The three biggest profit killers in wide format printing are waste, time, and labor. Minimizing these issues is key to running a successful printing operation.
No print services provider (PSP) worries about how much whitespace is left on narrow format pages because PSPs deliver the entire sheets to the customer. Wide format printing is different—PSPs will typically trim these prints to create customer deliverables. Sometimes these prints are cut rectangular, while others require irregular die cuts. Thus, any unused whitespace is wasted substrate with wide format jobs, and that substrate can sometimes be expensive. None of this is news to anyone in our industry. Selecting and impositioning the best possible ganging and nesting scheme for an ever-changing job mix is challenging, and every choice that isn’t ideal includes waste.
Media feeds through roll-fed wide format printers occurat a fixed pace regardless of the amount of printing. Thus, every square inch of inter-image whitespace reduces throughput. Since wide format printers don’t print at hundreds of pages per minute like their narrow format counterparts, this wasted time can make it more difficult to achieve deadlines while also impacting shop throughput.
Every successful wide format PSP gangs jobs and nests rectangular and irregularly shaped images to reduce waste. However, there can be millions of ways to gang and nest the current job mix at any given time. The sheer number of possibilities makes manually performing this task more of an art than a science. The process takes time, skill, training, and experience—which means paying higher labor rates for skilled workers for an extended time. Given the complexity of this task, though, effective automation can be challenging. According to Keypoint Intelligence’s research, 82% of wide format PSPs gang and nest jobs manually. The labor costs to do this are staggering, with 59% of respondents reporting that this task averages 1 to 10 minutes per job. Another 19% claim that the process averages between 11 minutes to 8 hours per job.
Figure 1: Time to Nest/Imposition a Wide Format Job
Automated Nesting and Ganging Is Required to Boost Profits
Determining when whitespace utilization is “good enough” can be difficult, and even “good enough” is rarely the best option. Wide format PSPs who manually gang and nest jobs must constantly balance the tradeoff between labor and waste. Every minute spent planning and impositioning print jobs reduces profitability, yet every square inch of the unused substrate also costs money.
Automating job ganging and nesting can significantly reduce labor and waste. It can:
- Reduce substrate costs through efficient job ganging and nesting
- Maximize overall throughput by using every square inch of a substrate and by shortening planning and impositioning times
- Eliminate skilled labor costs associated with job ganging and image nesting
- Reduce reliance on highly experienced workers who are difficult to hire and retain
Of course, there’s a reason why so many wide format PSPs still manually perform these functions. Traditional computer-driven ganging and nesting programs, particularly those involving irregularly shaped images, are typically expensive and slow. Brute force methods to solve these problems with millions of possible combinations take considerable time—
even for computers. Most of these programs start with predefined templates, try every possible combination, and give up after a predetermined number of attempts or once coverage is attained. In this case, human experience, perception, and intuition can often be more effective at solving problems than computers.
Achieving Maximum Optimization with Artificial Intelligence
Tilia Labs applies leading-edge artificial intelligence (AI) programming to resolve these profit-killing waste and labor problems. The system uses experientially learned pattern recognition to identify efficient potential nesting approaches across images and jobs. Thus, the solution combines the power of computers to inspect millions of combinations with a human-like ability by starting with the most likely candidates. Tilia Labs’ software starts with learned solution approaches but continues to recognize and learn new patterns for any mix of jobs and job elements.
This intelligent planning and impositioning software helps wide format PSPs optimize production by better managing the influx of smaller jobs while maximizing print efficiency. The range of planning and intelligent imposition solutions from Tilia Labs enables wide format PSPs to get the most out of their equipment, substrates, and labor costs.
The software’s Imposition AI understands the mix of jobs, looks across all available printing methods, and calculates thousands of potential production layouts in seconds rather than hours. You can select the best plan based on costs, waste, service level agreement (SLAs), and your overall production schedule.
Wide format printers typically measure waste in terms of non-productive employee time, overprinting, and rejected work. Although measuring the amount of wasted whitespace on media from inefficient impositioning is more difficult, these figures can become substantial with escalating substrate costs. Tilia Labs claims that customers realize an average of 15% less material use when using its solutions versus traditional approaches. That can result in significant savings across jobs and over time.
Intelligent planning and impositioning are critical for eliminating the three wide-format profit killers and reaching maximum velocity in your wide format printing operations.
Author: Greg Cholmondeley is the Director of Keypoint Intelligence’s Production Workflow Consulting Service, which helps vendors define their future through consulting, market analysis, research, and forecasting. He also works directly with print service providers to improve their operations through workflow audits based on workflow journey mapping and the five stages of smart print manufacturing.