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A Printer of a Different Color

RandyBlog2016Automation has been a focal point at Firehouse over the last few years. A decade ago, software automation at Firehouse entailed building macros in Excel, Photoshop or working with AppleScript. Fast forward, and this has evolved into true software development with a full-time team devoted to building applications that can automate the digital printing workflow like never before. CEO Terry Corman has stated many times that Firehouse is rapidly becoming a technology company that also prints. While Firehouse is first and foremost a printing company, software development has had a huge impact in how work flows through our facility.

The world has changed. It’s time for the printing industry to do the same.

Digital print clients want many things from their print vendors, but speed is always at the top of the list. As I’ve said many times, we live in an amazon.com world. Firehouse won’t be adding drone delivery any time soon, FireDronebut the on-demand speed expectation can’t be ignored. Deadlines are not just shrinking, soon they will vanish altogether with same-day shipments. Lengthy print runs are also becoming a thing of the past with variable data and a transition to an on-demand print model, which makes sense; why buy 5,000 of a piece you may or may not use when you can have us print them on the fly?

With that shift, everything changes. Printing one file 5,000 times is one thing. Printing 5,000 files one time each is an entirely different beast, and requires a new way of thinking. While many companies want to cling to the old ways of doing business, Firehouse embraces technology and loves the challenge of working differently. The leader of our team in Europe has noted “Firehouse is a chameleon; it changes to what the industry needs us to be.”

And so, Firehouse changes its colors once again, as it has many times in the past.

Randy Baer
Firehouse COO

Case Study: Firehouse Wraps Butler Softball Field

PaulPicButlerSoftball01Terry and Sally Corman are Butler University fans. As alumni and long-time supporters of the Butler athletic program, it’s no surprise that when Butler has large signage projects for their athletic fields, Firehouse is eager to fill the need.

In 2014, Firehouse supplied large mesh banners and wall decor for the renovation of Butler’s historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. Case Study – Butler University’s Hinkle Fieldhouse This spring, Butler again turned to Firehouse for a new project. The University had recently updated their branding with revised logos and guidelines. The Butler Softball Stadium had numerous old banners in place that no longer matched the University’s brand. They were also becoming heavily worn from years in the elements. New banners were needed. Unlike the Hinkle project, the University did not have graphic files for new banners. But coach Scott Hall had a clear vision for the look of the stadium. It needed to reflect the new branding standards and he wanted to feature photos of the team. Scott consulted with Firehouse Marketing Director Jon Heilman on the new direction. Jon photographed the stadium and verified measurements for graphic installation and then created options for the new look.ButlerSoftballTemplate_v6

Jon combined Butler’s revised branding with 12 action photos of the team and unified everything with a textured gray background. Softball stitching was also used as a graphic divider element. Firehouse printed all graphics on a durable mesh banner for maximum outdoor longevity.

“We were looking for something that would really promote our team and university and Firehouse came through in a big way! They were very professional and easy to work with. They met all our needs in a very timely manner!”

Scott Hall
Head Coach – Butler Softball

The graphics were completed and installed before the beginning of the softball season and were a big hit with Butler staff and fans alike. Firehouse also carried the design to a new display banner for the baseball field. Scroll through this slideshow for a better look.

Stay tuned for a future post detailing graphics for the Butler Youth Soccer Camp.

Paul Meek
Vice President of Operations

SoftballPanorama

The Future of the Printing Industry – Part 2

terryblogFuturePart2During my years in the photographic industry, I bore witness to a business workflow that went from laborious hand work to near total automation. Prints used to be produced by skilled craftsmen in darkrooms with enlargers. They would frame and focus and expose and tweak—often manipulating the light with filters and dodging and burning to achieve the optimum result. That changed rapidly to an all-digital production with photos imaged to paper with lasers. Both methods produced photographs on photographic paper.

Once the automation hit full stride, we saw pricing drop from around $25.00 a square foot to $1.00. Automation of this printing process devastated all but a few tech-savvy survivors. The entire size and structure of this area of the printing industry was altered in a brief period of time. As photographic labs disappeared, so did the suppliers and the trade associations.

The ultimate question for each area of the current printing industry is “what will the effects of automation be in the future?”

We see two major innovations coming our way—software and robotics.

The software written, to date, to automate processes in printing companies has come primarily from the equipment manufacturers to make their machines work better. It gives them a competitive edge. But these are all stand-alone solutions. Very little has been done, to this point, to create a total, integrated workflow solution or to reduce total cost of ownership of equipment offerings. However, now, the printing industry is beginning to see software solutions that will eventually eliminate many front-end workflow processes. For clients willing to integrate more closely with their print vendors, a total solution is near. This goes beyond a front-end order entry portal. That’s where the process starts. The magic will be tying the output from the front end into fully customized software that will direct those source files through the workflow (order writing, preflight, proofing, prepress, tracking, etc.) and land it in the proper print queue. It’s coming!

The use of robotics in printing has been limited to a very few large flexographic and specialty printers. Robotic solutions for material handling at all stages of the printing process are either now, or soon will be, available at a reasonable return on investment. Firehouse will have a robotic arm solution for taking sheets from our flat bed printers to our large digital cutters eliminating the labor in that process. Further, robotic carts with preprogrammed destinations will be carrying ‘work in progress’ from cutting to our quality control and packaging department, eliminating that labor. Both of those automated labor-saving solutions are a worthy automation investment.

What can be automated, will be automated. As this happens, the structure of the printing industry, just like the photographic industry, will change quickly. Will large-format print companies react in time?

The final and third segment of this blog post will contain some predictions for the future, as promised.

Terry Corman
Firehouse CEO