InPrint USA Focus: Software company, Printform

Mark Abramson of California based Printform will be speaking in the Global Inkjet Conference at InPrint USA. Print Form has developed a collaborative partnership with Tonejet and BevCan. In this blog he explains more about the company, what software does to help solve problems with a focus on direct to shape product printing with inkjet.

Mark’s background is in the print industry is one as a software engineer and been his career for a number of years. His dream was to bring his own product to market. Through realising his dream, like many entrepreneurs, he has struggled to find his own  print-on-demand, mass-customisation software product in the marketplace.

One of his early innovations was to bring his own personalised wallet to market.

“I was always interested in photography and getting most out of desktop printers and the wallet was first foray into flatbed onto other products.”

I asked Mark, what is industrial printing?

“My view is that ‘I print on things’– I have a whole rack full off of various things:packaging, a phone case, glasses, tote bags, messenger bags, beer cans, so it is really about printing onto things.”

So your focus is really software?

“Yes. By being a group of software developers launching our own product, we addressed a lot of high-volume single-piece manufacturing issues, adapted our supply chain management solution and created a system ideal for mass customisation. And then my friends said they wanted to something similar to do something on their own shop floor and that is how we have got into this notion of workflow and distributed web to print and mass customised workflows for some big industrial environments.

The software business is now more demanding of our time and more on our customer’s products."

What is your business model?

“We run the software as a service and run our infrastructure in the Cloud. We run Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and some different infrastructure depending on the requirements. It is a key issue getting a handle on all of the orders, the designs, making sure everything is print-ready, and delivering the right product to the right customer. Back in2013, when we started, we knew that this would make the impossible, possible. And now we can create 2,000 unique pieces a day depending on the product, and the software is a key part needed to manage this.

Since we’ve been involved in a number of different environments, we now have a number of different components – parts of the system that solve a specific challenge like e-payments or PDF generation– that can be composed together into a comprehensive system.  By connecting a number of different micro-services we are able to take advantage of what the customer has already in place along with some new technology so they don’t have to scrap what they’ve already invested in.

A great example is our customer who has an existing Magentoe-commerce store, they pull in orders from the Zazzle marketplace, they use our web-to-print system and they do a bunch of Kickstarter projects.  We put together all of these components into a comprehensive solution for them and all of the print jobs flows into one production queue.  The orders come from everywhere but the shop floor sees a consistent workflow.

Being able to bring a product to market and make it work for the manufacturer depends on many variables. Firstly, we assess their needs and create a comprehensive solution that meets their specific needs this is table stakes for web to print.

How things really begin to get exciting for industrial is when you get a new flow of orders, with the software being hosted in the cloud you can connect to whomever you need. This could be an online marketplace for example that could be a new customisable product or decoration onto the outside of packaging. These are areas we are able to help other manufacturers whilst using their own production queue.

For example, an e-tailer won’t want to do the custom printing but they still manage the process. Their orders from the UK go through a website whilst they are based in Australia. The order comes in, the artwork is submitted by the customer and then the print is done by a 3PL in the UK. They get to view the entire fulfilment process and maintain the customer relationship as the software exists in the cloud.

If they change their mind, maybe they could justify bringing the print in house yet there is no real change to the workflow, as everyone is already trained on the workflow. It is then just about learning the printing which can be learned quickly.

How do you work with Tonejet?

Another example altogether is with Tonejet. This project has been in development for a number of years with Bev Can Printers in the US coming to market with Tonejet technology. It is an all new business. There is no legacy infrastructure and you have this revolutionary printhead used commercially for the first time.  The rest of the business didn’t exist so we implemented a complete supply chain management system, web-to-print e-commerce gateway and fulfilment solution based on our software.  We had to build a way for them to model it up all the way from the customer to getting the physical sign off, scheduling the freight company, doing the fulfilment so they entire value chain from first customer to delivery is handled in BevCan Printers’ system to create a real business.

With the can printing – you start with blank cans. There is a lot of this business which is laborintensive: the trucks, keeping track of design revisions, printing sample cans, and keeping track to make sure the one signed off by the customer gets printed in the production run – 1 pallet to 20 pallets.

How did you meet?

We met with Tonejet in a conference a couple of years ago. Simon (Edwards) and I got talking about what they had done and our software and he put me in touch with Ben (at BevCanPrinters) and we have been collaborating ever since.

It has been really exciting because it is not just another packaging application – there are so many elements of it are so revolutionary it will change the game for the fillers and the brewers and it has come at the right time. We are so excited to combine this revolutionary print head from Tonejet with BevCan Printers and our software to come to market with a viablecomplete business solution.

Who is BevCan Printers?

BevCan deal with the printing custom beverage cans for brands, fillers and brewers.  They are really focused on automating whatever they can automate so they can use a very minimum of staff when it goes into production. This adds pressure onto the software so we really had to spend time really looking at the complete workflow. Even the process of getting the design from the customer is  more than 25 discrete steps. It requires dialing in the complete process to simplify and help the customer understand what the physical samples will look like.

So is it a replacement technology?

With the software this can be integrated it doesn’t have to disrupt.

What attendees to InPrint need to realise is that new initiatives don’t require print manufacturers to throw away what they already have in place – workflows, web sites, systems, expertise – but rather leverage what they have so they don’t have to start over from scratch. The previous embedded knowledge will really help the new process succeed.

I am super excited to come to Orlando – really interesting show and conference full of my favorite people. Whenever I talk to people in industrial print conferences – we are all struggling with the same issues – it is a comfortable environment to discuss best practices, solve our problems and have fun.

In the US there are so many different marketplaces and so many different ways to sell a product. Manufacturers have to figure out how to test the market and bring products to market quickly and profitably capitalise on these opportunities.

How is the US different to Europe?

In certain ways Europe is ahead – many innovative companies in the UK like Tonejet, in Italy you have the textile giants like MS– some of the products are amazing. On the business side of things the US Market is certainly attempting to introduce a lot of things at a very high rate. The problem is that there aren’t enough people or firms who can deal with industrial print and the problems that occur when you are doing a large volume of unique items.

People have great ideas, they want to execute, but they can’t find the expertise and I have seen a lot of failed projects as it is difficult.  Sometimes we are asked to step in and try to rescue a failed project –it’s never a pretty picture – so we’re always eager to share our knowledge.

But I am also guilty of thinking it will be easy. A web-to-print system I thought would be quick, but it took five times as long to build our own and we’re on our third major revision. It isn’t easy.

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Mark Abramson of Printform will speak at InPrint USA  

Mark AbramsonPrintform Corporation
mark@printform.co
+1(415) 738-7685 (o)
www.printform.co