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Latest news from Packaging Innovations & Empack

“We bring workflows to life,” – HYBRID Software’s Chris Spooner on the need for speed at prepress

“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. Now more than ever, the print industry needs perfection in the prepress room – and workflow automation is the key to cutting out errors.

The more the print industry changes, the more it remains the same. Increasing job quality, throughput, and cost efficiency are the top priorities for printers, just as they always have been. And the prepress stage is key to delivering on those demands – again, just as it always has been. But the industry now has a next-generation suite of tools to help optimise preflight workflows, turning print challenges into opportunities.

That’s the proposition offered by PDF preflighting experts like HYBRID Software, the global software developer known for its PACKZ and STEPZ PDF editors, plus its CLOUDFLOW workflow solution. Chris Spooner, Sales Account Manager at HYBRID, is in no doubt about what the print industry needs when we speak to him on the show floor at Packaging Innovations.

“Speed to market is the key thing in a competitive market,” he says. “If you can do something faster and more accurately than the competition, you’re more likely to win more business. Then, you’ll become more profitable, and your capacity actually increases, as the more jobs you have approved, the more you can group jobs together to be more efficient.”

This is easier said than done in a market where customers demand increasingly complex, intricate designs printed in higher resolutions. In many packaging applications, these designs may have to be printed across multiple substrates – a label and a carton, for example – meaning colour management must be perfect. It means the PDF files that are sent to print can often be a collage of dozens of individual elements, even before things like bleed and eyelet holes are taken into account.

“One of the key things we like to do is speak to businesses,” Chris explains. “70% of a label or packaging business is reprints. If we can automate 70% of your business workflows, we can alleviate a lot of bottlenecks by removing those human touchpoints from the process. This then frees up people who take on more complex briefs to focus their expertise on those higher-value projects, rather than getting bogged down in lower-value reprinting jobs.”

Chris and HYBRID are not alone on their stand – they have partnered with web-to-print experts Infigo and MIS software specialists CERM to create a multi-layered offering that helps printers optimise multiple levels of their business.

“We pride ourselves on making a complicated process simple,” Chris continues. “HYBRID, Infigo, and CERM are all masters of our own arts. Infigo takes an online storefront where customers can customise an order and process it for printing. Normally, you would then see the process stop while someone takes that island of data and types it into an MIS system.

“Instead, that order can go into CERM’s MIS system where customers can input their specifications and get a price quote. Once the price is agreed, a work order can be generated and the job becomes live, so it can be scheduled, and material can be ordered.

“At that stage, we at HYBRID take the files from there. It’s a multi-layered approach that brings the workflow to life, so while you’re having artwork approved, we can generate the tech specs in HYBRID software, and output finished files for digital print or flexo plates,” he continues. “We call it innovation with integration. A customer can place an order on a storefront that goes through an MIS, which sorts out the details of how the job is going to be produced, before it enters the technical process of becoming print-ready.”

Creating a lean, efficient workflow also addresses another demand that today’s print industry must meet – sustainability. By digitally analysing file data, HYBRID can uncover hidden savings that can be passed on to customers.

“Sometimes a customer will provide a brief that says they require eight-colour printing,” Chris explains. “Our software can analyse the colours in the file, and sometimes we say, ‘Hey, we can actually print this in six colours’, which saves time, material, and ink costs. Those savings get passed on up the supply chain.”

Of course, the print industry rarely stays still for long – and, as a software company, HYBRID has a better view of the leading edge of technology than most. So, what does Chris think is the next big trend set to sweep across the industry?

“True integration – bi-directional communication between one or multiple systems. There are companies out there that are doing it very well, but as an industry, we’re still only really scratching the surface of it,” he answers. “People that are incorporating true integration into their technology stack are still relatively rare.

“Using artificial intelligence within a workflow, whether it be scheduling, analysing artwork, or automating bleed in print files, will also come through in a few years.

“AI is often treated like a buzzword in the same way that cloud computing was a decade ago. But companies that embraced it and started their learning curve early are very successful today – just like with digital printing.”

It’s no surprise that a company that literally integrates itself into its customers’ processes is so adept at collaborating with others. It means exhibiting at Packaging Innovations is the perfect fit, as it facilitates conversations and knowledge-sharing that companies like HYBRID thrive on.

“We pride ourselves on listening to our customers’ needs,” Chris says. “It’s ok saying ‘This is our product – you need it’, but it doesn’t tend to work like that! We take a consultative approach – finding our customers’ pain points and coming up with creative solutions to alleviate those issues.

“Yes, our products come with a lot of powerful features out of the box, but not everybody works in the same linear fashion. That’s where the true value of our products lies.”

Throughout the conversation, the three-way stand – HYBRID is exhibiting alongside Infigo and CERM – is consistently bustling with activity as representatives from brands, printers, and packaging converters look for value-adding software solutions.

“It’s great when you get asked a challenging question!” adds Chris. “That’s a true collaboration with a customer. We don’t sell our software and run away – we want to be challenged and work in tandem with our customers. We want to help our customers grow so that we can grow, too.

“Events like this are great because while we do work in the industry, we’re not on the shop floor day to day,” he explains. “As a group, exhibitions like this let us go out and check out the latest and greatest innovations and see where the industry is going.”

It seems “bi-directional communication” isn’t just a feature of HYBRID’s solutions – it’s a principle that runs through the whole company. Whatever the future holds for the print industry, this approach means it’s likely that HYBRID will always be near the bleeding edge.

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