Just the Ticket
MetaCommunications' Virtual Ticket helps NCL Graphics do away with paper-based job tickets.
NCL Graphics has been operating from Elk Grove, IL, for 30 years. Fortunately, for this high-end color separator and catalog page assembler, its job just got easier.
Producing more than 150 jobs each week and operating three shifts, six days a week requires extensive management and perfected planning. Frank Miceli, a technical specialist with NCL's production department, attributes the company's success to Virtual Ticket, a job management software program developed by MetaCommunications, Iowa City, IA.
"What we do with Virtual Ticket," Miceli explains, "is we use it to eliminate a lot of paper." NCL uses the client-server software to e-manage its plethora of digital assets.
Within the production environment, NCL runs both Macintosh and PC workstations, as well as Sun Microsystems and Windows NT Servers. Miceli says that in order to track the enormous volume of work that passes through each stage of production, NCL uses Virtual Ticket and Job Manager with Job Cost Plus, also by Meta-Communications, to ticket projects for about 50 concurrent users.
Major features of the Virtual Ticket software include a detailed history of document changes; digital asset management by folder; smart tools that enable users to move around the system and folders seamlessly; online retrieval of files; pre-built libraries for storage and smart security defining access privilege. The latest upgrade, Virtual Ticket 2.2, offers new features, including extended, full-size Quark and EPS file previews.
To ensure that each facet of production operates efficiently, Virtual Ticket literally feeds customized instructions to each production operator throughout the duration of a work cycle.
"Prior to implementing Virtual Ticket, employees were constantly searching to locate paper job tickets," recalls Miceli. "[The software] streamlined our entire production workflow."
Since installing the solution, almost every paper-based job ticket and quality-control form—each job may consist of thousands of files for a total of more than 2 million digital files being managed each year—have been put online. This allows for instant access to job information, where amendments and progress are recorded and tracked.
Miceli says that the software now essentially works as a repository of instructions for each completed project. Other metadata captured and used for reporting includes quality-control measurements and customer notes.
Working the same way that paper once had, Miceli says that rather than finding a ticket in a file cabinet and then walking across the office to hand it off to the recipient, production operators can now log into the system and share information online.
Digital files can be dragged and dropped from the Virtual Ticket database to the native application, allowing NCL to quickly repurpose its assets to other projects.
"With Virtual Ticket," elaborates Matt Buisson, technical advisor, NCL Graphics, "all job information—instructions, film specs, alterations, etc.—is online, accurate and up-to-date, reducing questions in the production workflow."
Instantly accessible job tickets benefit the sales force immensely, says Buisson.
"Our entire sales force was given [Macintosh] G3s to enable them to enter and access critical job information, right from their desktops," he concludes.
Cataloging for catalogs
Mark Guthart, director of sales and marketing at MetaCommuni-cations, agrees that one of Virtual Ticket's most attractive assets is its ability to create customized production instructions.
"Within one page," he explains, "you'd have information about printing schedules and proofs. If you go into [the program] and want to see everything about page two [of your catalog], you can see the progress [of each job assigned, completed or in process]."
Guthart admits that while some people prefer paper to a computer monitor, the margin of error on the screen versus misplaced hard-copy job tickets is noteworthy.
Each phase of the job can be tracked to better evaluate where time is lagging and where work is most productive.
In the end, says Miceli, being able to quantify workflow productivity has helped his company reinvent processes and streamline operations.
As one might imagine, archiving is essential to NCL, Miceli says. With an enormous volume of digital assets recorded to removable storage each day, Virtual Ticket stores assets, later allowing a user to save a file on CD-ROM; images and copy can be brought back to life for new projects that may require pick-ups from those done in the past.
With an NT server in-house, Miceli says that going from online tracking to a CD-ROM is efficient while the newest files are being shuffled. Archiving to CD-ROM essentially makes room for the new jobs while it preserves reusable material. Eventually, NCL may turn to a different method for storing its assets. In the meantime, a redundant server kicks into gear and backs-up all content every 24 hours.
The usual suspects
Miceli warns that while Virtual Ticket is an asset to NCL Graphics, the software is essentially in the hands of the user.
"It's not like a hidden or silent tracker," he explains. "Everything entered in the database is entered per employee." Therefore, any mistake that may happen now, he admits, is not going to be the fault of the software. He says, "It's the user we're still working on."
-Natalie Hope McDonald