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Real-world MIS

Apr 1, 2003 12:00 AM

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In the February feature “Making the best MIS choice,” we reviewed management-information-system (MIS) trends and selection guidelines. In this article, we'll highlight some users' MIS motivations.

United Printing: Faster estimates

Ever since it opened its doors in 1966, United Printing (Bismarck, ND) has used Franklin Estimating Systems' (Salt Lake City) offset pricing books. But after more than 30 years of generating estimates the old-fashioned way, the 40-employee general commercial printer was ready for a change. It's been using Franklin's Estimator Pro with the Data Manager shop-floor data-collection system since October 2002.

Estimates are now done in half the time. “It takes two minutes for an easy estimate and 30 minutes for a complex one,” says Bob Mooney, United's estimator. “It's easy to try different job scenarios, such as different quantities or papers.”

United does have an older version of an MIS designed for larger printers, but had struggled with its cumbersome estimating module. “You have to go through 13 or 14 screens, as compared to three for Estimator,” says Mooney. Many Estimator users integrate the system with Quick Books for invoicing and accounting, but United stuck with its old MIS' accounting module.

Mooney notes that Estimator Pro is equipped with Franklin Rates (which are based on its pricing books), eliminating the need to input pricing data. The estimator also likes the system's progressive series of windows that shows how the estimate is built.

It did take Mooney some time to adjust to the new system — initially, he was on the phone to Franklin support people every week. “I didn't know crap,” he concedes. “But they were very helpful, and overall, we had few problems.”

Econographix: Simplified order-entry

“Order-entry is critical to a short-run business,” says Steve Haas, president of Econographix (Madison, WI). “Our MIS priorities include shop-floor data collection and job tracking.”

In 1999, the company installed an Avanti Computer Systems (Toronto) MIS to replace a non-Y2K-compliant system. Econographix also needed a system that would help expedite estimates and keep tabs on the printer's two manufacturing locations and downtown storefront. “Scheduling was a minor need,” says Haas. “Few jobs get a chance to grow beards or gray hair. It's more important to know where a job is.”

The 100-employee commercial printer specializes in short-run, quick-turnaround digital printing and copying produced on a Xerox DocuTech and DocuColor and two Heidelberg direct-imaging presses. Econographix's MIS is integrated with a Great Plains accounting package; Avanti also offers an Electronic Accounting and Scheduling Interface specifically designed for Xerox devices.

Quality Color Graphics: Tighter integration

Quality Color Graphics (Milwaukee) was founded in 1988 as a prepress house. Today, it's a $7 million, 70-employee general commercial printer. In 1997, after its first MIS attempt failed, the company installed Tailored Solutions' (Milwaukee) Litho Traxx. “We had tried a custom system that took too long and cost too much,” recalls Rick Polster, operations manager. “We needed a more complete system for customer service and accounting. Tighter integration among all facets of our operation was a key motivator.”

The printer uses its MIS' estimating, order-processing, accounts-receivable and job-costing modules every day. A fulfillment module is used to track inventories for a few large accounts.

“Having all information in one system and immediate access to it as work is flowing is helpful,” says Polster. “Loading a customer record in Litho Traxx, for example, gives us a quick overview of their history. We can see all their estimates, mark-up history, orders and accounts-receivable information at a glance. Consistency is the name of the game, and these features go a long way toward that.”

Polster, a 25-year industry veteran, says the company's learning curve was relatively painless. “We had [prepress] estimating up in one day, and a few weeks later, we had print estimating flowing,” he notes. “After that, we logically progressed through the modules.”

Setting up prepress estimating took only one day, explains Polster, because these processes are easier to define. “You can choose from a laundry list of required processes and materials. Structuring Litho Traxx prepress was just a matter of building these items and assigning dollar amounts.” On the press and postpress side, Polster had to build equipment files, establish a range of standards and capabilities, and determine how the program would use this information.

While the Litho Traxx initial setup did require some expertise, “when it comes to daily usage, it's a user-friendly program,” says Polster. “Anyone with minimum industry experience will be comfortable with the program within days.”

Badger Press: Timely feedback

Badger Press (Ft. Atkinson, WI) is a $5.5 million commercial printer with web and sheetfed equipment. In December 2002, it replaced its 15-year-old Covalent system with Printcafe's (Pittsburgh) Logic system.

“We went from a keypad system where employees punched in job numbers as well as codes for shop-floor operations,” relates controller Don Vogel. “It served its purpose well. But now, with Logic's electronic job ticket, there's a selection of material codes, more detailed information — such as estimated lbs. of ink — as well as general standards, such as the amount of time certain jobs should take.”

Estimating information automatically flows to the job ticket, another feature the controller likes. Vogel credits the system with improving communication and providing more timely feedback. “Employees can see if they are in line with expectations,” he says. “If a job is slower or faster than estimated, they can insert an explanation.”

Stevens Graphics Inc.: Interface customization

Owned by Bell South, Stevens Graphics Inc. (Atlanta) is a 600-employee directory and catalog printer with facilities in Atlanta and Birmingham, AL. In January 2003, after months of testing, the printer went live with Prism USA's (Plymouth, MA) WIN system.

“Our previous MIS, Printers Accounting Information System, was being retired,” explains Chris Mark, manager of IT. “It was an older product that had stagnated.”

The Georgia printer selected Prism for its ease of use as well as for its reliable remote-plant data collection. A style-sheet feature supports user-interface customization. “You can tailor the screen for each user,” explains Mark. “It's very flexible.”

The Prism EDS server enables remote shop-floor data collection, even if a main database goes down. “People on the shop floor aren't impacted,” says the IT manager. “If something happens to the T-1 line, both the Atlanta and Birmingham sites can keep [entering data].”

Since Stevens Graphics Inc. had been using AutoCount and Abitrol for years, its new MIS had to be compatible with these data-collection systems. Prism WIN Connect, an application programming interface, fits the bill. “We can easily get data in or out,” says Mark. “It eliminates duplicate data entry.”

Mark also likes how Prism handles shop-floor data collection. At computer terminals throughout the plants, employees input operating data using Virtual Time Manager, a time-clock touchscreen. “There's no more entering codes, just pushing [on-screen] buttons,” says Mark. “The touchscreens were definitely worthwhile.”

Vision Graphics: Database accessibility

Vision Graphics (Loveland, CO) is a $13 million, 85-employee printer. About 75 percent of its work is commercial printing; the rest is packaging. A Covalent user since 1988, the company upgraded to Printcafe's Hagen OA in January 2002. Originally, Vision's MIS requirements included supporting two locations. (Until recently the company also had a plant in a nearby town, but it has since been consolidated into the Loveland plant.)

Database accessibility and customization were top priorities, according to CEO and owner Mark Steputis. “Now we can get the form we want, instead of the form created by the software developers. We can track almost anything you can dream up.”

Because Vision is assuming greater responsibility for its MIS setup, Steputis says it's essential to set up the system correctly. “Mistakes [due to setup errors] can move a lot faster and further before they're caught.”

Vision is among the first printers to implement Printcafe's PrinterSite Internal, an Internet-based specification tool. “Salespeople can use laptops to log in and enter quote requests,” explains the exec. “This information ties in with the Hagen database — salespeople can see all of the generated quotes, convert those to orders and check the status of orders. It's a kind of digital front end salespeople can use to manage their book of business from a remote site.” PrinterSite is expected to eliminate re-keying of jobs specs, says Steputis, saving the company time and money. The system also is expected to result in complete information being submitted the first time, streamlining the quoting process.

Panel Prints: Custom reports rule

Panel Prints Inc. (Old Forge, PA) is a 300-employee, point-of-purchase printer. It also does large-format heat-transfer printing found on snowboards, skis, coffee mugs, mouse pads and rugs. It implemented Printcafe's PSI MIS in 1993 and recently transitioned from a DOS to a Windows version.

“You need a system that can grow with your company,” says Bill Atkins, MIS manager. “We've changed dramatically in the past few years, but so has PSI.”

Surprisingly, despite the more user- friendly environment and additional functions, not all employees were eager to abandon DOS. “An old dog doesn't want to learn new tricks,” says Atkins. Management was, however, ready to make the change, especially as the MIS manager has demonstrated how certain modules can help achieve greater overall efficiency.

Atkins joined Panel Prints in 2002, but had used PSI for eight years at a different printer. “The program can be made as simple or complex as you want,” he says. “We haven't found many limitations. You can tell that the programmers know the printing business. We can mold it to our needs as a large offset printer with a finishing department and finished-goods department.”

The MIS manager makes liberal use of PSI's custom-report capabilities. “In the original version, these reports were programming-intensive and not widely used. The newer version has Crystal reports, which are much easier to build.”

Custom reports let management “see everything on a couple of pages,” says Atkins. “That could be job costing, sales analysis or customer trends. We can also use data collection to create an employee report card.”

He also stresses the importance of correct MIS setup. “Spend a little more time up front to do it right,” says Atkins. “Anything done improperly will cause you problems down the road.”

EFI poised to acquire Printcafe

Electronics for Imaging, Inc. (EFI) (Foster City, CA) and Printcafe Software Inc. (Pittsburgh) have signed a merger agreement providing for EFI's acquisition of Printcafe for $2.60 for each outstanding Printcafe share. Days before EFI announced the merger agreement, Printcafe's majority shareholder, Creo Inc. (Vancouver, BC), withdrew its offer to purchase all Printcafe outstanding common shares for $3.00 per share.

“EFI has huge resources and a commitment to open systems — these are all good things for us,” says Andy Schaer, senior vice president of marketing for Printcafe. “We can continue to operate as we have — it will enable us to strengthen our platform products and build integration with other partners.”

The merger, pending regulatory and shareholder approval, is expected to close in Q2. (See “EFI to acquire Printcafe,” p. 12.)


  1. Type of system: Price list
    Typical users: In-plants, quick printers and shops that don't need job costing or estimates with production-hour details
    Cost/key modules: $1,000-$5,000; Estimating, job ticketing, invoicing and accounts receivable
    Representative systems: Franklin, Pagepath, Printsmith (Printcafe), PrintLeader

  2. Type of system: Midrange
    Typical users: $10 million printers with up to 100 employees
    Cost/key modules: $10,000-$60,000; Comprehensive estimating, job ticketing (order entry), inventory, job costing, data collection, scheduling, purchasing, invoicing, accounting or accounting package interface
    Representative systems: Avanti, Dienamic (Finishing), GraphicTech, InfoNet, IT Systems, Meta (OE and Prep), PACE, Parsec, Prinect (Heidelberg), PrintPoint, Profit Control Systems, Printer's Software, Programmed Solutions (Printcafe), Prographic, Prism Enterprise, Tailored Solutions

  3. Type of system: Large
    Typical users: $10 million-$70 million printers, either single plant or cluster of nearby plants working from one server
    Cost/key modules: $75,000-$200,000; All print production modules, plus accounting
    Representative systems: Concord (packaging), CRC, DiMS!, Globe-Tek, Hagen and Logic (Printcafe), Primac, Prism Win, Radius, SAP (Unitinc), Streamline Solutions

  4. Type of system: Multi-company
    Typical user: Larger printers with multiple plants
    Cost/key modules: $600,000+; All print production modules, accounting, plus dynamic scheduling, DMI
    Representative systems: CRC, DiMS!, Globe-Tek, Hagen (Printcafe), Primac, Prism Win, Radius, SAP

Source: Consultware (Pembroke, MA)