as key to success
Is the implementation of a middleware solution the key to success?
The economic uncertainties of recent years, triggered among other things by the COVID19 pandemic, but also changes in the energy market as well as demographic change, have had a drastic impact on the print and media industry. The resulting pressure on prices and the increasing shortage of skilled workers, is requiring companies to rethink their approach. Many companies have recognized this and, according to various surveys, are planning to invest more in software solutions this year: Digitization and automation provide printing companies with new opportunities. E-commerce, personalization and customization promise growth.
Integration and connectivity are important for the implementation of digital processes. However, this runs the risk of thinking only in terms of sub-segments. As a result, bottlenecks are only shifted, but not sustainably eliminated. For example, investing in a web shop can increase the number of incoming orders. The question is, however, whether the other parts of production, such as prepress, production and logistics, can also handle the additional new orders?
This example shows that automating sub-processes can remove bottlenecks in short term, but not comprehensively for the entire process. Automation with a machine manufacturer and its software delivers almost the same results. However, these are often tied to the manufacturer's machines and are not open to other components.
If a digitization and automation project is designed holistically, the focus is on so-called middleware software. These software solutions enable vendor-independent integration into existing system landscapes, thus enabling comprehensive connectivity. Middleware creates an end-to-end ecosystem: integrating systems from file input to shipping; and it does so independently of machines and software systems already in use. The middleware flexibly integrates with all existing systems and links the individual components with each other.
This allows each component to focus on the task in the production process for which it was created. The RIP is not loaded by oversized files, and the utilization of the printing and finishing machines is optimized. The middleware prepares the files accordingly, making production smoother and more efficient while increasing margins. New markets or distribution channels, such as the web shop mentioned above, can also easily be handled, as the middleware controls and prioritizes them accordingly.
The middleware first connects to the file input. This can be web shops, ERPs, MISs but also hotfolders, e-mail inboxes or any other system that outputs structured data. The middleware retrieves order information and production files from these systems. Each file is checked individually, corrected if necessary and optimized for production. The prepress process is thus fully automated. The middleware then transfers the prepared print file to the appropriate press, optimized cutting files to the cutting systems. Order sheets or shipping labels can be generated for logistics and shipping.
Further details on the topic of connectivity/end-to-end print integration can you read here
Middleware in wide format printing
Wide format printers in particular benefit from such systems. The applications, as well as the individual jobs, are extremely varied and individual: advertising technology, signage, exhibition booth building, POS advertising, banners, displays, out-of-home advertising, facade advertising, vehicle wrapping, but also interior design such as wallpaper or small-format items such as stickers and labels are part of the product portfolio of large-format printers. It is often mistakenly assumed that individual jobs cannot be automated. However, it is possible! When selecting middleware, it is important to ensure that the software is as flexible and dynamic as possible – This is when the strengths of middleware solutions truly pay off.
Individual automation with job tickets
Digital job tickets are the key to dynamic and highly flexible processing. They contain all the relevant job details, allowing print files to be routed accordingly in the middleware workflow. For example, a flag is routed to automatic hemstitching, whereas a mega poster is automatically tiled into individual panels, or small-format stickers are nested to save substrate.
Middleware for print production – the key to success, three examples:
Practical examples from various areas of wide format printing show that the use of reliable middleware is the key to the future sustainability of printing companies:
- Aura Brand Solutions is a leading visual communications company based in the UK that specializes in wide format printing, wrapping for trains and vehicle fleets. In this area, the company works with huge file sizes. By using middleware, the print files could be prepared up to 80 percent faster.
- The situation is similar at Kleinhempel, a wide format printer whose core business is signage, building banners and large-format prints. Before the implementation of the middleware, 90 percent of the staff´s time was spent on repetitive, routine tasks, especially in prepress. With the software, much more could be automated: Checking, optimizing and preparing oversized files, transferring them to the production machines and creating shipping labels are now fully automated and run smoothly.
- An impressive growth has been achieved by the digital printing company Siepro. In 2017, the company was using two large-format roll-to-roll presses for label production. Since then, the machine park has grown to 18 printing systems and 11 cutting systems. Middleware has made a significant contribution to this growth. Siepro uses it to automate the entire production process, starting from file input, to file preparation, nesting, printing and finishing of the labels.
These three examples show the possible variety and individuality of automation in wide format printing. By using middleware, all three printing companies have been able to automate their production according to their needs, increase their efficiency, and prepare themselves for the future.
Successful customer cases
Aura Brand Solutions
Automation of workflows for car wrapping, signage, etc. for one of Europe's leading communications companies