Print Management Information Systems (MIS) have been in the market for decades. Typically, they were designed to support an offset-based commercial printing business, allowing them to see profitability based on costs, rather than selling prices. But more recently, companies in the sign and display graphics business have wanted to implement MIS solutions giving them the same advantage, but with details more specific to their industry. This would allow them to gain real-time information to make better business and production decisions.
Some requirements are the same between offset and signage businesses, but many are not. If you are in display graphics, or you have that offering as part of the production mix, you’ll understand some of the shortfalls of a standard MIS designed for commercial printers.
In this article, we’ll provide some tips for selecting an MIS solution that can meet the needs of a sign and display graphics business, and what — specifically — to look for to make sure your unique requirements can be met.
Diversified Capabilities are Important
In truth, many traditional printing companies have at least some wide-format capabilities, while many display graphics businesses have some commercial print and/or packaging offerings. So, even if your business is not diversified today, it is important to choose a software package that effectively addresses at least commercial print and wide-format.
Those of you that are not diversified today, you most likely will be at some time in the future. An MIS implementation is not trivial. You don’t want to have to redo it, or add an additional system if you add more product and press types to the mix.
For any MIS implementation — and especially for signs and display graphics — it is important in the setup process to be able to create as many definitions as you need, and not be limited here. Don’t limit yourself to one press definition and average your pricing if six can make it easier for users to choose and create accurate pricing based on the type of job you are producing. I’m a big believer in putting as many definitions in as necessary to ensure accurate pricing and costs, so you are not charging too much for easy jobs, or too little for difficult ones. This will also make sure that, with one click, all the pricing and other information will come across without the user needing to make a lot of decisions to generate a quote.
So what do I mean by definitions? Let’s say you have a hybrid flatbed/roll system in your plant. Instead of just defining it as a hybrid roll-to-roll/flatbed device, you can establish separate definitions for when it is used to print rigid versus roll substrates, low resolution compared to high resolution, light coverage compared to heavy coverage, etc.
Along with the printing definitions, if you have a customer who specifies a roll substrate you don’t normally use or carry in inventory, you should charge the customer for the entire roll, instead of a specific number of square feet the job requires. That is because whatever is left over, you may never use. This is a standard practice in most wide-format businesses, and setting the system up front to accommodate this need makes it easier for your users to quote the right price, each and every time.
You want your cost centers and definitions to be specific to the piece of equipment, but you don’t want to combine a rigid and a roll device into one definition. By separating them out, it will help you in fact-based decision making. For example, it will help you understand how much roll-fed versus rigid product this piece of equipment produces. That’s important to know if you are considering investing in a new piece of equipment. Perhaps you are best served by acquiring a roll-only printer to boost your capacity in that area, as an example. Unless you break out descriptions by each piece of equipment and the various application types, rather than lumping everything under large-format, you don’t easily have access to that level of detail.
Reporting Is Key
That being said, it’s also important that the system allow you to look at total work in progress for a given piece of equipment, even though you have multiple definitions for that piece of gear, so the MIS should be able to produce a report sorted by machine ID number.
Another aspect to consider is what happens when a job is quoted on one piece of equipment, but then is actually produced on another. To take an extreme example, what if you have a job quoted on a low-cost blueline machine, but that particular piece of equipment is not available. You move it to a more expensive machine to meet the customer’s requirement. Your MIS should have a costing feature that lets you see the actual versus quoted cost, and if you find yourself doing that too often, you can consider making adjustments to your production portfolio or your estimating standards.
So Many Substrates …
In display graphics, you arguably have a broader array of standard and specialized substrates than you might have in a commercial print environment. That also needs to be taken into consideration in selecting an MIS solution so pricing tables can be set appropriately. For example, if you are producing a roll-fed job, you would use the entire width of the roll in your substrate definition and price accordingly, regardless of the actual width of the job. With a rigid substrate on the other hand, you likely will price the job based on the actual width and length to be used. Offcuts from a rigid material job may be able to be used for another project, while offcuts from rolls likely cannot.
You also want to consider pricing models for two-sided printing if you offer that. Are both sides charged at the same rate per square foot, or is there a lesser charge for the second side? These characteristics are dependent upon the varying definitions and the pricing tables attached to them.
The more manual interaction with a print MIS that is required, the more opportunity there is for error. Plus, it takes more time, and time is often a resource we are short on.
Before making a decision on an MIS for your signage display graphics business, take a good look at your operation and how you price work, assign it to various stages in your operation, who is involved at each step, and how you account for labor, materials, inventory, and more. This in-depth look will help guide you in your decision process as well as being critical to getting the system set up as efficiently and effectively as possible once you’ve made that decision.
Ron Teller is product manager for EFI PrintSmith Vision, a flexible and affordable browser-based MIS solution that automates key elements in printing workflows, reducing touch points, streamlining operations, and optimizing business growth.