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Maximum optimisation for wide format printers

The three biggest profit killers in wide format printing are waste, time and labour says industry analyst Greg Cholmondeley of Keypoint Intelligence, who explains how to improve on all three in a new blog. 

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         Greg Cholmondeley,
        Keypoint Intelligence

This blog by Greg Cholmondeley appears courtesy of Keypoint Intelligence:

The three biggest profit killers in wide format printing are waste, time, and labour. Minimising these issues is key to running a successful printing operation.

Waste: No print service provider (PSP) worries about how much whitespace is left on narrow format pages because entire sheets are delivered to the customer. Wide format printing is different. PSPs will typically trim these prints to create customer deliverables. Thus, any unused whitespace is wasted substrate with wide format jobs, and that substrate can sometimes be expensive.

Time: Media feeds through roll-fed wide format printers occur at 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.

Labour: 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 labour rates for skilled workers for an extended time. Furthermore, time staff spends performing these tasks is time they could’ve spent working on more profitable work. (See the Keypoint Blog titled Is Shallow Work Crushing Your Margins for more thoughts on this subject.)

 Automated Nesting and Ganging Is Needed to Boost Profits

According to Keypoint Intelligence’s research, 82% of wide format PSPs gang and nest jobs manually. The labour 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.


Source: Keypoint Intelligence 2019 Wide Application Survey

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 trade-off between labour 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 labour and waste.

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.

Maximizing Optimization with AI

Tilia Labs applies leading-edge artificial intelligence (AI) programming to resolve these profit-killing waste and labour 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 labour 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. 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.

Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

Intelligent planning and impositioning are critical for eliminating the three wide-format profit killers and reaching maximum velocity in your wide format printing operations. While there will always be a place for experts skilled in nesting and ganging, being able to maximize their time with tasks better suited to human intervention and using AI solutions for the simpler issues can only help to maximize efficiency. It also has the added benefit of keeping employees engaged with more challenging work rather than busy tasks.

There are plenty of solutions on the market to allow companies to achieve the highest ROI and profits possible. We strongly recommend reviewing all the options available and make sure that the features and functionality best match your needs and help you minimize wastes in labour, time, and media.