Demands on Transactional Printers Increase

Transactional printing is an original user of variable-data content, with each bill, statement, invoice, check, or insurance policy produced requiring content unique to the specific individual. Historically produced on black-and-white equipment, high-speed color inkjet printing innovations have transformed the market. According to a 2012 study by InfoTrends commissioned by HP on “The Opportunities in High-Speed Inkjet,” transaction printing is the leading market for color inkjet.

Continuous-feed inkjet devices in particular. Although around for more than a decade, these machines began to infiltrate the transaction printing market in 2007, following the increase in inkjet suppliers and model lines. I.T. Strategies projects that by 2017, continuous-feed inkjet pages will replace nearly all toner-based mono continuous-feed pages. The sea change is happening at a rapid pace—a 2008 Interquest study on transactional printing reported that 80 percent of the production equipment installed at respondent sites were black-and-white.

Traditionally, commercial and transaction printing sites have little in common. Transactional printing companies have roots in data processing rather than printing, notes HP’s Pat McGrew, M-EDP and CMP. “Using information technology (IT) staff to program the generation of utility bills, credit card statements, and other forms of transactional communications, the workflow for producing transactional printing is nothing like sending PostScript files to an imagesetter,” she says.

These shops are typically focused on productivity and throughput, given the very high volume of pages that require processing and the often rigid temporal deadlines associated with their work, says Kevin Horey, vice president, Workflow & Solutions, Graphic Communications Business Group, Xerox. “They also have a much higher expertise in managing and mining variable data. Commercial printers, by contrast, are traditionally more concerned with image quality and more generally the overall quality of the finished piece.”

Also, transaction environments require secure data generation and formatting solutions married to auditable print and finishing environments. “The printing requires the ability to print sharp text and accurate color at a speed sufficient to meet finishing and mail insertion deadlines,” says McGrew. “In most transaction print environments, there are severe financial penalties for missing a mail insertion slot, putting the wrong pages into an envelope, or failing to get pages into an envelope.”

Ricoh refers to transactional documents as critical communications. “This type of work involves long-term contracts with repeatable, predictable work,” explains Chris Reid, director, Software Product Marketing, Ricoh. “That predictably makes it a little easier to manage, but it has to be done right—you can’t ship an extra book or send a critical communication document to the wrong person. Commercial is much less predictable, jobs are bid, and volume and regularity are unpredictable. “

Adds Reid, “Where we see the two environments intersecting the most is when commercial printers move into critical communications, like healthcare enrollment kits and marketing collateral materials. As commercial printers move into these unique applications, they may also need to move into new equipment.”

Workflow Challenges

The classic workflow concerns for a transactional printer remain speed and productivity, and ensuring the data-driven documents are delivered error-free. Taking the workflow from receipt of data forward, however, is no longer enough.

As simple black-and-white statements go by the wayside, transactional printers are expected to be able to deliver higher quality and even higher complexity documents. “Color management, spot color support, and advanced PDF document standards are all areas that are now within the scope for transactional workflows,” says Horey. “In order to increase document value, advanced data mining and targeting now has to be combined with advanced document editing and composition. The ability to dynamically create and process advanced marketing messages within a classic transactional workflow is now required, as transpromotional workflows become the new norm.”

To streamline the process, production may be accomplished in a hard-wired “Automated Document Factory” configuration, a virtually connected configuration of varied print and finishing equipment, says Sheri Jammallo, corporate enterprise segment marketing manager, Canon. “No matter how the document is distributed, the goal is to reduce costs and boost end-to-end productivity from job submission through tracking, reprinting, indexing, archiving, and customer reporting and billing.”

Like other players in the graphics arts sector, today’s transactional workflow must be able to efficiently handle multi-channel communication. “There needs to be automation and integration with multi-vendor technology, the ability to support different types of applications and data streams, and different types of output,” says Reid. “They also have to be able to provide PDFs as part of a multi-channel platform. There is no end customer today that is looking for just print. Transactional printers need to be able to distribute to both print and an electronic platform. And everything needs to be tracked.”

More and more, transaction documents include variable messaging, graphics, pURLs, QR codes and other dynamic content potentially created by marketing agencies or colleagues on the graphic arts side of the business, notes Jammallo.”Transaction printers have to start thinking about automating workflows that safely integrate the creative process with the mission-critical production process.”

An overlooked hurdle for transactional printers as they add workflow solutions and capabilities to their operations is the effort and complexity of integrating multiple disparate systems, says Horey. “Whether it’s a print server or an upstream workflow solution, don’t underestimate the value of solutions that have been verified and certified to work together.”

Vendor Offerings

Canon USA

With the advent of extremely versatile high-speed inkjet printing systems, such as the Océ Color Stream 3000 series, it is possible to communicate successfully with huge numbers of people, utilizing individualized design and content in a cost effective way, says Jammallo. “The vision of ‘mass customization’ has thus become reality.”

Canon’s ColorStream 3000 series provides a modular growth path with field upgradable speed. Users can transition from a monochrome 3500 to a five- or six-color Océ ColorStream. Invisible and security ink for the Océ ColorStream 3900 lets users include customer and control metadata in printed documents – without having to insert visible barcodes that detract from the appearance of printed documents.

HP

HP’s broad set of offerings appropriate for transaction print environments start in the data center. Offerings from HP Enterprise including data center hardware and software for data management, analysis, and manipulation, says McGrew. “For billing statement formatting there are several solutions, but the most widely used is HP Exstream, which offers a full suite of customer communication solutions that integrate into the billing engines, generating output in a variety of formats appropriate for printing, viewing, and archiving”

For direct mail and transactional printing, HP offers the HP Inkjet Web Press portfolio, which includes the HP T200, T300 and T400 Color Inkjet Web Press series. HP Inkjet Web Presses natively print PDF and there are options available to print common transaction print streams.

Ricoh

Ricoh’s inkjet offerings include the InfoPrint 5000, its flagship continuous forms solution, which offers a variety of configuration options. “What a lot of customers are now doing with the InfoPrint 5000 is using it for all their critical communication documents, not just transaction documents, merging all their jobs into a single workflow an a single piece of equipment,” says Reid.

Another key component of the Ricoh critical communications solutions suite is the ProcessDirector workflow, which supports different types of data streams for customers and manages devices across the platform. ProcessDiretor is designed to streamline print operations, improve process integrity, increase operator productivity, and lower costs. Ricoh’s EMC Application Extender manages transactional content in a centralized repository.

Xerox

With the acquisition of Impika, Xerox has expanded its digital inkjet offerings to include aqueous inkjet technology to complement the waterless ink of our CiPress Production Inkjet Systems, reports Dustin Graupman, vice president, Ink Jet Business, Xerox’s Graphic Communications Business Group. “Each of the two inkjet technologies has its strengths. Our waterless inks provide vivid color and excellent image quality on low-cost plain papers. And our aqueous ink prints well on virtually any surface—delivering high density color on a variety of substrates even beyond paper."

Impika’s upgradeable options let printers customize their iPrint devices, selecting the colors, speed, and resolution choices to fit specific production requirements. Impika  Xerox’s CiPress 500 single-engine duplex (SED) production inkjet features an ink optimization mode that reduces the amount of ink coverage on pages that have more text and fewer graphics. Ink monitoring reports let printers know the exact amount of ink used for precise job costing.

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