Greg Smith has been quiet of late. The managing director of Cats Solutions in Swindon has simply been too busy handling inquiries from the sorts of brands and clients that other printers would give their eye teeth for.
He brought the reason to the Print Show at the NEC with a corner stand under the Emagination brand. It demonstrated that pretty much anything can be printed, and that if it can be printed then it can be personalised with print. Consequently there were chocolate wrappers, phone cases, even greetings cards featuring a Mr Potato Head cartoon figure that can be generated in millions of potential combinations.
The secret is not in the printing (that is relatively straightforward) and a case of fitting the required object in a jig for the Canon Arizona flatbed UV inkjet printer. Nor is it in the storefront applications that enable consumers to place orders for the personalised paraphernalia. The secret is in the software that links the order received to the job queue on the printer with minimal touch points.
It solves the problems that personalisation has bumped up against. “The brands tell us ‘we know there’s a market place that we can identify, but we don’t know how to do it. We can’t find the easy to use software and we have no clue what to do’,” says Smith.
On the production side jobs are fed through automatically, ganging up similar work on the same print run. It is about organising the workflow by the media, not by the customer, Smith points out, and being able to assign the finished jobs to their destination.
Where Cats cannot produce the job on its own equipment it will find the way to do so. At the Print Show, Smith was proud of a knitted scarf that is produced on demand and fully personalised, not a poor quality product that has been over printed. He points to stationery set where all components, pencils, ruler and so on, carry the name of the girl who will receive it as a birthday present.
Any existing software for this is at best clunky, Smith explains. His business has called on its years of experience in delivering overnight digitally printed work through automated processes for a wide spread of customers to do the same with new styles of print. “This is on demand production of printed products,” he says. “We have the app designers and have been able to plug into the retailers websites or to a white label site. The retailers can send the order for existing suppliers to produce or we can supply what they want.”
For the Mr Potato Head card, for example, this can include one of a possible 30 million designs and the image is repeated on the envelope being sent out as well as on the card. “It’s the next level of product innovation,” Smith says.
The interaction with brands and retailers has led to pop up print operations in stores for peak season to deliver on the spot personalisation, often using Oki printers. “Now the brands and retailers are getting on board with this. They don’t know how to go about it and we can solve their problems,” he says.
Early on Smith had to decide whether to lock down the software and handle all the work internally or else to licence the application so open up the market. The first option would have meant creating the largest warehouse in Swindon to accommodate all manner of products to be personalised, and becoming a distribution business. He chose the second route.
Now the software is available to others who want to tap into the rapidly expanding opportunity. There were dozens of leads to follow up from the exhibition to show that this seems to have been the right call. And there were thoughts to ponder for the company’s next move. When it becomes possible to make the products, using 3D technology, as well as to print on them, expect Greg Smith to be there.
Greg Smith is enjoying the success of the technology that has been developed in house by Cats Solutions to capture personalised print orders and linking these to the print production network to optimise the production of all kinds of products and labels for brands and retailers.