If you have invested in a fully automated web-to-print solution with financial database, congratulations, all the points in this article should be covered by your system. If your web-to-print solution is more of an online order and delivery system, you will need to help out your manufacturing system.
The following items need to be part of a web-to-print solution for it to succeed and profit.
A production database
If you do not have a database controlling your production, you should get one. Excel spreadsheets and paper dockets cost you more money as volumes or short-run items increase. This database should include data for customers, orders and product IDs to provide the proper reports for production and invoicing. FileMakerPro, MSAccess, MySQL, MSSQL to name a few, are examples of where you want to start. It will become an important backbone of your manufacturing as it will reduce paperwork, which increases profits.
A fully organized listing of products offered with product ID (SKUS) applied
In order to automate manufacturing, you must have a product ID system to sort, prioritize and choose equipment. The product ID must be for a unique item. For example, Product 001 4 Page Brochure 4/4. This item can be automatically matched to a layout, a press, a cutting scheme, a folder and a box size. Stock and quantity are variable. By going through everything offered on your online system and categorizing it to a basic level, you are making the first step towards full automation.
A policy for allowing orders into the system
If you allow customers to upload their own PDF files and are fixing everything before it goes to press, stop. There are many ways to get the right files the first time, starting with templates labeled with product ID – see above. You can supply your own templates for items in Indesign, Quark, Illustrator and Photoshop with their product ID and name for use by customers. Embedding your company info in the xmp data of the file will identify it as yours. You can be creative by adding non-printing locked layers with instructions as well. This is only part of a solution here. A policy of rejecting jobs that fail an initial preflight for correction by the customer can be done. There are many preflight portals available such as Pitstop Connect, Flightcheck Online, etc.
An automation tool for receiving from FTP, HTTP and performing file collecting and sorting
Automating cleanup and backup of FTP servers is a must and can be accomplished with entry-level software, like LightSWITCH from Enfocus. It can also handle HTTP downloads and sort files by product ID and collect them for group printing, cutting, folding etc. Move up to the next level with FullSWITCH and add plugins for preflight before press and notify prepress of problems that require manual intervention. The most money saving plugin from Alwan is CMYK Optimizer, which will convert the items in PDF files to CMYK and flatten them before going to press. More plugins for Imposition, Optimization and Adobe Creative Suites are available.
You cannot realize the full potential of a fully automated system without a database to control manufacturing. You must also get a handle on your products and develop a Product ID listing for your database. Add to this a policy to return orders not complying to posted rules or using proper templates and reduce routine fixups that create order overhead and slow downs. Lastly, automation software tools running on a Mac or PC can control incoming files via FTP and HTTP, collect, sort, process and interact with the database.