Training Your Signshop To Use New Equipment & Software
To produce eye-catching, quality prints and signs, printing machines and software require skilled operators. One way operators acquire their skill is through training. Delve inside to catch the scoop on the different options available to take advantage of all the features of your equipment and software.
By Rich Adams and Rick Scrimger, GIA
Intuitive design and intelligent presets have made it possible for smaller businesses and departments to get large-format printing and signmaking equipment up and running. More individuals are performing skilled graphic arts tasks on their own, including design, image capture, scanning, RIP and printer operation. Herein lies the need for training and good old-fashioned ‘know-how’.
The impact of training is not just an increase of knowledge or expertise. It has a ripple effect that starts with the person trained and moves through co-workers, the department, the company, and even to customers. Training impacts key financial data including revenue, return on investment, and profitability. The reason is simple—a thorough understanding of technology and equipment leads to greater comfort level, accuracy, productivity and efficiency.
Training also reduces ongoing technical support and decreases adoption time (the time necessary to successfully integrate a new technology). In this article we will discuss the most commonly available methods of training in the graphic arts industry.
In digital printing operations, printer and software training is typically necessary. Printer training often includes installation, setup, use, configuration, quality control, media selection, media loading, and operation. Digital printers that use software RIPs also require training for installation, setup, operation, color management and other features in the RIP. Training may also be necessary for tasks that lead up to production with the RIP and printer, such as scanning, digital photography, working with applications, monitor calibration, and color management workflow.
Kinds of Training
Training on graphic arts equipment and software is available in a variety of forms, each with a range of thoroughness, quality, and effectiveness. Graphic arts equipment training typically includes manufacturer documentation, onsite training, classroom training, seminars, and manufacturer technical support.
Digital printers, RIPs, and other equipment may come with user manuals in printed or digital PDF format. A good manual includes a quick-reference guide, tells how to use the product, and enumerates all settings and functions for quick and easy reference. We have all struggled to decipher manuals translated from Japanese or German, that are prefaced with multiple safety warnings and admonitions, and that make multiple references to hard-to-find diagrams.
Some manufacturers offer online help in the form of knowledge bases, animated flash videos, or training CDs with documentation or videos. This documentation is often used for procedures that are easier to show than describe.
Onsite means that a manufacturer’s representative visits your site to train on the equipment. The primary advantage of onsite training is that the trainer visits your shop and trains your employees on your equipment, in your working environment. The greatest benefit is that when the trainer leaves, the equipment and operators are more fully integrated into the workflow than before. The primary disadvantage of onsite training is that employees, if not isolated from the production environment, may easily become sidetracked on “emergency” production jobs.
The cost of onsite training may seem high, especially if it includes the trainer’s travel, lodging, transportation, and incidental expenses. However, when divided among several employees, the cost per person may be less than sending everyone to seminars or classroom training. Sometimes the manufacturer may include training in the purchase price of equipment or as part of the equipment package, which is key to ramping up a new piece of equipment and integrating it into the workflow.
An onsite trainer can work with the client to schedule training at the most opportune time, after equipment is properly installed, and when production can afford to be interrupted. A trainer should provide an agenda in advance with topics and training times, as well as a site survey to gain a better understanding of the trainees’ needs and their operating environment.
Some of the characteristics to look for in an onsite trainer are:
- Qualifications—What is the trainer’s experience? How long has he/she been training on the equipment/software? What manufacturer training has he/she had? Is the trainer manufacturer certified? Can he/she make a complex topic easy to understand and develop a personal rapport with trainees?
- Location/availability—How close is the trainer? What is his/her availability for training and follow-up visits?
- Content—What topics will the training include? Obtain and review onsite, classroom, and seminar curriculum in advance—does it cover what you need?
- Follow-up—Can you get support after the training? What are the support arrangements for phone, email, or follow-up visits?
To get the most out of onsite training:
- Try to schedule training after the equipment is installed and operating properly, but before it is needed for production.
- Make sure the trainer knows how many employees will be trained and when they are available.
- Stagger employees through training so some are available to handle production work.
- Request a training agenda and make sure you have all required software and hardware set up in advance.
For classroom training, participants travel to a manufacturer’s regional office or technical center, or to an independent training center, for a one- to five-day program about the equipment, software, or other topic of interest. Because it brings together multiple users, the cost may be lower than for onsite training. Remember that costs for employee travel, lodging, transportation, meals, and incidental expenses must also be factored in.
The main advantage of classroom training is that it removes employees from office distractions so they can focus on the presentations. Also, a classroom session brings together users from different companies who can share their experiences. In addition to lecture, discussion, and demonstration, classroom sessions usually involve plenty of hands-on activities using the facility’s equipment and software.
To get the most out of classroom training:
- Find out if the training facility has a discount hotel rate and, if staying at that facility, whether you will need a rental car or if shuttles or taxis are available.
- Get the training agenda in advance, and ask any hardware and software questions before the training.
- Bring production files to the training so you can work on them and ask the instructor’s help in handling difficult jobs.
- Bring a USB jump drive or blank CDs to take home your work and the training practice files.
A seminar is like a large-scale classroom session with lecture and demonstrations, usually for tens or hundreds of people. The advantage of seminars is their low cost and easy availability. Seminars conducted in multiple cities minimize travel costs for participants. Because of the large number of people involved, the seminar may be free if sponsored by one or more manufacturers, or cost only a few hundred dollars. These are great for overviews, refreshers, or getting a better understanding of a product or program. The main drawback to seminars is that they are not usually hands-on.
Like large-scale, multifaceted seminars, national conferences and trade shows provide another learning venue that brings together people with common interests and needs.
To get the most out of seminar training:
- Double-check the seminar’s date(s) and start time; arrive early to get a seat near the front so you can see the demonstrations clearly.
- Check on parking and lunch arrangements in advance.
- Be prepared for Q&A sessions by writing down questions you have about the software or hardware, noting specific settings used and results achieved, throughout the day.
For a quick question or problem with equipment or software, a call to the manufacturer’s technical support service may be helpful and instructive. Technical support may be included with a product, either indefinitely or for a set time period, or may require a contract or per-call fee. Typically cost is lower and availability is greater for more expensive or specialized equipment, which users often need help with to achieve full value, In many cases, technicians may be able to answer a few questions and get you started. However, manufacturer’s support may be limited to the product in question and not cover issues related to workflow or integration with other products.
To get the most out of technical support:
- Make a list of all product support numbers, email addresses, product serial numbers (if required), length of contract, and support hours of operation.
- If software or hardware doesn’t work properly, document the computer configuration and settings.
- Obtain a case number (if offered) for follow-up.
The moral of our story is, with the variety of training methods and venues available in our industry don’t wait until there is an emergency to seek training. Training, and the skills it imparts, will not only prevent crises, but will also help you achieve consistency, accuracy, quality, and productivity in your graphic design endeavors.