Commentary & Analysis
Workflow Delivers Profit in Hybrid Workflows
By Mike Harvey November 14,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: November 14, 2005
By Mike Harvey November 14, 2005 -- In a recent article on WhatTheyThink.com, Steve Aranoff and Robert FitzPatrick of The EAGLE said "digital printing is now seen as just printing. (There is) no more wonder and awe at non-offset print." They're right: many vendors, print providers and industry analysts will tell you that digital and offset printing technologies are no longer seen as adversaries, fighting for attention and validation. Digital printing is gaining widespread acceptance in the historically offset-driven commercial printing industry, and print providers are finding ways to embrace the complementary technologies, rather than proclaiming one or the other as the solution to running a successful operation. In today's evolving print industry, digital and offset printing can productively coexist to deliver a business advantage. No matter the size of a print operation, print providers are using the tools and services that help develop the right business model to profitably take advantage of the strengths of digital and offset printing. Print providers can integrate digital printing into their operations while leveraging existing offset printing technology, giving them the ability to choose the ideal print process--digital, offset or a combination of both. Print providers need to integrate digital and offset workflows to enable flexible responses to customer demands. Multiple Workflow Tools Essential Now that digital color presses achieve offset-like quality, more print providers recognize digital color as a profitable, high-growth potential complement to their traditional offset business. But to truly deliver digital as a complement to offset, print providers need to integrate the two workflows to enable flexible responses to customer demands. Printers may need to respond by splitting jobs across print technologies to deliver a small quantity tomorrow and the balance later in the week. They may need to move a job completely from one technology to another as deadlines shift or delays occur or to better balance the shop's workload. In some cases, print professionals combine the two technologies by printing offset shells and then imprinting variable text and graphics on digital presses. With today's workflow technologies, printers can prepare files once for printing on any device in the shop, and manage them from a single point of control reaching across an integrated, efficient workflow for either digital or offset printing. Industry standards are the key building blocks for bridging the two environments -- the most influential include PDF (Portable Document Format) for print files and JDF (Job Definition Format) for job tickets. Many digital workflows solutions (including several in the Xerox FreeFlow Digital Workflow Collection) have been developed for compatibility with these and other industry standards. For example, FreeFlow has tools that leverage JDF connection between offset workflows like Heidelberg Prinect, Creo Prinergy or Rampage prepress systems and Xerox digital presses so jobs can be easily moved from one type of press to another. And workflow goes beyond which press is being used. For example, it must also help print providers get more out of their existing investments by integrating digital printing with management information systems (MIS) that automate business operations like estimating, billing, inventory and accounting. At Print 05, for example, EFI and Xerox demonstrated how data and print job instructions can seamlessly pass between MIS applications and digital printing systems, using EFI's Hagen OA software and FreeFlow Process Manager to automate communications of job instructions, job status and job processing information. Digital workflows must also integrate with management information systems such as estimating, billing, inventory and accounting. With an efficient digital workflow, digital print production can be added to an offset environment simply and efficiently, intersecting it at the point that makes the most sense for print providers' existing systems, from creative and prepress through production output and finishing. A digital workflow can be highly automated, keeping prepress costs low to make short-run printing more profitable. Digital workflow solutions can also enable major new business opportunities for a traditional offset printer, including customized Web fulfillment, on-demand digital books and one-to-one cross media publishing. Digital and Offset yield 110 new clients Toppan Printing Company America, the U.S. arm of one of the world's largest commercial printers with more than 100 offset presses, is a great example of the success an operation can have pairing offset and digital technologies. About five years ago, Toppan, which has built its reputation on impeccable quality, recognized that a fundamental shift was occurring in the industry -- and management began studying the digital printing opportunity. Toppan developed a business designed to take advantage of offset and digital opportunities and installed its first iGen3 press early in 2004 and a second six months later. Toppan established a PDF workflow that shares many file preparation steps with its offset workflow, and established a Web-to-print solution with PressSense iWay. Recently, Toppan added one-to-one cross-media publishing to its growing suite of offerings including XMPie Personal Effect. A glance at Toppan's workflow shows that the firm is well on its way to developing an efficient integration of offset and digital workflows that enables production to come together quickly, efficiently and cost effectively. The results were remarkable. In less than a year Toppan attracted 110 new customers. The digital work has generated $2.6 million in new client revenue, and according to Toppan, its digital presses are extremely profitable. Additionally, the presses also help attract new offset work. Toppan has more than 30 hybrid printing applications that cost-effectively split offset and digital volume enabled by the integrated offset-digital workflow. Additional new offset and digital work was generated by the web-to-print application, and some new digital customers eventually became offset customers as well. Toppan management expects the significant growth to continue into the future. Rather than sell digital or offset, Toppan is marketing its overall capabilities, and expanding its client base. Gavin Jordan-Smith, director of Digital Communication, is thrilled at the way the iGen3 press is expanding the business. Toppan is marketing its overall capabilities, and expanding its client base. "One project started out in our digital department and the application grew into our offset department. To date we received over $250,000 from this client because we could service their needs with both digital and offset printing. That is the solution many of our customers are looking for. The ability to supply a print services solution that addresses obsolescence while meeting clients'' immediate needs. Ultimately, the digital presses are driving work to our core business of commercial print, and that is a great success formula for any printer wanting to grow their business in today's print market." AGS Profits with PDF workflow Automated Graphics Systems, a Consolidated Graphics company is a full-service graphic, imaging and print provider with two locations in the Washington, D.C.-area and a third near Cleveland. While AGS offers a wide range of services, including digital color printing in its Washington copy center, 70 percent of its business is producing books, journals and directories for Washington-area trade associations and professional groups. As book customers demanded shorter book runs, AGS encountered difficulty producing full-color covers cost-effectively in lower volumes. In response, AGS decided to bring digital color printing into its offset shop for the first time, adding an iGen3 press. In addition to producing the book covers, AGS has expanded its business by complementing its traditional print operation with short-run and variable-information printing. The company employs a PDF workflow for both digital and offset printing that streamlines file preparation. The same PDF file that feeds the iGen3 also feeds the firm's computer-to-plate system for offset production, helping the firm maintain top productivity and cost-effectively meet their customers' needs. AGS achieved return on its digital color printing investment in just three months. More than 80 percent of that volume is for new print work, and 40 percent of that is with new customers. Turnaround of short-run book covers is one or two hours compared to one or two days on offset, at a cost that is typically 20 to 40 percent less. Now, AGS is doubling its plant space devoted to digital production printing in anticipation of annual double-digit growth for the foreseeable future. Turnaround of short-run book covers is one or two hours compared to one or two days on offset, at a cost that is typically 20 to 40 percent less. "In addition to improving our book cover production, we wanted digital to build our business for short-run color and variable information printing," said John Green, AGS president. "I just wasn't sure how much business we would get. But except for the covers, none of the digital volume replaces offset. Eighty percent of the volume is new, incremental business with existing and new customers, some in entirely new markets. And we are winning it by adding value, not by cutting price." Adding Value with Digital More commercial printers are seeing the value in adding digital printing to their traditional offset printing business, and the number of companies incorporating both technologies is quickly expanding. Digital print vendors are working to make the transition seamless with efficient hybrid workflows, high-quality digital presses and business support. For print providers, it's no longer about choosing one technology or the other, it's about implementing the solutions that help them meet customer demands and increase profits.