6 Ways Printers Can Battle the Pandemic and Increase Their Value

The unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 have created huge challenges and opportunities for in-plant and commercial printers. While most news about the pandemic is horrific there are a few innovative companies who have figured how to help first responders and others that have created new products and services to increase their value. Here are a few.

1. Creating New Products

Materialise a Belgian 3D printing service provider created a hands-free door opener that can be used to eliminate the need for direct contact with door handles. As you can see in the picture below you can use your arm to open the door.

2. Making social distancing signage

SinaLite is a wholesale trade printer in Canada that sells products to other printers. If you’re an in-plant and don’t own signage equipment they will sell you signage at wholesale costs. They recently created a series of floor graphics to help support social distancing.

3. Making Face Shields

Perhaps the best known stories about printers helping in the pandemic involves making face shields. Printers with large format printing equipment and 3D printers are making face shields to help first responders throughout the nation. In my home state of Colorado, Colorado State University sent student employees home with 3D printers to make masks.

4. Making Plexiglas barriers.

Sandy Alexander is one of the leading commercial printers in the northeast. Like many printers with large format printing equipment they are creating face shields for healthcare workers. In addition, they are making clear plastic barriers that they install at retail companies with registers.

5. Remote Outsourcing

RSA has been working to help in-plants that have been forced to close there doors outsource work remotely. For those printers who use the RSA web to print software known as WebCRD they have created an interface with P3 the outsourcing software to transfer orders from WebCRD to P3 to outsource those jobs.

6. Start on Projects you don’t have time for

In a recent In-Plant Impressions article Laura Lockett, director of Sacramento State University Print & Mail said, “The upside is that many of us have a to-do list that we keep waiting for the slow time that never seems to come,” notes Lockett. “I’m hopeful that I will be crossing lots of things off my list in the weeks to come.”


These are just a few ways printers are helping fight the spread of the COVID-19 and create innovative products and services. If you have created other ways to fight the spread or created other new products and services we would love to hear from you. Please email your stories to howie@howiefentonconsulting.com, because we are all in this together.

Ray Prince Print Consultant Obituary

Raymond J. Prince – 1944 – 2020
Printer, Consultant, and Industry Advisor

(I was asked to write this obituary, and I do it with a heavy heart. Ray Prince and I had a close 52-year friendship with lives that paralleled each other in many ways, personally and professionally.
Harvey Levenson, Professor Emeritus, Cal Poly)


Ray Prince was a 61-year industry veteran, consultant, and advisor who dedicated his career to helping printing companies to improve in the areas of productivity and quality with the bottom-line objective of increasing their profitability. Ray passed away on May 1, 2020.

Ray has consulted in numerous operational areas that cover the gamut of disciplines from sheetfed and web press testing and solving paper and ink problems, to color control systems and paper waste reduction. Ray received an A.A.S. and B.S. in printing management from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and an M.S. in printing management from South Dakota State University.

Ray’s interest and career in graphic communication began at the age of 14 in 1958, when he found a 3”x 5” Kelsey hand-operated printing press in his parents’ attic. He asked his father to teach him how to operate it. The first job he printed was letterheads and envelopes for his church. Then it hit him! In his words, he “created something of use and beauty, and was hooked.”

Shortly after, while still in high school, Ray borrowed $900 from his father and purchased an entire very old letterpress operation from a used equipment dealer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he lived. That started Ray’s career in printing. Upon graduating from high school, Ray had earned enough money to attended RIT for his AAS and BS degrees, and then South Dakota State University for his MS, all in printing management.

After receiving his MS degree, Ray was hired by the legendary Mike Bruno at the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF) in their new headquarters in Pittsburgh. He was motivated, trained and worked six days a week. He had the opportunity to travel extensively, many times at Mike Bruno’s side, doing consulting. He attended every seminar, conference, and workshop given by GATF. When Mike Bruno retired, Ray reported to McKinley Luther, a lawyer with great organizational ability. He taught Ray a lot and guided him in public speaking that served Ray well over the years.

Ray’s next employment was with the Azoplate Corporation, a manufacturer of lithographic printing plates and other products for the printing industry. At Azoplate, Ray learned machine manufacturing with the advent of plate processors and other printing equipment. He was also elected to the Board of Directors of the Technical Association of the Graphic Arts (TAGA), an industry research association composed of leading scientists, technologists, and innovators in the graphic communication industry, and served on several committees.

After about nine years at Azoplate, Ray joined a commercial printer in Sioux Fall, South Dakota, and then was invited to return to GATF where he reported to John Geis, Director of Technical Service, and later to Bert Bassett, GATF President. This started Ray’s many years of consulting, lectures, writing, conducting seminars, and heavy travel. GATF was growing and merged with Printing Industries of America (PIA), and Ray was elevated to Director of Technical Service, with a large group of consultants reporting to him. After many years at GATF/PIA, Ray was hired as a Vice President by the National Association for Printing Leadership (NAPL), also an industry association, and once again dived into consulting. Ray attempted to retire in 2009, but quickly realized that retirement was not for him and he started his own consulting practice.

Always a friend and supporter of education, Ray helped develop the resources and funded what is now called the Raymond J. Prince Graphic Arts Center (RJPGAC) at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California. He arranged many donations of publications, raised substantial money, and was responsible for the donation of the entire Printing Industries of America Wadsworth Library to Cal Poly; now the largest graphic communication library in the world. The collection includes rare books, some dating back hundreds of years. These books are protected in the university’s Rare Book Collection, but accessible by students, faculty, and members of the industry for research. Hence, the students at Cal Poly are surrounded by knowledge at their fingertips as a result of Ray Prince.

In an essay that Ray Prince wrote, that appeared in the recent Ben Franklin Honor Society BFHS Book of Wisdom, Ray leaves our present and future industry members the following advice.

Hard work is a must
Get your education
Attend seminars, workshops, conferences, and expositions in your field
Be motivated and open to training
Do more than asked to do
Do not be intimidated by public speaking, but pursue it
Become involved in industry associations
Research companies carefully before taking positions
Be a self-starter and innovator to further the interests of your company
When in a leadership position, motivate employees
Work to improve the physical work environment
Always leave a job on excellent terms
Try to give back to your industry every year
Develop a “Friends List”

Ray was a member of numerous industry associations and held board of directors and leadership positions in many of them. He received many honors for his contributions to the advancement of the graphic communication industry and for his support of education.

Ray was preceded in death by his mother, father, and sister, and first wife, Nancy. He is survived by his wife, Bonnie, daughters Susan and Sarah, and grandson, Joseph.

There is no service planned. Condolences can be sent to: Bonnie Prince, 249 Desperado Lane, Custer, South Dakota 57730 or email Bonnie at: 263sophies.mom@gmail.com

Why Production Automation Does Not Always Work as Expected and How to Fix It

Nothing is more frustrating than making an investment in hardware or software that is supposed to increase sales, productivity or profitability, only to discover it does not. Too many companies make investments in new technology that never achieve their goals. In this article, we will offer one reason why this occurs and offer a possible solution.

Elon Musk, the CEO of the electric car company Tesla, invested heavily in the robots used to manufacture the company’s newest model only to find production had not improved but slowed down.

Discussed on a recent episode of 60 Minutes, Musk explained that this slow down almost put the company out of business. Musk thought he had created a world class manufacturing operation using robots. But unexpected problems occurred, and the robots kept breaking down, creating slowdowns or bottlenecks in production.

Source: inverse.com/

For most people this may sound counter-intuitive, but it is understood by believers of the 1984 best-selling book “The Goal” written by Goldratt and Cox. It is considered one of the best books on operations and manufacturing. Early in the book, the hero Alex Rogo meets his former operations Professor named Jonah at a manufacturing show and has this interesting conversion:

Professor Jonah: Alex what are you doing here?
Alex Rogo: I’m here on a panel on robots.
Professor Jonah: I’m into research on robots too.
Alex Rogo: Really, ours have been a god send. Since we’ve put those things in, we’ve had a 36% increase in productivity.
Professor Jonah: You mean you’ve earned 36% more money?
Alex Rogo: Not exactly- the increase was just in a certain area.
Professor Jonah: I don’t understand- if you didn’t earn more money how you can say you’ve had an increase in productivity? Have you sold more products as a result of these robots? Did you reduce costs? Did your inventors go down?
Alex Rogo: No.
Professor Jonah: Well then, if you didn’t sell more goods and you didn’t reduce costs and your inventories didn’t go down, then you can’t tell me you’ve had an increase in productivity.
Alex Rogo: Yes, but my price per part has gone down and my efficiencies have gone up.
Professor Jonah: Are you using the right measurement?

That is the bottom-line question. Are you using the right measurement? We see this in our consulting work all the time. Someone wants to make make an investment look good, even though it is not working as well as it should. For example, your new Print MIS system is not resulting in faster estimates or your Web-to-print is not reducing your staffs’ time for order entry, so some people create a new measurement. Changing your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to make your investment look good is the wrong approach. The right approach is to find the root cause and overcome it until your KPIs improve.

The Impact of Bottlenecks on Workflows

“The Goal” demonstrates the impact of bottlenecks on production workflows. It shows that every workflow has a bottleneck. Overcome that bottleneck and the entire workflow is more productive. The ideas in the book have become a formal management theory known as the Theory of Constraint which explains that workflows are filled with bottlenecks, not only the largest one but a series of smaller ones that are often masked by the larger bottleneck.

Not understanding that workflows have smaller bottlenecks often hidden by the larger bottleneck is one reason why attempts to automate fail. The attempt may only address the largest bottleneck but not the smaller ones. For example, a printing company invests in an e-commerce or web-to-print software solution, to overcome their largest bottleneck in order entry. As a result, more jobs flow into the shop faster, creating new bottlenecks in scheduling, job tracking and billing. If those new bottlenecks are not addressed, it can appear that the first investment in the web-to-print software did not solve their problem. Just as Elon Musk and Alex Rogo discovered, you must not only address your largest bottleneck but also the problems or resulting bottlenecks.

In this example, the problem is not that the web-to-print software did not work, but instead the other bottlenecks in scheduling, job tracking, and billing needed to be addressed. It is becoming clearer every day that software solutions need to address a number of issues such as web-to-print, scheduling, job tracking and billing.

Has IT lost its Mojo? Is the book “A Seat at the Table” Right?

Where is IT Leadership Chair? Considering the role IT plays in innovation, integration, digital transformation and the customer experience, one might assume that the relationship between senior management and IT is positive and working well. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Within the last decade, IT especially as related to software development has lost its luster. This has garnered much attention since Mark Schwartz’s book a seat A Seat at the Table.

It is well known that senior management often lacks insight into the ebbs and flows of IT development while the IT department lacks the business acumen to speak in business terms such as increased productivity, reduced cycle time, reduced risk, changes in manufacturing or total cost of operation costs and return on investment.

This fundamental lack of understanding and appreciation on both sides created and reinforces the arms length relationship typically seen with external contractors and IT departments. The best example of this arms length relationship is the internal “contract” created that defines the scope of work. The scoping process contributes to these adversarial feelings because the customer is not exactly sure of the priorities of the features they are requesting and as a result include as many features as they can think of.

This “feature creep” results and requests to prioritize what features often leads to a argument about the importance of pairing down the feature set in order to achieve an on-time delivery. To make things worse, the companies use their project managers who create schedules, delivery dates, and deliverables which inevitably are not met which results in escalation strategies which reinforces the adversarial relationship.

What do your think? Is this a adversarial relationship? Does this impact the ability of IT to participate and impact leadership and management?

What I Love About In-Plant Service Providers and What is Important?

A friend of of mine preparing a presentation recently asked me what I loved about in-plants and after hearing the answer told me to write it down. I have and it is included below. But, I also have a question for anyone in an in-plant printing facility which is “What’s important to you?”. I’m preparing my editorial calendar and want to know, what should I research and write about.

Meanwhile here is…. What I Love About In-Plant Service Providers

When I think about what I love about in plant printers, that answers fall into two categories: first is the important role in-plants fulfill and second is the people you meet. In-Plant service providers play a role in the education our children, communication of critical information with us, and support the role of commerce, When you analyze in-plants by the products they create it becomes clear the vertical market they serve. The largest vertical market is education which includes universities and school districts. In-plant printers provide a critical role in helping educators teach our children which is one of the most important tasks in our society.

If we think of the smaller vertical markets we see a long list that includes as insurance, government, healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, and banking. A common responsibility within these markets is the importance of communicating critical messages about policies, government regulations, taxes, healthcare and finances. Many of these companies also print bills and statements which puts them into another category known as transactional printers which if combined them together would be an even larger vertical then education.

Although some would argue that supporting commerce is superficial compared to supporting education, it is one of the most important engines that helps to drive our economy. The last reason I love working with in-plants is because of the people. I have met some of the nicest people in the world in in-plants. They are hardworking people many arriving early and leaving late to ensure they live up to their promised delivery date. They are quality minded and take great pains to ensure that their product are world class. If you ever go to one of the in-plant shows you will see that they are all willing to help one another and share their “lessons learned”.

In summary, I love in-plants because of the roles they play in educating our children, communicating important information, supporting commerce, and because they are among the nicest people in the world.

Lastly, please let me know what you would like to learn more about and I will start to research those subjects. If you don’t have anything in mind at least consider ranking in the importance of these subjects: specific technologies (anyone specific), the estimating process, sales and marketing success stories, cross training staff, innovative production strategies, specific equipment or equipment categories, or new products (vehicle wraps) and services (i.e. database services). Feel free to message me (Howie@howiefentonconsulting.com) or request a phone call.

How project managers and project portfolio management tools are changing

As companies face the challenge of digital transformation, there are increasing demands on project managers (PM) and project portfolio management tools (PPM) to integrate and manage more data.

Businesses are already working with PPM tools to view “at a glance” past, present and future projects. The demand to manage new and different types of projects is growing which requires companies to master their processes and build the infrastructure to support these demands.

Two factors are likely to change the responsibilities of PM and increase the demands on PPM: the increasing demands of the digital transformation and the success of PPM in managing multiple tasks.

Do you agree or disagree that project managers responsibilities and project portfolio management features and functions are changing?


Uber Like Problems in Other High Tech Companies

If you think that high tech company Uber is unique due to the recent scandals, you may be surprised to learn that this is all too common in high tech start-ups.

Ride sharing pioneer Uber is facing serious issues:

  • Colorado is suing them for $8.9 million for allowing employees with serious criminal or motor vehicle offenses to drive,
  • A security breach, paying ransom to hackers to destroy the evidence and a long term cover up of 57 million riders’ and drivers’ information, as well as
  • Sexual harassment allegations from former employee Susan Fowler.

These problems are not unique to Uber; it has just been caught more than others. In our 27 years consulting with companies, one thing has become crystal clear. Serious and recurring problems don’t happen for no reason, especially in high tech companies. We believe that these high tech company problems are the result of the upper management’s hyper-vigilante focus, the ensuing culture, and resulting tactics. In essence, management becomes blinded by their day-to-day evolving vision, tech skills, and success, which results in tunnel vision. This tunnel vision results in gaps in critical areas.

It is not unusual for high tech start-up companies to become hyper-focused on the technology, delivery, and the external customer experience to neglect important corporate infrastructure such as how to treat staff, how staff treat each other, as well as compliance with federal state and local regulations.

Senior management in these companies can become blinded with their own tech skills and think of themselves as the smartest people in the room who don’t have to concern themselves with mundane things such as HR issues, compliance with regulations, and security concerns. The resulting company culture may not understand or pay attention to issues until there is a million dollar issue. Even then, these companies may choose to downplay the significance or hide the problem until a scandal breaks and they are forced to fire senior management.

Some will argue that it is the responsibility of the board of directors to help monitor strategy and tactics for the stockholders or stakeholders (everyone who can be effected by the corporation). All too often however, the board is filled with cronies and/or ceremonial figureheads who simply go along with the CEO.

That does not mean that these issues are inevitable; in fact, most of these problems can have be avoided with minimal oversight and annual independent audits as well as  a relatively small investment to overcome the uncovered issues. Our recommendation is to hold both senior management and the board accountable and mandate the high tech start-ups to undergo independent audits!



Why Blog?

I started blogging in 2007, and since then people have asked, “Why do you blog?” As we will explain, blogging: positions the author as a thought leader, drives traffic to your website, reinforces brand, and most importantly increases SEO, leads and sales.

Five reasons to consider blogging:

  1. Position as a Thought Leader. The best business blogs provide insights that help customers achieve their business goals or answers customers’ questions. Often, sales people discuss their frustration of answering the same questions over and over again, especially when it requires an in-depth explanation. Not only can a blog provide more details consistently, but it also positions an author as a thought leader which enhances their value proposition.
  2. Effectiveness. There are reports that B-B (Business to Business) companies who regularly blog receive 67% more leads / month. There’s also evidence that 57% of marketers believe they have gained customers by blogging.
  3. Drives Traffic. Blogging is most effective at driving traffic to your website. The content of blogs is indexed by the search engines and potential customers looking for suppliers type keywords into a search engine. Once you understand the key words used by your customers and prospects and the difference between long tail and short tail keywords, you can start moving up the rankings on the search engines and improve your SEO (search engine optimization).
  4. Converts Traffic to Leads. As more traffic is driven to your website, you can convert the traffic into leads. The key is mastering the call to action. Typically, the call to action offers an exchange of content (download whitepapers, infographics, free trials, etc.) for the person’s contact information and permission to contact them.
  5. Long Term Marketing Strategy. Marketing experts can point out the advantages of different marketing strategies. One problem, however, is that the vast majority are short-term advantages. Blogging is part of a content marketing strategy which only increases in effectiveness overtime.

Now when people ask me why I blog, I ask them we aren’t you blogging!