Trade magazine "Print & Produktion" about posterXXL's production workflow in time
In its current issue, the German trade magazine "Print & Produktion" reports on how the Munich-based specialist for photo services masters the daily fluctuating ordering patterns of its customers. The perfect mix of automation and manual intervention has helped posterXXL to a production workflow on time, high flexibility and more profitability.
The digitalization in photography and new possibilities by the smartphone have opened up new markets for the printing industry. Only few customers still capture their most beautiful moments in photo albums. The vast majority uses photo books, decorate their smartphone cases with a picture of their family or put up printed canvas with holiday photos in their living rooms. Since 2004 posterXXL, one of Germany's leading providers of photo services in digital printing, produces exactly such photo products. In order to further strengthen and expand its market position, it is particularly important for posterXXL "to deliver on the promise we make to the customer, usually within a few days," explains Bastian Götz, Department Manager Plates at posterXXL.
Product variety and high production costs
On a daily base the Bavarian printing company is confronted with a very variable order income. “We don't really know when the customers are ordering, how they are ordering, what marketing campaigns they are responding to or not”, describes Susanne Feller, Head of Production at posterXXL, one of the daily challenges. In addition, there are "many different products, all of them requiring different production times, because for one product there are several different production steps involved whereas for another there might only be three, for example" adds Feller. “Managing the production flow that way that we can guarantee everything is on time, that is the challenge” says Max Baum, Vice President Engineering at posterXXL.
Moreover, for many big print service providers, running production sites in Germany is becoming increasingly unprofitable; high costs for staff, buildings and infrastructure. “Nobody can imagine that a print service provider with quite some manual work can actually work pretty economically in Munich” says Susanne Feller. So how can these aspects – profitability, product diversity and fluctuating order income – be managed while meeting the delivery time?
posterXXL masters this balancing act with a perfectly matched mix of full automation of their production processes and manual intervention. “To save time, of course, we want to automate as much as possible” explains Max Baum. Nevertheless, it is necessary to react flexibly and quickly to changes in production, for example in the case of a machine failure. However, these manual interventions should not have any effect on the production process, disrupt it or even lead to a loss of time.
Automation with manual intervention
Production at posterXXL starts off in a classic way: In the web shop, the customer selects the product ranging from posters and canvases, over photo books and direct prints to printed bags and individual puzzles, and checks out. The next steps are fully automated. The digital printer therefore uses the Wide Format Automation Suite from OneVision. The images of the customers are uploaded via an interface from the web shop to the software suite, that processes the data according to fixed schedules. “An assembly line that processes the files automatically can consist of up to 28 steps in order to get a printable PDF for our machines” explains Bastian Götz. The choice of the production line depends on the substrate to be printed on. posterXXL prints on both, on plates and on rolls. Hence, in addition to rigid foam/PVC sheets or alu-dibond sheets, various foils or photo and picture printing papers are also used. The print service provider also produces various photo gifts using the sublimation printing process. The individual production lines prepare the images for printing and further processing, move them to suitable folders, rename and sort the files, set them up and then create a normalized nesting. This can be set specifically and adjusted for an optimal material utilization: “When is the software allowed to write a nesting, when should it perhaps wait for other pictures, for other orders so that we have as little waste as possible” describes Bastian Götz the nesting with Wide Format Automation Suite.
Via a direct connection to the DFE, the Wide Format Automation Suite sends the nested print file to the printing presses, such as “large format roll-to-roll printers, classic DesignJets from HP and Arizona from Canon” names Susanne Feller only a part of the machinery. In addition, posterXXL uses printing machines from Mimaki (JV300) or HP (Latex). For post-press, the Wide Format Automation Suite "generates files explicitly suited for the post-press systems (for example ProCut by Zünd/Océ)," says Bastian Götz. “This means that subsequent systems are prevented from queues or crashes caused by heavy print file volumes. Therefore we can guarantee a faster workflow. In this final process step the images are cut, “the canvas is mounted, the book is bound and in the end the product is packed up and shipped to the customer as quickly as possible” Feller completes the process.
Flexible automation, profitable production
In addition to the better material utilization, posterXXL benefits from two major advantages due to the automation: Thanks to the flexibility of the Wide Format Automation Suite the level of automation can be adjusted and changed at any time. Depending on the requirements, check points can be implemented in the workflow and enable manual intervention. This allows the photo printer to adapt its workflow to production conditions without disrupting production. Bastian Götz is sure that this flexibility comes from the user-friendly usability of the software: “You don't need an IT education, you don't need developer knowledge to operate the system. And if you really don't get anywhere, OneVision also has a super Helpdesk you can contact by phone or e-mail.”
The independence from IT also counts as one of the big advantages to Susanne Feller. ”What we appreciate the most is that we can work on the software ourselves.” Changes to the products or the production can be implemented and modified quickly and flexibly, without the IT department accessing it. Hence, posterXXL masters the delivery promise significantly better. The different products “all have different production times, hence, managing and timing the different production times and everything that way that it gets out the door at the same time and in time, that's the crux. And that's exactly what we're doing much better now with OneVision” the production manager sums up.