Solopress, based in Southend-on-Sea, United Kingdom, is an online commercial print service provider to both trade customers and end users. Established 25 years ago, Solopress has grown significantly and now offers a range of products across litho, digital, and large-format print products.
Rewind to 2010 Solopress is making an innovative move into selling print online, and the decision was a potentially risky one. There was a lack of clarity around whether print buyers wanted to buy online, and the infrastructure at the time wasn’t ideal. For Solopress it was a venture that paid off and facilitated rapid growth in the subsequent years. While this early adoption served as a significant differentiator, the market has become increasingly crowded, and with Solopress still on its growth trajectory, maximising productivity is vital.
As the business grew and orders increased, so did the number of manual tasks and processes. “Everything's manual so it's ‘drag, click, drop’, quite time-consuming for an experienced press operator to be standing in front of the computer,” explains Peter Storey, Workflow Specialist at Solopress. “The company was growing, and orders were increasing,” adds Rob Lagden Workflow Architect at Solopress. “It was quite manual checks and fixes of customer-supplied artwork, so we looked into ways of [eliminating] those mundane manual processes, those repetitive processes, and we started to look at software, workflows, and automation to take those mundane processes away from the operator so they could concentrate on more important things.”
In 2018, Rob met Tom Peire and David Van den Driessche, Four Pees’ CEO and CTO respectively, and was impressed by their expertise, as well as the product they were demonstrating – Callas pdfToolbox, a manual PDF pre-flight and correction application. After meeting Tom and David, he felt that Four Pees would be a beneficial partner for Solopress as it sought to implement automation and eliminate repetitive tasks. “The main issue we had at the very start was making those workflows more robust,” Lagden continues. “Callas pdfToolbox did that. That was the beginning.”
In 2018, Rob met Tom Peire and David Van den Driessche, Four Pees’ CEO and CTO respectively, and was impressed by their expertise, as well as the product they were demonstrating – callas pdfToolbox, a manual PDF pre-flight and correction application. After meeting Tom and David, he felt that Four Pees would be a beneficial partner for Solopress as it sought to implement automation and eliminate repetitive tasks. “The main issue we had at the very start was making those workflows more robust,” Lagden continues. “callas pdfToolbox did that. That was the beginning.”
Since the relationship with Four Pees began, Solopress has continued to optimise and fine-tune its processes. “As the workflows grew, the more and more Four Pees were helping,” says Lagden. “Over the past fice years, Four Pees have helped us make our workflow more robust and more optimised, evaluating flows we had running that took minutes to perform actions, down to seconds to do the same thing. Out of 2000 orders a day, 500 are manual, and the rest are fully automated. In the next couple of months, we're looking at the way we automate imposition, ganging and batch outputs based on job type, material and print devices. Four Pees is helping us with the applications Imp Layout and Imp Flow developed by Insoft Automation. That's where my focus is for the next couple of months.” (Imp is an automated imposition and planning tool designed for today’s versatile printers who have an array of printing machines producing a wide range of print products.)
Peter Storey notes that the manual nature of Solopress’ growing large-format output has been transformed since the implementation of Enfocus Switch, a modular automation solution designed connect a seamless workflow and automate repetitive tasks. He explains: “I’ve used workflows in conjunction with several pieces of software, and the RIPs. Now we just commit work to the press via Switch Client, and users in the factory and production can also interact with jobs via the Switch Client. It prints the job tickets as they commit to press, gathers the monitor to sheet length, and releases it to the machine.” Peter also highlights the Private Data Magician app as a specific example of Four Pees’ expertise supporting Solopress to keep improving and optimising. He adds: “[Four Pees] is sometimes like as an additional member of staff really, to get some ideas how to optimise things.”
Managing Director of Solopress Simon Cooper notes the advancements made in the last four years, due in no small part to the effective implementation of automation: “If we compare the business right now with the business in 2019, we almost don't deliver a job late. This month we're 99.85% on time dispatch rate, so we've been able to massively improve, and one reason for that is whereas in the past we were dealing job by job, we're now automating those processes and getting work through and on to the press is much, much quicker.”
What do we mean by ‘Connected Automation’, and why are we so passionate about it? Connected Automation is about connecting all the elements of a workflow together, and not only allowing for a smooth, seamless flow from planning to product, but automating the entire process as much as possible. A certain automation or a singular software unfortunately doesn’t make for a harmonious workflow, but living and breathing Connected Automation absolutely does.
For Solopress, adopting the Connected Automation ethos has played a key role in its success, not only saving time and money through the reduction of mundane processes, but also ensuring the skilled operators are focused on more engaging and rewarding tasks. Simon explains: “The investments that we've made both in terms of Connected Automation, but also production equipment and technology have massively enabled us to improve productivity in the business. What we knew was we wanted to automate simple tasks, basic tasks that were actually quite tedious and tiresome for humans to keep carrying out time and time again.”
Simon reflects on the Solopress ‘print delivered tomorrow’ principle, adding: “I think our peak day was almost 2800 orders, but of those 60 to 70% will come in and go out the same day. Where Connected Automation made the biggest difference for our customers was being able to automate the process of that. There was no time lost in queuing up and waiting for humans to carry out a certain process. In a perfect world, a customer will specify their product themselves online, upload their artwork and approve directly online, and from the moment they approve their proof to us having it queued up and ready to be printed on a press can be as little as a minute and a half.”
For forward-thinking businesses like Solopress, Connected Automation forms a central part of a comprehensive growth and productivity strategy, although it is of course not the only ingredient in the pie. “Look at our revenue divided by all the hours that are worked in the business; we've seen a 76% improvement in productivity since 2019,” notes Simon. “To being able to see a 76% improvement in productivity is just incredible. I'm not going to say 100% of that is down to Connected Automation, but it's a big contributing factor to that improvement in productivity.”
Innovative print businesses keep their eyes on the road, and are always thinking about where they are heading, as well as maximising success in the here and now. At Four Pees, our automation experts are there to support you as you navigate your journey and accelerate your productivity. Solopress are a textbook example of a business using Connected Automation to take its inherent value proposition that extra mile further.
Simon concludes: “We saw the need as an organisation to start driving automation quite early on, and whenever you do that you look for experts. We've got some talent that's developed within our own business; people that I would now describe as experts. I’m really looking at what are the benefits that the business sees, and I can see very clear benefits. I'm really pleased with the fact that [the Solopress team] have a good partner. They tell me we have a good partner in Four Pees and we're certainly seeing positive results within the business.”