Printing and media includes marketing and promotional literature, and publishing books, magazines, and digital media. With some exceptions, the general trend has been the steep rise of websites and digital media, especially media tailored to smartphones, and e-books, and the gradual shrinkage of printed magazines and books. Including digital, however, the global magazine publishing market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 2% from now to 2023. Printed magazines are expensive to produce – raw material, labour and distribution – but their persistent success is surprising; 25m people read magazines several times a month in Germany. But their high cost base and the omnipresence of digital means printers must be lean and energy efficient to remain in business. Printing also has a high carbon footprint due to the “paper miles’ incurred in distribution.
Cost of paper
Paper prices fluctuate and in some regions prices have fallen, for example the FRED Index in the US for wood pulp crashed from a record high in mid-2019. But as with most commodities, commercial or trade paper prices have risen year on year and paper is the biggest cost to affect printing profitability.
An MES linked to an ERP system can reveal the yield per square metre of different paper grades, to calculate if the total cost of printing a dearer paper stock is cheaper per unit area.
Printing is inherently wasteful; paper manufacture is carbon intensive and waste at printers can be high. They also have to battle defects, overproduction, transportation, waiting, inventory, motion and processing. But if they use lean methods and new technology, printing companies can expect benefits including reduced human effort; better use of capital investment; improved use of time; lower raw materials requirements.
Planning complex print schedules using MES systems can help printing companies with high variability in volume and sheet sizes.
Productivity is among the priorities for print
Printing needs to focus on three Ps: Productivity, profitability and promotion. First among these, in a low margin industry squeezed by competition, digital media and paper costs, every page counts.
Interfacing the job visualisation software with the rigorous job categorisation of MES will help printers to maximise every minute of each shift, and allows analysis like ink yields per job.
Future of print vs digital
Who knows? Newsagents’ shelves are still full of consumer magazines, although there are fewer titles today than 10-years ago. It is likely that the gradual shift from print to digital media will continue, especially with greater environmental pressure to drop printed media. But some believe print will always have a place and digital technology should make it more profitable if it can reduce the carbon miles.
The principles of an MES system will work for a traditional manufacturing company that moves into digital services or “manuservices”. If the product is code, text and images, the inputs still need scheduling and tracking, and computer and workforce utilisation can still be tracked.
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