One of the biggest headaches experienced by printers today is managing small jobs. Companies that invested in equipment and software optimized for high volume production are seeing their operations become less efficient as they try to juggle the processing characteristics of multiple jobs that have shrunk in volume.
Transactional document printers see bill and statement print volumes slowly erode in favor of electronic distribution. For direct mail applications, unmatched data access and processing power is changing print volumes as well. Marketers continue to send personalized and relevant direct mail pieces, but to smaller lists.
Job changeover has always been a productivity killer in document operations. Depending on the variety of applications and the processes organizations use to control, track, and stage their work, intra-job gaps can easily stretch to 30 minutes. That’s not so bad if it only happens once or twice a shift, but what should production managers do when they have eight or ten changeovers per day? How will they deal with plummeting productivity? How do they justify investments in new hardware, software, or training when this year’s average daily output is lower than the last?
There is no easy answer. Every shop has different equipment, a unique mix of jobs, schedule challenges, peaks and valleys of volume, and dozens of other variables. A solution that works for one organization may be unsuitable for another.
We can, however, suggest a strategy that will ease the pain of processing all those small jobs that take almost as long to set up as they do to run.
Combine the Jobs
Turning many small jobs into a lesser number of big jobs seems like a logical response to the problem. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy task. Mail inserting machines can only support one outbound envelope at a time. Merging documents from different jobs means operations must mail all the documents using the same outer envelope.q
For shops running a wide variety of applications, typical for print/mail service providers, chances are good the documents they want to combine were originally designed for unique envelopes. Address blocks were positioned so they lined up with specific envelope window locations. Even the folding specifications may vary from job to job.
Many documents were designed for single-window envelopes featuring pre-printed company logos and return addresses. Mixing documents in a single job requires modifications to account for variations in sender information. Ensuring recipient addresses appear in the window according to postal regulations is also a challenge when the documents were originally designed for custom window locations.
The issues are obvious. Simply printing large batches of dissimilar documents, even in a full-color inkjet white paper printing environment, won’t work without changing the documents, the envelopes, or both.
Print/mail service providers rarely have access to the source programs used to compose the documents. They cannot change the format of the documents received from their clients. In other cases, the software producing the documents is old and unsupported. Making changes is risky. A third scenario commonly encountered by organizations is when they have the source programs but no available IT resources to make the modifications necessary to combine jobs.
Document re-engineering software is usually the best, and often the only, way managers can successfully combine small jobs and restore their operations to former productivity levels. Solutions like Crawford Technologies’ Operations Express work with the print image files, allowing authorized personnel to change the documents to a common layout and fold specification. Only then can operations merge documents from multiple jobs and insert them into a single outbound envelope design, reducing job change-overs and boosting efficiency.
Another approach used in some shops is converting to closed-face envelopes. This strategy eliminates the variable fold and address location problems, but will still require document re-engineering to extract information from the print files. This data will drive the inkjet printers mounted on the inserting machines. Integrity is vitally important so document operations must take measures to insure the sender and recipient information printed on the envelope matches the data on the inside document.
Industry analysts report managing large volumes of small jobs as the number one challenge for document operations. Without using tools to modify the documents for more efficient processing, this problem will only get worse. Shops that formerly used document re-engineering software for simple tasks like adding barcodes are beginning to use their systems for more extensive document re-design. These modifications are allowing them to continue serving their clients and produce mailed communications at reasonable prices in the face of shrinking print and mail volumes.