Today’s automotive industry uses robots extensively to build cars. In fact, half of all robots are used in the automotive industry, with a ratio of roughly one robot to every eight employees[1]. These robotic systems can do things where human labor struggles. Robots take instructions well through programming and work at a consistent level of accuracy, repeatability, and throughput. In automobile manufacturing, robots are used in frame construction and welding where repetitive precision is needed. Unlike us, robots do not make mistakes and do not get tired.

Robots, like us, do have limitations. Their knowledge is limited to the task or series of tasks they have been programmed for, lacking the ability to be creative or spontaneous to solve problems. Their tooling, or physical attachments, are usually designed for a singular purpose like welding or moving objects into place. As a result, most of today’s robots lack the fine motor skills to complete complex tasks. Robots also need administration, maintenance, and special considerations when working near people. For these reasons, automobile manufacturers continue to use human labor for final assembly, where the tasks are varied and require adaptation and fine motor skills.

What does this have to do with your print workflow?

In manufacturing environments, like the printing industry, it is critical to use all types of labor efficiently and effectively. Many printers have fully or mostly manual workflow processes from the point of onboarding a new job through delivery. Many of these tasks are best suited for another type of robot — software robots. Any software solution that uses process automation to perform routine and repeatable tasks is building software robots. Once the processing rules, steps, and tasks are created, the solution can continuously perform the same task over and over again.

The printing industry has used software robots in varying capacities for years, just under different names. Preflighting, workflow management, and batching software are solutions in our industry that use rules to pick up, process, and prepare jobs for printing. The issue is that many printers have yet to adopt these solutions or, if owned, are underutilizing them. Even a small improvement using software robots quickly compounds to provide significant benefits.

Consider a shop producing 1,000 jobs per month whose operators spend an average of 5 minutes preflighting, requiring nearly 84 hours of labor costs per month. If operators could reduce manual intervention by half using preflighting software and fix the problem in under a minute, the labor costs would fall to Reducing that manual intervention to half of the jobs (500) would fall to just over 8 hours per month. Your CSRs and prepress staff could then focus on the hard problems that require human creativity and ingenuity.

Implementing this type of process automation with software robots saves labor costs while reducing the potential for problems further down the manufacturing line. As the labor market continues to shift, one way to future-proof your workflow is by effectively using your existing staff on the highest value work.

Be sure to check out the 6-part ecosystem series for in-plant and print service providers for more information on each stage of your print production and contact us if you have any questions.

[1] International Federation of Robotics, March 2016