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Balancing act

Have you found the right balance between shop floor staff and those front of house? And do you need to think long and hard about your investment strategy in relation to that? Matic Media managing director Richard McCombe thinks it’s an area that needs proper consideration.

Trying to find the balance between front of house and manufacturing staff can be challenging - so often technological advancements and capital investments in turn alters our staffing structure.

One of the most impressive pieces of machinery for me at Fespa 2017 was the Galileo automatic vinyl weeding machine (https://youtu.be/QM0KBNsc6EQ) - not because I needed one, and not because I wanted one, but because it simply reinforced the thinking that automation in the manufacturing end of the business brings efficiencies that likely result in smaller manufacturing teams. But what about front-of-house?

‘Robotisation’ will bring an end to many roles that have traditionally been considered ‘safe’ in this part of the business - with accountancy being one of the first to become obsolete. Cloud-based software like Xero will allow for invoices to be dispatch automatically as your workflow software ‘dispatches’ the goods.

At Matic Media, we have spent a lot of time and money investing in plant, systemising our manufacturing facility and then standardising over 200 large-format print products for our trade website, Graphic Warehouse. We are now highly efficient at manufacturing with a small team but this has left us with an increase in workload front of house - customer relationship handling, estimating, proofing, pre-flighting, scheduling - and accounting, especially for very small order values. We have recently launched a same-day service that would usually add pressure to the roles above but we have actually reduced this workload by having a system that automatically sends customer files directly to print queues and generates instant works tickets from the customers’ specifications.  This system also invoices automatically.

I recognise that plant and equipment investment is needed to create efficiencies but, increasingly, isn’t it software that will power your business’s ability to improve customer experience, reduce labour and create capacity. It appears that the first place we all invest is in physical plant and not the ‘invisible’ software that could have the largest impact when used properly.

I don’t think this is easy - at Matic Media we naturally focus on what is tangible, and we started with standardisation once we had the correct plant and equipment in place, painfully measuring speeds, material compatibilities and mapping these to products. With the combinations of materials types, print technology and finishing it makes it difficult to standardise a product offering.

So, automation of standardised products is not for the faint hearted. These investments come at a price and the initial financial commitment can be daunting for any businesses as it gets in the way of day-to-day running and requires its own R&D team to work alongside each department.

We become heavily dependent on our most experienced team members and they naturally progress to become the leaders. This in turn grows your senior management team and so we have become more heavily dependent on front-of-house staff - sales representatives, estimators, pre-press, scheduling and production management. We have less staff in the manufacturing division, with a backshift that can output £1000’s of standardised products per shift with only two people.

For years we have sought ways to create efficiencies in the processes used to create job bags, pre-flight artwork and improve customer service.  Our own web-to-print software has allowed our clients to feed jobs directly to our print queues with job bags being created by the client’s inputs on our website (www.GraphicWarehouse.co.uk).  Within 60 seconds it provides a quote, bespoke template, a delivery slot, instant proof and sends the artwork directly to a print queue.  Furthermore it provides live notifications on our progress with the client’s job, better customer relationship management and thus reduced overhead, creating more capacity for larger consultancy projects. 

So does this mean that future capital investment could be a balance between hardware to improve manufacturing efficiencies and software to drive front of house improvements. Is the industry only just waking up to the software revolution that may be just around the corner?

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