Brand managers at major consumer products companies (CPCs) are losing sleep. Their increasingly sophisticated and geographically expansive supply chains are creating new challenges. At night they toss and turn as they try to come up with better ways to manage multiple production jobs and expedite time-to-market while minimizing production costs and maintaining product quality.
Suppliers who employ reliable, simple, flexible and fast supply chain management systems can help brand managers alleviate these sleep-depriving hurdles. In the process, they can gain a significant competitive advantage.
This article outlines how suppliers can help brand managers optimize the management of a particularly sticky hurdle: color control. By leveraging the benefits of the "4 Cs" of color management - managing color quality, ensuring systems compatibility, reducing costs and building confidence - manufacturing partners can differentiate themselves and ultimately build new business.
Companies invest millions to develop consumer products in colors that draw consumers. Color is a key element for setting buying trends and creating a consumer experience that drives product sales. Yet managing and controlling color - making sure specified colors come through in the final product - is a significant business challenge.
Until recently, major brands relied on their suppliers to do this for them. But, as the number of new product introductions grows and as product portfolios expand, brand owners have taken control of the color management process. And they've done so with digital color-control solutions. Today's multinational brands - from clothiers to big box retailers to furniture makers - seek suppliers that utilize reliable digital workflow tools to ensure color quality.
Despite this fact, suppliers have been somewhat reluctant adapters of digital color-control solutions. They have questioned the reliability of digital color samples and have felt burdened by the complexity of color-control equipment. Advancements in color management technology are helping to overcome these challenges. Today, color-control systems are much simpler and easier to use, and certainly more reliable.
For example, at the heart of a good color-control system is a spectrophotometer, an instrument used to monitor and measure color. When properly calibrated, it is a powerful tool for precise color measurement. However, regular use, environmental conditions and temperature fluctuations can cause a color drift in the instrument, reducing the accuracy of color data. In the past, regular equipment maintenance was required to make sure instruments read data accurately. This was disruptive and expensive because units had to be shipped back to the manufacturer.
To address this issue, X-Rite just launched a color-control system with a spectrophotometer that regularly reminds system operators to check for inaccuracies in the monitoring and measuring of color. With an Internet hook-up and profiling software such as NetProfiler, the instrument can be quickly and easily profiled on-site, without having to be shipped back to the manufacturer. This self-diagnostics and profiling capability virtually eliminates color variability challenges.
By employing instruments with these safeguards, suppliers can ensure their customers of the reliability of their digital color workflows. They will produce product with consistent color quality, strengthening relationships with brand owners and building new business.
Having a good-quality, profiled spectrophotometer is an important first step, but it's just the beginning. Given the complex and global nature of most company supply chains, it is imperative for suppliers to have a system in place that is compatible with a multiplicity of suppliers. The more open color-control systems are, the wider the range of customers and additional suppliers that manufacturers can work with easily. That's where software and the Internet come in.
A good color-control system consists of three parts. As previously discussed, instruments such as spectrophotometers monitor and measure color. Software interprets data, generates colorant formulations, and helps adjust for job variables. The Internet connects the suppliers in the supply chain and helps communicate color measurements across suppliers.
The challenge here is that suppliers may not all have the same equipment. Different models of spectrophotometers tend to read color with slight differences. These differences can result in color quality issues and product loss. X-Rite was the first company to help solve this problem. With NetProfiler software, an Internet-based data management tool, companies can share data between different models of spectrophotometers, eliminating color variability across hardware. Controlling color variability ensures compatibility, which in turn, reduces color errors that erode brand value and lead to costly supply chain delays.
An added, marketable benefit to a system like NetProfiler is connectivity and control. It makes for a complete color-control system that helps suppliers stay connected to brand owners on a daily basis.
One of the best selling points in business is the ability to control costs. After all, reducing production costs is the reason many companies have globalized their supplier networks. Suppliers that can help their customers further control costs have a key competitive (and profitable) advantage, and having a good color-control system in place can help achieve this.
The effect of a single color data measurement error produces a ripple effect across the supply chain. For example, one color data error can result in the waste of an entire production run, crippling time-to-market, particularly if the supplier is only one component of a larger product. The end result for the supplier is significantly increased production cost, erosion of customer trust and potentially the loss of the business. Good, effective color management tools prevent costly color data errors from entering the supply chain before production starts.
There's another significant cost savings in digital color. Companies spend millions of dollars every year shipping color samples back and forth between themselves and their suppliers. By implementing a reliable digital color workflow, suppliers are able to have color samples approved on-line in minutes. This feature significantly minimizes the distribution of physical standards and provides a substantial cost savings to suppliers and brand managers, as well as speeding product time to market. Expediting the production process not only generates significant cost savings for brand managers but also affords suppliers the time to take on more new business.
The Confidence That Builds New Business
Suppliers gain confidence - and customers - by producing consistent, accurate color over and over again across production runs. With brand managers overseeing thousands of jobs every year, suppliers can gain a significant advantage when their customers feel confident in their ability to manage and track color measurements.
To help better manage these measurements, suppliers should look for color management software that enables them to package specific data, colorants, user interfaces and instrument configurations into a single file. For suppliers that have several locations, these files can be easily transferred to reproduce the color accuracy of legacy jobs. These containerized files also help brand managers to better organize current supplier projects.
The best color management software creates electronic signatures for every color measurement. This function helps suppliers assure color accuracy, and it provides customers with peace of mind. As important, digital signatures help suppliers provide verification when brand managers question the final color output. In short, an electronic signature confirms that the color of the products is exactly what the brand manager approved.
Brand managers look for manufacturing partners that will help them streamline supply chain management and feel in control of the process. Digital color-control technologies can help companies manage one of the most important aspects of product development and manufacture. Employing a reliable digital color workflow - and leveraging the benefits of one - can help industry suppliers secure their existing customers and attract new ones.
For more information see www.xrite.com; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.