Writing the Book on Workflow

By | March 31, 2011

While the needs of on demand book printers vary widely based on order size, overall volume and platform, arguably, high volume on demand book printing requires some of the most complex workflow automation of any printing environment. Even transaction printers and direct mailers could learn some interesting tricks from visiting a dedicated on demand book printing site. Even with relatively standardized book sizes, there are many variations in book sizes and types:

  • Monochrome books with color covers
  • Color books with color covers
  • Different finished sizes for books with perfect binding, case binding, or saddle stitching

The books themselves may use one or more presses to create the book block and another type to create the cover. There are laminators, trimmers, multiple types of binders and camera devices to integrate between the trimmers and binders to verify quality throughout the process. At the end of the production line, regardless of printing type or finish size, the completed book order must come together for packing and shipping in the most efficient manner.

The goal of book printing workflow is to allow each order to navigate through the complete production, finishing and shipping process with the minimum amount of human intervention and the highest level of productivity and quality. In addition, there is a need for tight integration with MIS, web-to-print and JDF/JMF communications protocols.

Like many well-orchestrated processes, the true beauty in book printing workflow often is found in the front end planning. Like a chess master, the workflow solution needs to be able to look at the whole board (the book order) and see 15 moves ahead to know what sorting, grouping and batching is going to enable the highest productivity for that day’s orders. An effective solution will allow batch management of all jobs prior to the start of printing grouped efficiently by size, imposition, run length and color and finishing requirements.

Real time quality control and reporting is critical as well. Bar codes are used to identify and track each job from start to finish, matching book blocks with covers and enabling routing through finishing, fulfillment and delivery. If any part of a job is damaged or produced at lower than acceptable quality, the barcode can be scanned and a reprint of the necessary components or the complete book itself can be automatically generated. Meanwhile the order entry system is continually updated so that inventory levels, order status and even the end customer can be kept informed. When book printing workflow is fully tuned to the production environment, it delivers thorough and integrated job management resulting in significantly increased productivity and cost savings. In fact, many book printers compete mainly on the strength of their workflow management capabilities.

Consider too that all of this complex choreography may be conducted using devices from completely disparate manufacturers to produce orders coming from a myriad of sources. In some ways, book printing may seem simpler than the complexities faced with data-driven transaction print or personalized direct mail – but when it comes to workflow, they wrote the book.

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4 thoughts on “Writing the Book on Workflow

  1. David Williams

    Thanks for a great post on workflow for on demand book production. One of the interesting concepts in implementing an on demand workflow is that the throughput of a single order is often more important than the overall productivity of the entire process. The most successful practitioners have studied and implemented lean design principles.

  2. Buddy Mountcastle


    Thanks for taking the time to read through the posting. I appreciate your feedback and interest in the subject. I agree that putting the attention and effort to implementing a succesful method to handle a single order through the entire process is extremely important. Overall, it is this implementation that ultimately leads to success in the overall production of books.

  3. Bob Raus

    Good article Buddy. Book manufacturers can leverage many types of manufacturing practices. In some ways, the manufacturing of a book is similar to manufacturing processes for other products; including the need to forecast supply, managed raw materials, track orders from step to step, design processes to reduce Work In Process, insure quality along each step and deliver the finished product on-time.

    Besides traditional books, I think this is a perfect companion process for product manuals and documentation, especially for products with several options like automobiles. I would expect luxury automakers, for example to want to provide a custom and personalized manual for each car they ship, and provided a replacement when the car is sold in the future.

  4. Buddy Mountcastle

    Thanks Bob for your insights. I agree that the process can ge applied to a wide variety of applications that go through the “manufacturing” process of print and distribution. I believe that the more print becomes personalized and with books becoming printed on request, the manufacturing processes will need to be tighter than ever.

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