Overcoming Packaging Workflow Challenges

(As printed in Graphic Arts Monthly – Canada)

Two of the biggest challenges for packaging printers today are wasted time and increased costs. Those costs are usually absorbed in the supply chain somewhere – but it ultimately comes back to the customer who pays the final bill. Compliance can also be a problem, though mistakes seldom make it to the retail counter. They’re usually caught somewhere in the supply chain, but catching those mistakes and rectifying them can be costly. That said, when a mistake does make it to the consumer, the cost can be enormous – both in dollars and in the loss of a brand’s reputation.

Let’s identify some trouble areas. First is the sheer volume of work. A shop that had 20 jobs per week 10 years ago might have 100 or 200 jobs today because there are more SKUs and more product variations. Compliance, especially in the food and beverage sectors, is replete with issues related to the package, nutritional information and labelling safety. Ensuring that each item looks the same with each printing is important. Tied to consistency is efficiency, ensuring that things can be done just as effectively in short runs. Next is speed to market – getting products into consumers’ hands quickly. Automation is crucial throughout the supply chain – both upstream where design is done, and downstream where graphics are printed. Finally, there’s cost – the less touch-points on a job, the less costly.

Steps packaging printers can take

The key is to gain control. Quite often I’ve heard: “We need better control of our processes” or “our processes are controlling us right now; we need to be controlling them.” To gain control, packaging printers today must apply up-to-date technology and seamlessly plug themselves into their data. There’s no shortage of data in large or small brands; it’s how you use the data. If used effectively, you gain control. You have the “one time and done” concept where information is put into your database and pulled out by other systems when it’s needed – instead of being keyed in at each stage. In other words, you need an ultra-efficient packaging workflow, from design to approval to printing to delivery.

Technology can overcome most challenges, but you must treat these solutions as strategic moves. Far too often, it’s a temporary tactical move that only addresses part of the cause of the problem. That’s a prescription for failure, or at least for having a more costly and time-consuming implementation process. If initiatives occur in a strategic form, then shops budget for them, plan for them and they’re cross-functional. Plus, everybody is involved, sees what has to be done and works towards the same goal.

The benefits of a digital asset workflow solution

In a word, it’s “control.” Control means reduced costs, fewer mistakes, consistency in the way a product looks on the shelf, and distribution through any channel your client chooses. If you have control, you have everything at your fingertips – literally. And what gives you that control is crystal-clear visibility of what you’re working on 24/7. Also, what you currently have and what you want down the road may differ. For example, you might currently have visibility of a lot of data and your SKU numbers, its components, a delivery schedule, and those authorized to work on a job. But you may also need to know what’s going on upstream in design, where a job is going to be printed downstream, visibility of the total budget and of the delivery date weeks from now, etc. Bottom line: You need a ‘dashboard’ of everything (yes, everything) along the way. The good news: You don’t have to do this all at once.

Companies that offer comprehensive workflow solutions are good at helping you implement in ‘bite-sized’ pieces. Workflow must be cross-functional to be optimal, so you must have all the different components included – compliance, marketing, accounting, purchasing, legal, production, manufacturing, distribution and so on, driven from the top. And as I mentioned previously, it needs to be budgeted for, with a look at what will be saved long-term. You’re doing this to save money and reduce errors and downtime over the next several years. Over the term of a product, depending on how it’s implemented and marketed, automated workflow solutions could save tens of thousands, even millions of dollars.