Creative Labels of Vermont (CLOV) is a second-generation family owned label printing company located in Winooski, VT, USA. They were founded in 1983 with three employees, a Vandenburg label press and a handmade screwdriver rewinder. They’ve come a long way. Today, more than 30 employees operate four flexographic presses ranging from five to eight colors, and two HP Indigo WS6800 digital presses. CLOV’s prepress department is equipped with state-of-the-art technology from art editing workstations to platemaking. They serve customers predominantly in the food and beverage, wine, beer and spirits industries, printing labels up to 13” wide and 21” long.
CLOV had been operating a traditional workflow with Adobe Illustrator plug-ins. They did pretty much everything manually, from preflighting to trapping to step and repeat. They emailed standard PDF proofs for customer approval. “It was all sneaker net,” remembers Dwane Wall, CLOV’s president. “At the time we also used an imagesetter, but upgraded to a Xeikon ThermoFlexx imager and a Flint Express platemaker.”
Nothing was connected to CLOV’s Label Traxx MIS system; no images were delivered, either way, between their prepress system. If the proof file was too large for customers, CLOV had to manually make a low-resolution version. “There were a few times when we printed that file, by accident,” laments Wall.
“There’s a gift and curse to being established. We did things the same way because they worked, but we didn‘t ask why. However, I gave Hybrid Software a macro vision I had as a doodle of a workflow. I wanted to automate, asking the software do the tasks that computers do, eliminating as many human touches as possible to allow our talented people to do what they do best. I still believe that daily human interaction is extremely important. You need to make time to provide customers human contact every day. The more automated you are, the more time you can offer your customers,” recounts Wall.
“I was also hoping to build an amazing digital asset manager (DAM) that could talk to our MIS. I wanted to find images easily with automated naming conventions. Hybrid Software said it was something they could do,” remarks Wall. What was developed was a work-through plan, systematically and incrementally implementing workflow pieces, starting with Hybrid Packz, and followed by Proofscope and Cloudflow. Our prepress expert looked at the system and said, ‘This is cool. This is the path.’ I liked that our software was not dependent on Adobe Illustrator—or any other application. I liked the whole native PDF capability, utilizing PDF-specific details like stroke files.”
The implementation went well, with close cooperation from our primary software vendors, Hybrid Software and Label Traxx. “It was a good time to re-evaluate how we built our labels. We did some fine-tuning and built our file structure and database. We integrated Label Traxx with Hybrid Packz, using an API. We basically gave them the keys to our castle. They both went into our servers to determine what info was needed and where it came from. Once the database was set up, it was easy to link the data fields together. It allowed CLOV to handle a significant increase in customers and SKUs through the plant in a very rapid, automated way. It hinged on getting data from the customer as quickly and easily as possible.
With the Siteline portal linked to CLOV’s Label Traxx MIS, every customer can view their order history and reorder labels through a mobile phone or web browser. That could not happen without the workflow’s infrastructure. “Creating the label is faster than entering the paperwork for our plant. Right now, we enter a part number in Label Traxx. The second it is created, a job folder is built in Hybrid Cloudflow and an automatic search looks for the artwork,” explains Wall. “We can easily find files by their names and the system knows where to put images automatically.”
If everything is in place and no human intervention is required, the label art is created and run through prepress. It’s done almost concurrently with order processing. If something does not fit CLOV’s automated parameters, then they intervene.
“It’s possible that the customer can receive our automated proof review email message with a link to the artwork while the CSR is still entering data. Our challenge now is finding the paper tickets, which still require signed OKs. In the future we intend to make them available on an iPad,” says Wall.
“One of our customers has more than 2,000 SKUs utilizing three finishes, three coatings and three different materials. Every label has at least nine combinations and 50 sizes. Every Tuesday they submit a purchase order for 7-60 SKUs of labels, due in a week. They all use new art— everything is new and fresh and needs to be proofed,” comments Wall. “There is no way we could process all of the tickets and proofs for sixty SKUs every week so quickly—certainly not with sneaker net. We did not have to add a person when we added 2,000-3,000 SKUs.
“The system is easy to use and the support is excellent. We could not take on our volume of the work without automation. We have doubled the number of SKUs we work with and produce them much faster with the same number of people. If we were working the old way, we would have needed six people, rather than two. I made the investment so the technology would handle that work,” concludes Wall. “You have to be willing to re-evaluate your workflow. None of us utilize MIS nor production workflow software as intended. But we were willing to reinvent our workflow to fit our vision. If you surround yourself with smart people—including vendors—good things happen.”