A ship that navigates a vast ocean full of unknown perils and challenges must have information. It must know where it started from, where it is at any given moment, and where its final destination is, so that it may plan its route and anticipate any difficulties or opportunities.

As it is on the sea, so it is with a flexo print business that looks to its future strategically, wanting to position itself best to grow and meet quickly changing market demands.

These are all critical waypoints, and each of them should be defined with precise data. The natural place for this data to be collected and stored is in the print company’s MIS or ERP system. These are key navigational aids for long term planning.

‘Business owners who are planning to own and operate for the next five, 10, or 15 years are asking how they get their businesses ready for the next stage of growth, and that planning begins by really understanding how your business operates today — understanding what you’re good at, what you’re not good at, and what your areas of opportunity are,’ said Matt Murphy, founder of Batched for LabelTraxx. ‘The best way to understand your business today is through the data that you’re collecting, storing, and managing about your business.’

Tharstern CEO Keith McMurtrie agrees, telling FlexoTech, ‘Because it touches so many different facets of a business, MIS software captures a huge amount of data which can be used to forward plan. The customers you deal with, the products you sell them, what time of year you sell them, what materials are common, what problems you’re getting with equipment or with operators or with certain types of products – all of this information is captured inside your MIS.’

This information becomes a valuable reservoir of information over time, he continued – a reservoir to draw upon when important questions that could shape the future of your business need to be answered. It might be about the seasonality of sales, the suitability of the factory for certain products, or whether specific production problems that are being experienced could be alleviated by equipment investments – but these are issues that move beyond the day-to-day; they can shape long-term planning about the direction of the business.

Customer value

A key part of this entire process is digging deeper into the nature of your customer base, to gain a better understanding of who the good ones really are. Mr McMurtrie continued, ‘Where it gets really interesting is when you start analysing your customers and products by the amount of value-added contribution they bring in. You can identify any customers that might appear to be profitable because they have a high turnover, for example, but are actually sapping a huge amount of time and resource away from profitable customers. You can also use your MIS data to carry out value-added analysis using a BCG matrix to highlight specific customers, products or sectors that are particularly profitable for your company, which means you can then make a strategic decision to try and upsell to those customers, or to focus your sales and marketing efforts on particular products or sectors.’

Within the LabelTraxx MIS, this kind of information can be viewed through the Batched tool, which contains a variety of dashboards that facilitate deeper analysis. ‘This can help drive your long-term sales and marketing strategies, as well as help better understand which types of customers you tend to win with — or which types of customers you may want to avoid or deprioritise in the future,’ said Mr Murphy.

Batched also includes dashboards on equipment utilisation, delivering insights such as the fastest running or the highest amount of waste, which can help inform planning for future activities to drive continuous improvement on the shop floor.

Tharstern’s Keith McMurtrie adds that there are many additional powerful business intelligence (BI) tools that can be connected to MIS software through open APIs to further enhance analysis for strategic decision-making. Microsoft’s Power BI, he says, is an excellent option for most businesses as it can easily be included in their Microsoft Office license.

‘By connecting your MIS to a BI tool such as this, you can really drill down into different levels of your data and highlight interesting connections and trends that you can use to forward plan.’

Acquiring intelligence

Kevin Blakey, product director for packaging at ePS, also highlights the power of BI tools for exploring the data the print business produces in greater detail, and he says many make the mistake of thinking such tools are the same as Reports, when in fact they can operate on a much deeper level when tuned to the MIS data.

In terms of the overall narrative of the MIS supporting strategic decision making, Mr Blakey supports much of what has already been discussed, but he also pinpointed the role that an MIS can play when a growing print business needs to integrate a newly acquired operation into its structure, which may not be at the same stage of maturity with regard to data capture and analysis. This is something that can be done in stages, said Mr Blakey, but it can start on day one, with estimating, before progressing through increasingly tighter integration with production data collection and into capacity planning and scheduling.

‘That allows us to map their processes and bring that data into our one version of the truth that the MIS should be, without having to revolutionise everything in that new business overnight,’ he said.

Mr Blakey also provided a forward-looking perspective on where MIS technology is heading in the near future, with systems becoming capable of more intelligent analysis and intervention. For example, if a pricing structure is agreed with a customer, the MIS will be able to track this against ongoing changes in operating costs to identify when the structure is no longer delivering on margin requirements. It will then give a figurative ‘tap on the shoulder’ to alert the business that pricing needs to be renegotiated.

And as any nautical skipper, sailing serenely towards his destination on placid seas, would confirm, it is always good to have advance notice of the ocean storm that is brewing just over the horizon.


Flexible packagers keep an eye on the big picture with theurer.com’s C3 MIS

At CySa-Pak in Germany, the management was looking for a system to help the business expand into a new market; in Spain, one of the priorities for Ródenas & Rivera was to embrace Lean Manufacturing.

Both companies – leaders in the flexible packaging fields in their respective countries – have looked to theurer.com’s C3 ERP/MIS software for flexible packaging and converting to provide the platform for successful business change.

CySa-Pak specialises in flexible packaging for butter and confectionery and is looking to establish a ‘third mainstay to its business’. With trends moving towards smaller runs with greater variety in colour and type and more frequent re-tooling for the company’s two flexo presses, it needed tools to better analyse its production and job data and plan accordingly.

‘Since we started using C3 software, not only can we plan outstandingly, but we also know what constitutes good or bad sales,’ said Carsten Kirchmeier, procurement manager at CySa-Pak.
For Ródenas & Rivera, the drive to invest in C3 came from a desire to improve its lean management plans. C3 is providing the data necessary to implement that plan. This starts from the most important part of the system: shop floor data collection. This data can uncover hidden savings potential and better utilisation of time, machines and materials, helping it to save money for future investments.

‘The perfect material traceability saves a lot of time for us and makes it easier to offer the best possible quality to our customers,’ said Jaime Campello, manager at Ródenas & Rivera. ‘With the new software we gain insights we haven’t had before, which gives us a lot more information that is needed for important decisions concerning production, organization, lean management and future investments.’