Automate production of online orders

Automate ordersIf you have a system to receive orders online, there are many ways to automate the production process. Often, the manual process of production is on a job-by-job basis. Each file submitted comes from an uncontrolled source, which means preflighting is required and sizes require updating and formatting to accommodate the press layout. Mistakes are made when trying to create an automated system based on the job-by-job process. The job must fit the system; you cannot create an automated workflow that deals with every problem.

For example, simple business card orders can have many issues: 4-colour blacks, transparency issues, white overprints, layout issues of 2-up or no bleed, etc. Each moment spent inspecting and adjusting a file adds to the cost of that job and reduces your ability to compete with pricing and turnaround.

Automate the Process and Reduce Costs and Turnaround

1. Educate Your Customer

The first step is to allow the job creators to preflight their own work. This can be made easy by using Enfocus Instant PDF or any other online preflighting software. Jobs do not get approved for upload until they pass basic preflight defined by your production needs. Job creators are given details to fix their own problems and will have only approved PDF files for upload. Providing downloadable templates for specific job layouts in all of your accepted layout programs ensures sizing and layout issues are eliminated or at least reduced.

2. Develop Your System Gradually

Automation tools like SWITCH allow you to run one workflow while adding another. Modular setups make the whole process easier and you will find you learn as you go along, adding that new knowledge to the next automated flow. Start with the easiest items and ramp up to your biggest challenge.

3. Learn to Use Metadata

The easiest form of metadata is a file naming convention from your online system that includes the required information in the name of the submitted file. Quantity, Job Part and Job Name are the most obvious pieces of information that can be used to quickly route a file to its destination. Data in an XML format will reduce costs even further as production and shipping information can be automatically entered into your MIS system and the XML can drive the automated process further.

A Sample Starter Workflow

If we take the example of the business card online submission we can start the automated process with some simple steps using FullSWITCH to create the flows:

1. Jobs are received into the system via email, ftp or url. Automatic preflight using a Pitstop Server plugin will notify operators of failed files – ones that cannot be fixed automatically by Pitstop Server.

2. Jobs are sorted and collected to create ganged layouts or for individual imposition. Duplicates can be generated by the system based on quantity to adjust for the number up in the layout.

3. The collected layout is merged and imposed for plate or press. The imposition can be done via hot folder or using a plugin.

Monitoring this flow and reducing the number of failed files is the easiest way to reduce the cost of overall production. From here, you can develop ways to fix specific problems. For example, jobs that are sent with keylines at the trim are continually failed. They can be redirected to a script that sets this specific keyline to 0 pt. The Pitstop Server plugin can detect and forward the job to the proper correction flow to be fixed. A second example, creating 1-up PDFs from supplied 2-up PDFs can be accomplished with an Indesign javascript.

This is the gradual part of the automation setup. The flow is still producing the good files and while the production personnel are fixing jobs, each common problem can have a new part of the flow added to it to further reduce the amount of inspection and adjustment made manually. As you go along, further production enhancements can be made, especially with the addition of metadata to the system. Production lists can be created online and server files can be cleaned up after shipping, or on a timer. Remember, the production does not stop or even slow down when you are adding a new module to your automated system.

Download the trial versions of the software mentioned at or Start with the easy ones and your new knowledge will help you to resolve more difficult problems.