”

Print management systems available in today’s marketplace offer modules that address specific functions. These generally include the tools used by sales and customer service, by management and finance, by prepress, production and shipping. They can incorporate physical and financial aspects of every job, such as specifications for label stock and tooling.

Computer Productivity Services’ (CPS) management system, designed for label printers, is built upon Microsoft Great Plains Business Solutions, which is in use worldwide in well over 100,000 businesses. The CPS systems, of which there are several, offer many modules. The basic features include quote entry, automatic pricing, manual pricing, price and commission levels, die maintenance, automatic sales tracking, order entry, time and material management, shop floor control, standard press and finishing setups, reporting tools, and a roll dimension calculator.

“We’re seeing about 30 to 35 percent annual growth,” says Clement, “though we’re seeing a lot of price pressure.”

Customers, he observes, are becoming more seriously interested in the integration of discrete systems. “They’re looking at automating inventory, moving away from physical counts. They’re trying to become more efficient, to respond to competition. Some people think that they want to automate just the estimating function, or the scheduling, and not their entire process. Most of the time they’re not thinking the whole thing through.”

The E-factor
Tailored Solutions, headquartered in Milwaukee, WI, USA, produces Label Traxx, another print management system specific to the narrow web converter. (The company also markets Litho Traxx for offset printers.) According to President Ken Meinhardt, Label Traxx is in use by companies with as few as three employees and as many as 200 in multiple locations.

“The full system has nine modules,” Meinhardt says. These are estimating, order processing, invoicing/AR, accounts payable, general ledger, job costing, stock products, quality control, and E-Traxx.
“People buy partial modules,” he says. “It ships with all of them, but we restrict access if they don’t purchase them.” Label Traxx also links to Avery Dennison’s Fasson Roll for acquisition of label stocks. Raflatac will become part of the system this year. It allows for automatic stock purchases with all specifications shored in the system. It also pulls out the label stock supplier’s ID information and exact linear footage for tracking purposes.

Label Traxx from Tailored Solutions (several module views above) offers E-Traxx, which allows greater electronic participation from customers.

The E-Traxx module, introduced a few years ago, allows the converter to create access to any part of Label Traxx by the customer. “The customer can perform such tasks as request a quote, review a quote, check inventory levels of their finished goods, review a list of their available custom products, or check on the status of an order,” Meinhardt says. “It’s also customizable. A converter can have sales people all over the country, and customers all over the country, checking on the status of an order. Sales people get very used to using it and updating all of their information. It’s also being used to market the label company’s capabilities.”

That aspect of print management systems — direct customer input — marks a major development that can only become more useful as it evolves, he emphasizes. “It’s the fastest moving part of the business. People need to get online, to check job status, inventory levels. They have to have online status.

“One end user needed shipment verification for every order, to prove the invoices,” recalls Meinhardt. “They used to call up and get tracking orders, but now they do it all online. E-Traxx verifies shipments, tracking numbers, approves orders. The label printer gets paid at least 25 days earlier.”

The connection of the Internet with a company’s operations and management has been incorporated into all major print management systems. CRC Information Systems, which is based in Scottsdale, AZ, USA, offers 100 modules to the entire graphic arts industry, and has specialized estimating modules for each segment of the market, says Jim Drisler, executive vice president of sales and marketing.

“Online applications have been significant in the past two years,” Drisler says. “Customers can check and place orders against the finished goods inventory; they can put in requests for new jobs; they can print invoices, and check accounts. All they need is access to the Internet. These are the customers of our customers.”

CRC’s product, called THE System, also has several web based notification programs, “so the customer can be notified automatically of order acknowledgements, shipment data, job change verifications. These are all automatic.” The notification system also can alert the converter to important account information, such as when a customer exceeds its credit limit, or goes beyond terms.

“The point of the notifications is that if you consider something to be important, you will be notified of it now. Otherwise, you risk finding out about it two weeks later when everyone has group amnesia.

“The whole intent is for our customers to tie their customers closer to them,” he adds. “Margins are always thin, so this capability gives them more to offer through services. Utilizing the ease of the Internet allows both parties to handle all print requirements.”

Investment return
According to Drisler, the excitement these days is not so much in changing a converting company from one print system to another, but rather “finding those companies that are running their business on automated accounting packages and the rest with Excel, essentially. Those are our best prospects. They’re usually impressed, and the return on investment is very impressive.”

By examining the model of the print management system, “they can easily see an improved loop of information, and a reduction of entry redundancy. They can have better information from which to make decisions. They see the information starting in an estimate and ending in the general ledger with no redundancy. In their old system they have a team of people doing all of that.”

A production scheduling screen in CRC Information Systems’ print management software

Label converters are under lots of pressure, says Clement of CPS. “They’re carrying finished goods inventory, lots of Just In Time stuff,” he says. “Where we’ve been successful is in the companies that acquire the whole system, and that’s 80 to 90 percent of our install base. These have full financial capability, full inventory. Microsoft Outlook, Word and Excel are tied in. This takes some of that pressure off of the converter.”

Label converters also are “pretty conservative”, Clement observes. “Print management systems are traditionally not seen as a top priority. But look at how many people you have, how many hours you devote to each task, and divide by the number of orders. That number can be shocking, depending on how much you spend processing one order. When you figure out what it costs you per order using a print management system, even with a big system like ours the cost turns out to be a dollar or two an order. If they don’t have a good system, they have to chase people down and get the information they need. And customers don’t want to go through that.”

One critical benefit of utilizing a print management system is liberating the sales force. “Some sales people do their own estimating, but that has its risks and its challenges,” says Ken Meinhardt of Tailored Solutions. “They should be getting the customer’s specs, and have the estimating person get the details and calculate the cost and markup to get the final sell price. There are so many variables that can make or break a job, so much to learn that if you had to learn it all you’d be 400 years old. But if you are one person focused on estimating, you will save the company time and money, and the sales person will be doing what he or she does best — selling.”

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