by Melissa Donovan
For manufacturers or package converters, an automated workflow is key to keeping business moving. Software designed solely for the business management end of packaging is available and includes modules for estimating, scheduling, production, inventory, and accounting. There are also more general systems that aren’t solely designed for packaging, but offer features that fit the bill.
Above: LiftERP streamlines production with a customizable workflow to fit any manufacturing environment.
“Business management software allows you to do more work with less people. This is because the software automates the repetitive or duplicate data entry of manual systems or several disparate systems,” explains Tony Caudill, senior account executive, Advantzware.
Under the Heading of…
Business management software commonly includes features designed to automate estimating, scheduling, production, inventory, and accounting—this is true for all types of applications, not just digital printers of packaging or even print management.
“All facets of digital print need automation and tools to increase efficiency across many parts of business, not just print production. For this reason, business tools that provide useful and actionable data to make better business decisions are desirable,” explains Jonathan Rogers, international marketing manager, Onyx Graphics, Inc.
Generally speaking, Leland Morgan, business development director North America, Lift Software, believes business management software is a group of modules meant to run your day-to-day business operation from a single package on a single database.
A typical management information system (MIS) includes functionality extending from initial customer interaction, customer service, estimating, and scheduling to production planning, production processes, tools management, warehousing, purchasing, and inventory control; accounting; shipping; and tools for management including data analytics, reporting, and quality control. “These types of systems are comprehensive and those that include Industry 4.0 features like a manufacturing execution system and industrial internet of things can go very far to efficiently manage day-to-day operations and accurate forecasting,” says Jack J. Lafler, VP, sales and technology, HiFlow Solutions.
In addition, Andy Reissmann, president, Cambrica, says maintenance management software for equipment and facilities and knowledge management software for advanced analytics, semantic search, and strategic initiatives are important features to consider in a business management solution.
Caudill says a robust web to print or ecommerce solution for electronic ordering and customer service is also important.
An essential component in today’s software options is the ability to integrate and connect to other products. “No single platform will do it all—estimating, planning, scheduling, production automation—and this has become especially apparent as digital print rocks the foundations of traditional manufacturing processes,” notes George Folickman, global director of sales, Tilia Labs Inc.
“Along with a core system, look at integrations to other key software solutions like web storefronts or production workflows. The key is to have an automation plan, and to ask questions like ‘how can I reduce or eliminate manual touches’ and ‘how can I organize work moving through my plant to maximize efficiency,’” agrees Morgan.
Utilizing business management packaging software in a manufacturing setting where digital printers are used helps streamline or simplify production. Automation is a key component here. When successful, the data collected is centralized in one place, accessible to the right people.
Production floors are often a hodgepodge of disparate systems managing prepress, production, warehouse movement, shipping, and accounting. “This can often cause bottlenecks when the systems don’t ‘speak’ each other’s language. This is one area where an MIS can connect all the software, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and other systems in a company’s IT stack into a single source of truth that then every department can drill down into and have the same data,” says Lafler.
That is the goal—one place for all the information. “One of the main concepts behind business management software is to make the day-to-day operation of a business simpler, with data kept in a central location that can be drawn upon at any moment,” admits Rogers.
On the flip side, “holding such information in business management software allows print businesses to quickly estimate, make changes, see impact to profitability, and affords the ability to easily replicate future orders in minimal time,” he adds.
“The biggest benefit in using business management software is the reduction or elimination of non-value add costs,” says Morgan. Tasks include conducting an estimate, writing a job ticket, or checking inventory. “These are all banked into your overhead costs, but these types of tasks do not add to your profit. When those costs are reduced or eliminated, your profit goes up.”
Digital printing presents more tasks on the admistrative side, as its “success often depends on the ability to produce higher volumes of smaller jobs, including versioning and multi-SKU programs that require multiple art or UPC code changes. Minimizing tasks required to change versions as much as possible is essential to making shorter run digital with higher numbers of jobs a success,” suggests Milo Ferchow, packaging product marketing manager, EFI Productivity Software.
Some production floors that are new to digital have yet to upgrade their business management software—meaning it is used to or designed for managing analog printing practices. “A business management system needs to understand and accommodate the dynamic nature of digital print and digital finishing. Old estimating models that rely on static run speeds won’t be accurate when applied to the dynamic nature of digital converting. Lasers and digital CAD cutting systems will have varying speeds depending on the shape and size of the products being produced,” warns Folickman.
Personnel as well customers also gain advantages from automated solutions. There is a higher level of production from staff. “Purchasing knows they need to order material without manually checking. Your warehouse staff can see what materials are needed and can stage that material to reduce down time. Jobs printed on the same material can be set to run back-to-back reducing change over,” says Morgan.
“The last—but not least—item to consider is customer satisfaction. A system that communicates key information to clients automatically reduces emails and phone calls and running around your plant looking for information,” he adds.
General or Specialized
There are business management solutions with dedicated capabilities focused on package printing as well as those that aren’t solely designed for packaging but offer features in a broader solution that are applicable.
Studying it from the approach of company size, Reissmann believes industry-specific software is attractive to smaller companies. “It projects a cost and implementation advantage. Many smaller businesses do not have the analytical skill level, nor the financial resources, to implement more mainstream ERP applications.”
“Larger companies with multiple facilities, multiple warehouses, business models, and processes that are not plain digital print, for any of these businesses niche solutions become obsolete as they do not reflect the actual business model and complexity,” he explains.
Ferchow says that “some integrated packaging companies, often large multinationals or packaging enterprises that are part of larger corporate conglomerates, may have an overarching ERP solution in use not specific to packaging.”
Working with a niche product can “pigeonhole the user, making it harder to expand into new business segments. It is very common for corrugated converters to get into digital labels or commercial printers to start manufacturing folding cartons due to the demands of their clients or the crossover functionality of the manufacturing equipment,” explains Folickman.
However, Lafler admits that “systems dedicated to packaging are more attuned to packaging workflows with specific functionality that pertains to packaging. A broader based management system is not set up for all the components necessary in a packaging solution.”
Caudill agrees that packaging companies are more inclined to benefit from packaging-specific solutions. “This is because of the many unique requirements of our industry. Things like over/under percentage, scoring allowances, and units of measure. Trying to work around that causes inefficiency and expense.”
Grow with You
Making investments in hardware and software hopefully mean these solutions also are designed to grow with the business.
Scalability is a critical feature, according to Morgan. One reason why, these solutions aren’t changed often—lasting upwards of 15 to 20 years. “In the same way your company will evolve over time, you should expect your system will also change with you. Look at your system as a living part of your business that needs some care and attention,” advises Morgan.
Business management software not only should last a long time, but it takes a lengthy period to implement. It is a commitment. “Finding a solution that meets today’s needs but can also grow with a business that is connected between business functions is integral to the solution selection process before investing in its implementation,” recommends Rogers.
“It is necessary for a software solution to scale as customer needs change, and as the company grows. Scalability allows a company to shift easily to respond to market demands and to absorb changes. In well-designed software systems, scale is built in and may only require small tweaks of development to further solidify specific changes,” agrees Lafler.
There are many reasons why the automation of estimating, scheduling, production, inventory, and accounting are helpful in a production environment. Especially in packaging, where revisions are constantly made, quotes reworked, and proofs supplied, it is important that this data is in a centralized location where all of the stakeholders can not only view it, but leverage it to further successes.
Nov2021, Industrial Print Magazine