March 3, 2017

The Daily Print File Challenges of a Production Printer Manager

By David Day

On any given day tens of thousands of important customer documents come through my print shop and as the production print manager, I need to know what is being printed in every file. Even more important, I need to be able to ensure that what is being printed reflects how our business and the end-user expect it to look. With many different print files and print formats coming through our production environment it can be challenging to ensure what was sent to the printer matches how it looks on paper.

Even more frustrating is when you have a file that you can’t see because there is no way to view it ahead of sending it to the printer. It is worse when you need to quality-check the file on those occasions when something goes wrong during the printing process.

Not being able to see the print file might seem like a small problem. Most ask me, “Isn’t there a software product you can use to view it?” The problem isn’t whether there is a software product; the question is will the products I have view that particular file type, and will they view it exactly like it will print on our printers. If I don’t have the right software on hand, then I have to find out if we do have a license to the right product on the production floor. It all equals added time and a reduction in my ability to run the print volumes in the queue for the day.

This situation is especially true when I get calls from my Operations Manager. Generally, our Operations Manager is looking for a specific print file to be re-printed because they have received a call from customer service. Whenever a Customer Service Representative (CSR) gets a call from a customer saying they didn’t get their statement, it eventually comes back to the production floor where we have to look up the print batch and initiate a reprint. If everything were as simple as PDF files then you could easily open them, select the pages you want and print them—not the case with AFP, Xerox Metacode and other High Volume Transactional Output print file types.

Another situation that happens time after time is the need to proof a new or changed job. To do this today we need to schedule the test run around or production jobs, load the printer with the correct paper, print the job and then ship it back to the person managing the job. They review the printed output, make further changes and then we start that entire process again. This change/review cycle, which adds significant periods of elapsed time due to the need to ship printed output back and forth, is inefficient. Much of the time wasted during development and testing phases of a transactional print application is caused by not being able to see an accurate representation of how a print file will look when sent to the printer.

This situation can be complicated for printer operators and for me as the manager. In some cases there are processes involved in the creation of the document that the original composition system can’t compensate for, which can then produce unexpected results in the printed output. The end result is either a team of unhappy internal users or an extended cycle of physically printed output being reviewed by the team prior to the new or changed print job getting into production. It's things like this that used to prevent me from meeting my productivity goals!

The day-to-day challenges of dealing with transaction print files and the methods my team developed for responding to them weren’t ideal, but they worked. Then we got in a new piece of software that changed our processes and allowed us to see a reduced requirement to actually print these files in order to proof them.

PRO Viewer from Crawford Technologies allowed us to see all of our print files in the native print file format, right on the print production floor. In fact we even acquired PRO Viewer for our development team to speed up their work.

The benefit has been the ability to check for print file problems prior to running the job, knowing that PRO Viewer produces excellent fidelity. In addition to being able to view the print files ahead of starting a job, it is now possible to go back into a previously run job and look for a specific record, then print it on the fly to a separate reprint machine to support the CSRs.

The setup and quality control process for new and changed customer jobs has also been streamlined. Now instead of running the file as it arrives in the production environment, we can first view the file and red-flag problem areas. The issues and the file can go back to the design and composition team to correct the issues and be sent back to our department for another review. We have even installed PRO Viewer with the designers and composition specialists so they can review files prior to sending them for printing.

It is now faster for us to get new and applications and changes to existing applications into production, and it also results in a significant reduction in supplies and paper wastage while being able to meet or exceed expectations by our customers. When you can see what you are printing ahead of sending it to the production print engine the entire workflow management process becomes easier and more efficient.

Does this story sound familiar? PRO Viewer was developed by CrawfordTech in response to customer input just like this. The result is a new product that has been added to our industry leading solutions for Enterprise Output Management. 

Learn more by visiting our PRO Viewer information page.