What is Smart Print Manufacturing?
The printing industry transitioned over the past four decades from a craft to a manufacturing process, driven by an endless stream of enabling technologies. The communication landscape continues to shift and evolve leaving print to compete against the speed, cost, and targeting capabilities of digital channels. Competition also remains stiff within the industry which remains focused on reducing costs through automation. The next decade will be about redefining print manufacturing to make it smarter as we transition to the next industrial revolution.
Smart Print Manufacturing (SPM) starts with streamlining inputs (customers, job onboarding, and production resources) to optimize every stage of production, eliminating or minimizing manufacturing inefficiencies and errors while maximizing uptime and execution.
SPM combines manufacturing methods with industrial technologies to optimize all stages of print production. Many print service providers have already implemented lean and just-in-time manufacturing techniques to optimize their supply chain and minimize waste. Mass customization and autonomous production, however, are still bubbling up.
- Mass customization: creating customized, and in some cases personalized, products in small quantities while not increasing manufacturing costs.
- Autonomous production: the use of data and networked communication to connect machines to management and information systems and other machines to decide and execute the most efficient manufacturing process.
While these concepts may seem as farfetched as the sci-fi technologies used by Jetsons when that cartooned appeared in 1962, the first generation of mass customization and autonomous production are already here. Cimpress, parent company of well-known online print brands in North American and Europe, is a mass customization company. Their brands produced 30 million orders from 17 million customers that resulted in 46 million customized products. The company has subsequently launched a platform, called Cimpress Open, to let merchants and other printers tap into its mass customization capabilities. As for autonomous production, most major equipment manufacturers that supply the industry have initiatives. Heidelberg demonstrated its “push-to-stop” technology at last year’s drupa tradeshow which allows the press to initiate processes, e.g., blanket washups, without needing input from the operator.
SPM relies on a stack of technology that is changing and evolving. In the table below we list the technology, description, and industry examples available today.
|Technology||Definition||Sample of Industry Solutions|
|Analytics||Software to interpret and visualize data that can be customized to individual users.||Canon PRISMAlytics, EFI Fiery Navigator, Kodak Analytics, ONYX HUB, SpencerMetrics Connect|
|Big data||Massive sets of data, often from multiple sources, that requires advanced software to capture, store, and analyze.||Heidelberg (PTC Machine Cloud) and Pitney Bowes Clarity (GE Predix)|
|Business Intelligence||Software that combines production data with financial data; often an add-on module to a print MIS or ERP system.||Avanti Executive Dashboards, EFI BI, Tharstern BI|
|Cloud Computing||An evolution of IT to pool and share resources (network, servers, storage, applications, and services) often via the Internet.||Most cloud-based offerings in the print industry use a cloud computing service, such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.|
|Cyber-physical systems||Smart machines that translate data into actionable information to interface with other machines, systems, and people.||Autonomous robots for materials movements.|
|Industrial Internet of Things||A subset of the Internet of Things specific to manufacturing for increasing revenue through improved productivity, workforce transformation, and new business models. IIoT encompasses many other technologies in this list.||No specific examples although many industry solutions are necessary parts of IIoT.|
|Robotics||The use of robots to perform tasks, often repetitive, previously done by a person.||Several vendors use robotic arms for material movements, e.g., from palette to cutting table, from suppliers like KUKA Robotics.|
Print service providers of all shapes and sizes need to prepare, plan, and take steps to implement their own version of Smart Print Manufacturing. SPM is not just for the largest printers. While some technologies, due to cost or expertise, are out of reach for some printers, e.g., robotics, others are not, e.g., cloud computing. Those who wait will find it increasingly difficult to compete as the efficiencies of competitors trickle down to their cost structure and market pricing.