Workflow: Coming of Age (Part One)
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: October 23, 2006
EFI, Heidelberg, Printable, Xerox Special Report by Cary Sherburne October 23, 2006 -- In kicking off the annual Industry Measure (formerly Trendwatch Graphic Arts) industry trends presentation, Richard Romano cited Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity Is New, saying that in today’s fast-paced world, “Change happens faster than we are able to forecast or predict it.” Kurzweil’s thesis is The Law of Accelerating Returns. He posits that the rate of technology change is exponential rather than linear, claiming that at today’s rate of change, rather than experiencing 100 years of progress in the 21st Century, we will experience the equivalent of 20,000. He adds, “The ‘returns,’ such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially.” It sure felt that way as I walked the show floor at Graph Expo, thinking back a few short years when we were just beginning to talk about the possibilities a new standard called JDF could bring to our industry. In our drupa 2004 coverage, just over two years ago, Margaret Motamed, CIP4’s Chief Marketing Officer, said, “Two years from now, JDF will not even be news anymore. We will wonder why we ever thought it was exciting. It will become de facto and will be as exciting as discussing plumbing or having a conversation about USB ports.” This year’s Graph Expo bore that prediction out. Although there was a JDF Roadmap available to guide attendees to JDF-enabled products, services, demonstrations, presentations and events, there was no CIP4 booth, JDF pavilion or other overt presence promoting the standard. Instead what we saw was a wide range of JDF-enabled workflow-related solutions in both single-vendor and multi-vendor environments. The key new development this year is the emergence of unified offset/digital workflows that have the potential to bring the entire shop under one workflow umbrella. While the Must See ‘ems panel highlighted MIS as the number one technology most important to a printer’s profitable survival—largely because of the unified business view it provides and its importance as part of a computer integrated manufacturing implementation—workflow enhancements with the emphasis on the development of hybrid digital/offset workflows ranked number four, coming in higher than color management, CTP, mailing and fulfillment, and wide format. A recurring theme as I spoke to exhibitors on the show floor centered around justifying investments in workflow solutions. While printers may consider these investments somewhat steep, they should consider what it is costing them to do business today without them. In most cases, by taking an honest look at the whole picture, the dollars are already being spent in terms of headcount, cycle time and rework due to errors. Because of the improved efficiencies delivered by a fully- or semi-automated workflow, investments pay back quickly and often add capacity. Thus, as one printer told me, it is more a case of resource reallocation than it is of new investment dollars. There were so many solutions in this category being shown that it is impossible to cover them all in the limited space we have available. In articles this week and next week, I will highlight a few new developments, with advance apologies to those exhibitors we were not able to feature. EFI was highlighting solutions across the gamut of the important technologies the Must See ‘ems panel identified, including MIS, digital workflow, Web to Print, color management and wide format. This ranged from Auto-Count OpForma that automatically collects, tracks and reports workstation productivity and seamlessly integrates to EFI print MIS systems, to the Color Profiler Suite of integrated color management tools and new versions of its signature Fiery technology in partnership with a number of its OEM partners and its own VUTEk product family. EFI also announced an expanded partnership with Canon that is, in part, designed to create customized hybrid offset/digital environments using Canon and EFI solutions, especially important with the introduction of Canon's new high-end color production engine, the imagePRESS C7000VP. EFI was prominently featured in Canon’s booth, with the Canon imagePRESS C7000VP driven by the imagePRESS Server A3000 (a collaboration between EFI and Canon), integrated with EFI Balance, a production color and black-and-white production management and make-ready solution; Digital StoreFront, EFI's web-to-print platform that provides a customer onramp into the commercial printer's digital production workflow and the printer's business management tools; and EFI Logic SQL, which combines end-to-end integration of the print production process with applications covering every business function from estimating to billing, order entry to shipping, purchasing, inventory control, finished goods, accounting and more. Andy Schaer, Senior Director of Corporate Communications, commented, “EFI sees itself taking a leadership role in a market that is shifting from a heavy iron centric approach to a more workflow and productivity focused approach that opens significant opportunities for new revenue. As this shift happens, there is a new mindset that is required as buyers evaluate software, rather than hardware, investments. They must think about the impact these solutions have on their business, including productivity enhancements; and they must ensure that they have the right people in the right positions, making headcount reductions where appropriate. Today’s blend of workflow and MIS helps you make better decisions about business expansion real-time where getting the information you needed in the past could take months.” To that end, look to see more educational-type initiatives from EFI in 2007, including more in its popular ABCs series. Heidelberg was featuring its Prinect Digital Print Manager which allows digital print jobs to be submitted directly from a Prinect workflow to digital presses from Xerox, HP, Kodak and Canon. In fact, Heidelberg’s theme at the show was “Connect for Success,” and executives were quick to point out that a key element of its unified offset/digital workflow initiatives is integration with 12 different MIS systems, including its own Prinance. At the Heidelberg press conference held Sunday morning, CIP4 CEO Jim Harvey presented the 2006 Jürgen Schönhut Memorial CIP4 International Print Production Innovation Award (dubbed the CIPPI’s) to Heidelberg customer druckpunkt Druckerei Repro GmbH for its implementation of prepress workflow with integrated internet data submission and approval which delivered a 1,827% ROI over a five-year period. (And yes, the decimal points are in the right place.) A white paper—well worth reading—is available for download from the CIP4 site if you are interested in the full details. Pressroom Manager and Workflow Integrator were new within Prinect at the show. Pressroom Manager is the central JDF job store, where JDFs reside for press, prepress, and MIS, with postpress to come later. Ray Cassino, Director, Prepress Product Management, described it as the central nervous system for JDF, giving you a view of the whole shop including prepress, with Workflow Integrator being the prepress component and delivering the ability to get prepress data into Pressroom Manager. Heidelberg was also showing Meta Dimension 52i, a new workflow option available with the Speedmaster 52A with Anicolor inking. Designed for smaller shops, Meta Dimension 52i sells for less than $10,000 and is a turnkey semiautomatic PDF Plug-In workflow that combines trapping, color management, and a very easy-to-use imposition scheme, which Cassino states only takes hours to learn and which has a clear migration path for adding incremental functionality as needs change. Printable Technologies continues to enhance its FusionPro product family for increased functionality and automation on the front end. New at the show was an enhanced version of FusionPro Desktop 4.0 which includes, among other things, a new “VDP Workflow Pallet” specifically designed for users unfamiliar with VDP workflow. Since Printable created a stir about a year ago by reducing the price for FusionPro Desktop to an almost unheard of low of $399, the company has grown its installed base to more than 800 and is currently selling the product at a rate of three or four per day. Coleman Kane, CEO, believes that the price/performance of this unique product, linked with Printable’s online knowledge base and forum that allows users to share best practices, has contributed significantly to the growing marketplace success of the offering. Printable also introduced FusionPro Live, which allows online editing of templates through a web browser using an easy click, drag and drop interface; and FusionPro Direct, a desktop product that enables direct communication with the server for high volume VDP shops who don't want to tie up desktops to compose large VDP jobs. Also new at the show was the PrintOne Retail Store which provides traditional quick or commercial printers an online retail presence for selling generic printed goods and services, including static items, inventoried items, templated items, mail list purchasing, and – through Job Express – ad hoc direct print-to-order “copy shop” documents. Xerox continues to enhance its Xerox FreeFlow Digital Workflow Collection. According to Mike Salfity, VP, Workflow Business Unit, the company’s workflow strategy has remained consistent—a blend of participating in and driving standards development and bringing to market both internally developed solutions and solutions from its partners within the context of FreeFlow. He says, “The strategy is solid; it is now about execution—against the JDF standard as a job ticketing mechanism, PDF for content, and we are moving all products to use JMF as the messaging system. We have adopted Press-Sense iWay as our core for web development. And we are integrating everything through Process Manager. Our objective is to help customers cut costs through automation, to connect to their customers through e-business, and to give customers new applications to generate new revenue through our variable imaging (VI) suite. Going forward, you will see us continuing to embellish on those three values.” Xerox was showing unified offset/digital workflow both in conjunction with Heidelberg PrintReady, and Kodak Prinergy with the objective of allowing users to push the decision about whether to print offset or digital to the last possible minute in the production process in a bidirectional unified workflow that integrates all the way from MIS through production. As an example, Xerox was producing a unique book in conjunction with NAPL, entitled Integrated Marketing Communications, which combined chapters from eight different books assembled using FreeFlow Process Manager and Makeready. The book block was printed on a 288-page-per-minute black & white press shown as a technology demo, with inline perfect bound finishing using covers printed on the iGen3. For longer runs, this project could easily have been directed to offset, taking advantage of advanced FreeFlow functionality in the assembly process. Salfity adds, “In effect, we have taken what used to be two separate prepress functions—offset and digital—and unified them into one.” Xerox’ Larry Zusman also commented, “With this type of virtual workflow now available, we are seeing more interest in building distribute and print networks globally for all kinds of applications. Companies are trying to give themselves more flexibility about where work is actually done. For example, the FreeFlow VI suite now includes VI containers, packaging all of the variable information data assets in convenient folders for travel. This allows processing to be done at a central point where a higher skill level may exist, and the receiving entity just has to print. With the XMPie acquisition, we are directly aligning campaign management within the uProduce architecture of XMPie with our VI container architecture so that campaign assets within XMPie are packaged up for travel with all of the other resources under VIPP enablement and can be sent anywhere. We have customers doing this today.” Watch for more coverage of workflow offerings from Adobe, Agfa, Creo PODS, Enfocus, FujiFilm, Gradual Software, Kodak, Printware, and Screen as our show coverage continues.