The Most Feared Word in Printing: Automation
Guest Post: Ryan McAbee, Pixel Dot Consulting
Nothing strikes fear and misunderstanding into the world of production printing quite like the word automation. Employees and operators fear any change to their tasks and roles and, worse, may think it will lead to their termination. Managers and owners fear it will result in a complicated and costly initiative to install, implement, and train everyone involved. Automation is moving one process or task forward to another without human intervention. So why is automation in the talk track of the entire industry, then? The answer is that the industry simply cannot ignore the answers that automation provides to several of today’s challenges.
A leading challenge within the industry today is the acute need to hire and train staff. The overall labor markets are tight, but the printing industry has had a systemic problem even before the last few years. The industry just isn’t perceived as a hip and happening career path by younger generations when compared to the leading technology companies like Tesla or more the ever-popular path of being a social media influencer. The reality, as anyone who works within the industry knows, is that production printing is as technology-driven as the next industry, with big problems for bright minds to solve. That brings us back to the shortage of talent that must be dealt with, and one way to do that is through automation.
A good analogy for automation is to envision software robots. These robots help remove the repetitive, boring tasks from our work so that we can focus on the tasks that need the Midas touch of a person. With the repetitive tasks removed, you can then focus your energy on higher-value tasks like engaging with the client, developing new solutions or processes, applying your creativity to a client’s request, and so on.
The printing industry is also leaning into automation as an enabler for making data-influenced decisions. The days of manual job tickets with handwritten notes further covered in multiple sticky notes are over. Modern print shops have connected their management solutions with downstream data collection using people, where necessary, and equipment, where possible. The information fed back into production dashboards highlights any operational challenges and bottlenecks, including where further automation can be deployed.
Now let’s dispel a few myths about automation within the printing industry.
|Automation is too difficult.
|Not when taken in a crawl, walk, run approach, e.g., network hotfolders are an easy way to automate the movement and processing of files.
|Automation is too expensive.
|Without proper oversight, automation can get expensive because it often requires the integration of multiple software solutions but there are many inexpensive options in today’s world of SaaS-delivered software.
|Automation will take my job.
|Yes, the worst parts of your job that zap any level of creativity from your work.
|Automation is a code word for more work for me.
|By definition automation removes a task or many from the entire process. However, the time given back is typically put to a higher and better use.
Fear is a common reaction to any change and certainly when we are concerned with being displaced by technology. The reality is that labor in the printing industry must be unburdened from the repetitive tasks that a software program is better at, so creativity can be applied to the more nuanced challenges in the operation — the stuff that matters most.
Ryan McAbee is the principal at Pixel Dot Consulting, a firm that partners with companies in the production printing industry to ‘Elevate print through tech.’ We help OEMs and PSPs define and build their future through consulting, market analysis, product strategy, sales enablement, and industry education services. Ryan has spent over 20 years immersed in the technology that powers print, working with a wide range of well-known and industry leading vendors and print service providers.
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