November 28, 2017

Gut feeling vs. Mathematics in Print Planning

If you look at ten different print shops, you will find ten different levels of automation. On the one hand, there are many businesses that are still mainly using manual processes. On the other hand, there are companies that are already well advanced in the automation of their processes. One thing is common to all forward-looking companies: they always strive for even more automation of their processes.

Without standardization no automation

An automated process offers many advantages over a manual process. First, a company is forced to self-critically analyze its processes, its machinery and its portfolio. What was decided earlier rather spontaneously and based on a mixture of knowledge and gut feeling, will now be examined in more detail.

For example, a B1 sheet ran with 12,000 sheets per hour in one job and 15,000 sheets per hour in another. In the end of the standardization endeavor there will be an exact rule that defines how fast the machine should run under what conditions. Another example is data formats. There are often very different formats from different systems that compete with each other, making it difficult to standardize the processes.

Automation releases creative potential

After the implementation of standards, automation follows immediately. This provides companies with several advantages – once the automatic process has been set up, no decisions have to be taken to execute it. The manual effort decreases and the errors rate is minimized.

This unburdens key employees including planners significantly. Where day-to-day business was previously fully occupied with time-consuming and complex routine tasks, companies can now exploit free time slots by, for example, the automated planning of standard products. The experience and creativity of the employees will be available for further improvements of the company´s processes.

In addition, automated processes are ideal for monitoring and analysis. This improves transparency and control. Furthermore, new team members can be trained much faster and employed more efficiently. The companies are transformed from a responsive to an acting body.

Giving away margin: Automation without mathematical optimization

Many companies see a decisive advantage in mere automation – yet it is by no means the end of the rope. Mathematical optimization can – and should – be the next step. Automation without mathematical optimization is like a sports car without the necessary horsepower.

The topic is certainly more important in offset printing than in digital printing. In LFP, for example, only the consumption of space and thus the material savings are decisive for cost-efficient production. In offset printing, in contrast, you see two decisive cost factors: material consumption and setup efforts in a production environment with machines generating millions in sales. The correct balance of these two aspects is an art – with this ability, you can control costs and achieve attractive margins.

But this is a complex challenge. Many companies often not do what is efficient, but above all, what gives a good feeling. This is especially true for manual or semi-manual print planning. In reality, the planner does not have to primarily deliver forms that are efficient, but forms that are “beautiful”. In many cases, beautiful forms may also be efficient – but by far not always.

Walk into your production department and look at a form with a lot of unused space – you automatically get the feeling that something is going wrong here. On the other hand, if you look at forms using the space completely, you tend to have a good gut feeling, especially if the multiples are the same size. However, this simple example shows that not all key figures are equally accessible to gut instincts, such as pure area utilization.

Furthermore, the full form simply does not tell you how much overproduction it means. In addition, you cannot see if it was worth it to open a new form. Maybe the orders would have fit on an already existing form? And It can hardly be seen how many other forms became worse in the effort to make this one better – think about cherry-picking.

Mathematical optimization controls global problems

These examples reveal that the gut feeling, which often works well, is much better suited for small, limited issues than for large global problems. But this global view is crucial for any company, because the margin does not increase with some very good forms, but with the best possible average across all forms – and this is where mathematical optimization comes into play.

With mathematical optimization, it is possible to keep track even with tasks this was previously not possible. As part of mathematical optimization, local decisions are made taking into account global context, decreasing global production costs in a holistic approach.

When calculating a form, the system keeps an eye on the entire job pool. Mathematical optimization is not focused on one, or the next form, but on all forms simultaneously. This can result in forms in which some products are overproduced – but now consciously. At first glance, of course, the gut feeling does not agree – but the cost factor speaks a different language. In this respect, mathematics is clearly superior to the gut feeling.

If you use sPrint One for printing planning, you benefit exactly from this effect – this has been confirmed in numerous benchmarks. The gut feeling experienced printers acquired is optimally supported. And with today´s much smaller and more dynamic print production, mathematically-backed print planning creates the basis to secure competitiveness.