One would think that a Mechanical Engineer from Cornell University could write about a complex subject, especially since writing is easy for me, coming from a family of authors and editors. Yet I found it difficult to find the proper words to describe a revolutionary solution to an old problem.
How does one adequately describe a totally new and innovative approach to a sometimes lengthy and involved procedure? I am referring to print estimating, which involves an almost inexhaustible variety of printing requirements that use an even more complex array of sophisticated equipment, in a rapidly changing production environment. Well, it is quite a daunting task, as I've since discovered.
Let me explain my experience in the mid 90's as the owner of the 5th largest sheet fed printing company in South Florida with 3 40" presses, in-house mailing and a sophisticated bindery. After testing and using a variety of estimating programs from PSI to Logic, I was still dismayed that my old hand estimating sheet was notably quicker than any estimating system I had investigated or evaluated.
So in 1995 I embarked on the journey that led to Estimator™. Rather than spend another 10 years searching the marketplace for the "ideal" solution, I began to emulate many of the estimating concepts and procedures I developed over the more than 20 years in the business. At first the task seemed relatively simple; just develop the proper algorithms in a simple spreadsheet. But as time passed, and the Estimator™ prototype evolved, I became increasingly concerned with finding solutions to the multitude of "common" business problems that continuously plague printers.
WHAT I LEARNED: In testing and analyzing numerous available programs, it became obvious that the sameness of existing brands made the choices essentially irrelevant.
When I realized that all the then commercially available programs took a similar approach, it suddenly became clear that Estimator™ was truly different, because we had changed the paradigm, which makes Estimator™ not merely evolutionary, but revolutionary. No longer would one have to tediously work their way through an intricate variety of screens and often forgotten parts of the complex process. With Estimator™ thousands of interactive formulas and algorithms now perform these tedious tasks automatically.
I know that it performed as we intended; it was operational in our plant since its inception. Using Estimator™ in the everyday working environment allowed us to develop and apply scores of specialized features unique to this application.
As in most available programs, the quote starts with the selection of the customer from an existing list, or by adding the New Customer information. From that point Estimator™ becomes noticeably different. A single screen in front of you at all times becomes your working platform. All required information is easily accessed from this single location. Changes are viewed instantaneously and the thousands of totally interactive formulas automatically create all required downstream changes, without your having to think about them.
EXAMPLE: Changing the number of pages in a book or magazine automatically rebuilds the layout, proof, plate & make-ready, paper, bindery folding and stitching, pricing, production time, weight, rewrites the purchase orders, work tickets quotes, and billing information. That's right, it is really that easy, just click on your selections, and all calculations, all forms and written descriptions are automatically created.
ROME WASN'T BUILT IN A DAY — (ALTHOUGH IT SURE LOOKS LIKE IT): All of this did not happen overnight. It was a continuous evolution and learning process, a gargantuan effort that took over 15 years to deliver. At first, my engineering background helped me navigate through the myriad complexities of Excel, the starting point in this long journey.
Rising most mornings between 3 and 4 AM, when it was quiet, I taught myself Excel macro-language, and developed the complex algorithms used in today's Estimator™. As my search for more elegant solutions evolved, I felt that my self-taught level of expertise had peaked, so I eagerly investigated several available advanced computer courses, and private teachers. Eventually I enrolled and paid for an advanced programming course. I next purchased the Visual Basic development system and continued my search for the "Estimator's Holy Grail".
A DIFFERENT DRUMMER: It didn't take much convincing to bring others on board as they immediately recognized the real need in the marketplace, and that the Estimator prototype's approach and level of development was unique, in the true sense of the word. Howard brought to the table just what I had been searching for, a wide breadth and depth of programming sophistication, and the knowledge and ability to convert the program to an object oriented relational data base system, which allowed us to go "where no Estimator had gone before" in the print estimating software universe.
My original formulas, written in a flat file format were, in effect converted by us to a relational (3 dimensional) configuration, which greatly expanded our capabilities and reduced the storage memory requirements by a huge 98%!
The Estimator™ prototype made its first public debut at the 1998 Chicago Print Expo' where we demonstrated the core technology, but did not offer for sale, our unique approach and paradigm reconfiguration. The rave responses, and valuable suggestions we received from our enthusiastic audience, spurred us on to include a multitude of new recommended features. Not realizing the full impact of what we had created, I was astounded when no less than three competitors' sales reps, asked if they could work for us "on commission only" after seeing our demonstration.
Another notable response came from the owner of a large mid-west web operation, when I asked, "What feature do you like best?" He replied excitedly, "I currently employ 7 estimators. If I had your program today, I could move 6 of them into customer service or sales tomorrow". But the most significant response came from the president of what I considered to be the major player in the industry, who expressed interest in either a possible collaboration or a referral arrangement, once our program was released.
During the next years, Estimator™ fully operational precursor was demonstrated in various stages to numerous Paper Suppliers and Graphic Arts distributors, who without exception were eager to participate in the marketing and application of the program. Without question, IGAEA [International Graphic Arts Education Association] and several of the country's noted Universities' Graphic Arts and Printing Management Departments generated the most exciting news to us: Professors felt the 'New Paradigm' was so different, that they were eager to create a new course and syllabus for their future curriculum, based on the Estimator application. As this comes about, we expect a whole new generation of printing managers trained on and exposed to the Estimator estimating model!
In 2003 the world's largest printer Moore Wallace Donnelly purchased the program to test its effectiveness over a wide range of specifications. Their head estimator, who established the parameters for their Hagen system was assigned to work with me in the development and evaluation. This took place over a period of 10 months. The results! Outstanding! It was estimated that they could save several million a year companywide, and that was on the conservative side. I believe I overheard one of their people exclaim that this was such a powerful program they would hate to see it in the hands of their competitors. What higher compliment could we be paid!
We have been a continuous member of the Printing Industries of America for 40 years as well as a member of NAPL, SGIA, IGAEA and have won numerous award over the years for our innovative solutions including Digital Imaging top 50 and the GATF Must Seeum's.
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