Integrated workflow, unified workflow, workflow suite—there are lots of workflow terms being used in the industry, but the bottom line is this:
Touches = Cost
Increased Cost = Reduced Profit
Regardless of what it is called, the purpose of any workflow solution should be to reduce touches and the potential for error or rework, and take time and cost out of the production process. That’s why the concept of controlling workflow from one centralized point is so attractive. This includes activities such as preflighting, impositioning, color management, and late-stage editing, much of which can be automated and moved closer to the point of print for faster throughput, more efficient utilization of resources and central management of digital printers, even if your portfolio includes printers from multiple vendors.
Standalone versus Centralized and Integrated
In many organizations, workflow processes have evolved over time, and a company’s workflow often consists of separate standalone processes and products from a variety of different suppliers (or internally developed) that may or may not be integrated. These workflow components may be executed by different departments in different areas of the facility, with no central point of control.
One workflow commonality for many digital printing operations is the digital front end (DFE); moving workflow steps to the DFE makes a great deal of sense because it centralizes key prepress and job management tasks into a location manned by a single operator, using a familiar user interface. And research reveals that that is exactly what many firms wish to do.
Kaspar Roos, Associate Director for InfoTrends' production workflow and customized communication service, says, "Print service providers are increasingly replacing standalone workflow solutions with integrated, customizable solutions. In our 2012 Digital Front-End Study, we found strong evidence that print providers want to move their workflow solutions to the DFE so that they can run their workflow from a central location that easily integrates with other systems.”
Today’s print service providers typically receive files from many different customers that arrive in different formats with different print settings. But the one thing that is not different from customer to customer is their expectations: They expect the job to be completed on time, with the highest possible quality, and within budget.
When files arrive, there are many things that must be examined in order to assure that the file will print correctly, ranging from fonts and color space to format and paper sizes. When these actions are performed manually by different staff members, errors and inconsistency can occur, and that results in waste and rework—reducing already slim margins and risking customer dissatisfaction or even defection.
In an integrated workflow, these operations can be centralized with a single operator and significant automation, delivering:
- Increased operator productivity
- The ability to meet tighter deadlines
- Optimization of press utilization and higher quality output
- Decreased waste and rework
- Flexibility in job submission with improved internal and external communications.
An effective automated workflow should also offer the ability to establish rules that govern what happens in a given situation. For example:
If preflight fails then send email to Charlie, or
If correction is successful then send job for approval.
While we often think that every job that comes in the door is different, a close analysis of a typical job mix will reveal that there is more similarity within classes of jobs than you might expect to see. This can make automation by job type, customer, or other criteria fairly straightforward.