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Workflow Automation @ drupa

Press and workflow automation has been fairly stable since drupa 08. Going back to 2004, workflow solutions have evolved from separate systems controlling only part of the production process to those managing business-related information in a comprehensive fashion. "Printing using movable type [has turned into] printing using movable data," is how Heidelberg CEO Bernhard Schreier described our industry's transformation eight years ago. Last September at GRAPH EXPO, Schreier, now also president of drupa 2012, paraphrased Indigo press inventor Benny Landa by saying, "Everything that can go online, will go online."

Who could have imagined only three years ago that you'd be able to access all relevant print shop management information by using an app on a smartphone, or allow your clients to view, annotate, and approve jobs on their iPads? In May of 2008, Apple had just announced its iPhone using 3G and the iPad did not yet exist, pointed out drupa media partner Ed Boogaard. Now, Heidelberg has a Prinect Mobile app that connects "smart" mobile phones directly to the workflow at the printing plant, allowing users to check on job status, monitor machine reports, and analyze production during shifts. Fujifilm's XMF Remote app is changing the way printers and their clients interact, too.

"Print buyers are ... creative people, and it's creatives who have been early adopters of iPad technology, using it as a professional business tool," said John Davies, workflow solutions manager Fujifilm Europe, at last year's UK Publishing Expo. "If we want to enhance the experience of these creatives who are responsible for commissioning and approving print work, we have to provide them with tools that they want to work with."

In prepress departments, PDF-based workflows still are "where it's at," emphasized consultant Hal Hinderliter, the newly appointed coordinator of GRAPH EXPO's Must See 'Em program. And showing their product improvements and innovations at the quadrennial drupa 2012 print trade fair in Germany next month—the world's largest graphic communications show—are no less than 147 vendors within the "Workflow Systems" category, which includes prepress/premedia, press, workflow, and data-handling software. The Agfa :Apogee Prepress App also gets a quick check of a specific job during production on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. "A convenient status overview of the prepress equipment, including proofers, CTP systems, and other output devices, can also be displayed ...," said Erik Peeters, :Apogee marketing manager for Agfa Graphics.

So-called hybrid workflows are fitting together all the print pieces. The Kodak Unified Workflow Solution, for instance, is designed to bring all systems together and integrate and unify all available information. Screen has introduced Equios, a universal workflow that drives multi-device production. To be shown at drupa, this web-to-delivery turnkey solution provides end-to-end automation "from the initial job quote all the way through the invoicing of the finished project," the developer said. The single workflow with a single interface drives streamlined production from web to print to the delivery of the finished item automatically. With Equios, users don't need to operate different device-dependent workflows, each with a different way of handling imposition and color management, to drive their variety of Screen CTP, toner, and inkjet devices. Communication with a variety of third-party finishing systems is automated via Equios JDF.

In early March, at the Graphics of the Americas (GOA) 2012 show in Miami, Nick Benkovich, Kodak product management director for print workflow, presented a session on "Workflow Efficiencies through Automation and Integration." As one of only 52 certified JDF experts in the world, Benkovich is an active member in CIP4, the International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press, and Postpress Organization, whose mission is to foster the adoption of process automation in the printing industry. (See our JDF retrospective cover story from September 2011) In the presentation, he examined the evolution of automation, highlighted the benefits of integrating business and production workflow systems, and provided attendees with insights on how to optimize their technology investments. Benkovich discussed how automation and integration can drive costs out of the print manufacturing process through increased visibility, streamlined efficiencies, and reduction of manual touch points and error.

GOA attendees were among the first to get a sneak peak at some of Kodak's innovative new workflow solutions, to be unveiled at drupa, including a preview of the next generation of Prinergy Workflow System and its InSite Prepress Portal System.

Automating "macro" tasks increases efficiency ... and productivity, agreed Enfocus VP Fabian Prudhomme, enabling printers to move more orders, get more customers, improve margins/profits, and even move into new markets. Prudhomme outlined his four major benefits of automation at GRAPH EXPO 2011 in this MPR video.

Packaging and POP, Too

Heidelberg will present its solutions portfolio at drupa in the form of complete print shop workflows for commercial print and packaging sectors. Also for package printers, Esko's new color workflow supports PantoneLIVE. Visitors to drupa will experience a color- management workflow that encompasses the entire packaging supply chain and ensures first-time-every-time color integrity.

"Market research consistently reveals that consumers use the color and shape of a package to recognize and select the product they want when shopping," said Geert De Proost, software engines director for Esko. "That is why brand owners are so concerned about an accurate representation of package colors. For the same reason, we decided to implement support for PantoneLIVE from X-Rite in our workflow. PantoneLIVE delivers an end-to-end solution that, for the first time, addresses the needs and requirements of every single discipline within the packaging supply chain. This means that the brand manager will see an accurate representation of on-press color early in the design process, while converters can be assured of first-time-right color proofing and easy-to-match color on press. This sets the right expectations from the beginning of the process and has the potential to significantly reduce time to market."

In the wide-format print space, Esko demonstrated a practical production workflow together with partner PriscoDigital at the HP user group's Dscoop7 event in March. The pair created, printed, and finished 3D POP / POS displays as well as 2D samples. The large-format inkjet workflow featured an Esko i-cut Suite front-end workflow, preparing files for print while creating cutting instructions for the finishing table. PDF print files traveled to a Caldera RIP before being printed on an HP Scitex FB 700 Printer. Printed sheets then were cut on an Esko Kongsberg i-XP 24 finishing table.

"Many of our customers are looking for technologies that they can immediately integrate into their business, that will provide new innovative products for their customers," said Eric Gutwillig, marketing VP for PriscoDigital. "They also seeking ways to better differentiate their businesses from their competition. The combination of novel technologies from our partners at HP, Esko, and Caldera will expand print providers' capabilities, making the world less rectangular with creative 3D packaging and display projects as well as addressing many ecological challenges."

Enfocus PitStop, the leading PDF quality-control solution, is celebrating its15th "birthday" with the release of a new version at drupa. More than 130,000 PitStop users worldwide will benefit from significantly more accurate and flexible PDF preflight and correction when Enfocus releases PitStop Pro and PitStop Server 11, the firm said. Version 11's "Smart Preflight & Correction" is a key Enfocus advancement that allows real-time interactions of user or job-fed profile settings. The automated use of metadata (e.g. JDF and XML) for job processing, via PitStop Server, introduces a new level of automation.

"The new version of PitStop is interesting," said Hinderliter, the prepress consultant. "In the past, automation was modeled on print shop workflows." If a file failed, it had to be fixed by hand, he added, but now it can be fixed more on the fly. "Operators are involved in the file's pass or fail procedure. It [v.11] makes corrective action easier for people, offering a blend of the speed of automation with the flexibility of human operators," noted Hinderliter, adding that the days of massive manual intervention are over.

Also at drupa, Enfocus will show its newest iteration of Switch automation technology, which has undergone a metamorphosis, according to VP Prudhomme, thanks to a multipage ground-up restructuring of the product line. Its open architecture and neutral file format handling means it can seamlessly integrate with existing systems, software, and people. Built-in intelligence allows Switch to "see" deep inside of files, software, and workflows to maximize resources and to make existing workflows "intelligent." Now, instead of choosing between three versions of Enfocus Switch (Light, Full, and Power), customers can completely customize Switch according to their unique needs.

"Switch is a masterpiece of automation engineering," Prudhomme proclaimed. "But because it has always been ahead of its time, restructuring the range of Switch offerings has resulted in easier implementation by broader markets." With the help of focused market research, Enfocus teams worked for more than 12 months to make Switch easier to customize. "The system is fully scalable and can evolve with client needs, so that professionals utilize the building blocks they need, at least initially, and then use additional modules as their requirements change and grow," he explained.

The difference begins with a new, multi-purpose Switch Core Engine that not only serves as the necessary foundation for all Switch operations, but is now itself an automation solution for the most common, time-consuming tasks faced daily by all publishing production companies. Eight additional modules cover the market's most in-demand functions for intelligent connectivity with existing or new prepress, database and other applications.

"There are great numbers of people out there who understand how to really manipulate Switch," Prudhomme said, referring to several hundreds of existing customers ranging from small, local operations to mid-size and large organizations such as The Economist, Hallmark, and Playboy. A company's size truly does not matter, he concluded. "Small companies face the same challenges as big companies," Prudhomme noted, adding that is why there are scalable, flexible workflow solutions on today's market.

Hinderliter won't be a bit surprised if Enfocus announces more partners at drupa. "Switch is ideal even for people with high-end systems," he said, explaining how (starting at $1,900) it can function as a low-cost add-on for activities such as archival storage and PDF proofs on FTP sites that chew up server space.

When Cloudy Is (Virtually) Sunny

Application Software Provider (ASP) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) have been around for some time, but today it's all about web connectivity. In layman's terms, software developer Novell defines the cloud as "a set of services and technologies that enable the delivery of computing services over the Internet in real-time, allowing end-users instant access to data and applications from any device with Internet access." Content-management systems for publishers went to the cloud a few years ago, but the wind is swift and the clouds are moving fast. A printing infrastructure that runs in cyberspace enables people to take out steps in the process and work faster—without a lot of overhead. Cloud computing is a game-changer that has fundamentally altered the way in which data is stored, routed, and handled.

InfoTrends associate director Kaspar Roos has predicted that drupa 2012 will be a "cloud-heavy" show. Indeed, digital workflow developments in the cloud figure to be prominent in Dusseldorf next month. Here are three "cloudy" highlights that are quite bright:

  • Hiflex, already showing its iPhone application at drupa 08, is taking the lead with its next major release of Hiflex MIS called version 2012 or "drupa-release." It will take the complete management information system to the cloud. In this way, both Hiflex MIS and Webshop can be entirely operated via the Internet and installed and executed on a server in a printer's facility (a "private cloud"), in an external data center ("public cloud"), or at the Hiflex Data Center. It took Hiflex almost three years to develop this new architecture for its existing solutions. Using the cloud will reduce the Total Cost of Ownership as users no longer need to invest in server hardware, facilities, or back-up solutions.
  • Introduced in February, paper manufacturer UPM will show its first web/cloud-based ColorCTRL Service. The print workflow pilot project is powered by Dalim and managed by GMG's color-server technology.
  • A world first for Screen at drupa will be the introduction of a cloud-based variable-data print (VDP) application that simplifies the production of VDP jobs and gives printers an investment-free entry into one of the fastest growing areas of printing. Designers and data owners can collaborate on projects via a standard web browser before the finished file is sent to the print provider (in Screen's case, Equios user). The service will be launched within the next 12 months, Screen said.