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Building Books: Digital Manufacturing Takes Hold

Digital Wordflow Building Books:

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: January 29, 2007

Digital Wordflow Building Books: Digital Manufacturing Takes Hold By Carro Ford Weston January 29, 2007 -- Whenever I get a book I’ve ordered online, my first thought nowadays is how was this thing printed? As interesting as it might be to me, for some, digital book publishing is more than a matter of professional curiosity; it’s a livelihood. Lightning Source, Inc. (LSI) has evolved digital book manufacturing to a fine art to the benefit of readers and publishers around the world. Customers include Amazon and other well-recognized book e-tailers and retailers. Lightning Source has printed more than 39,000,000 books for over 4,300 publishers around the world. A lot of people must be reading books manufactured by LSI. The company has printed more than 39,000,000 for over 4,300 publishers around the world. Books are stored electronically and delivered on demand in either traditional printed format or as e-books in response to orders from booksellers, librarians and publishers. Lightning Source, a subsidiary of Ingram Industries Inc., provides an array of demand-driven book manufacturing solutions for publishers. “We are revolutionizing the options available to the industry in the storage, management, and distribution of digital content,” declared J. Kirby Best, Lightning Source president and CEO. The LSI Experience In my last column, Mr. Best talked about the on demand book market. This time we continue that discussion, with a focus on the LSI experience. Well, at least some of it. LSI's methods of order entry, submission, makeready, production, finishing, shipping, book blocks, and even covers are trade secrets. And with good reason: they set Lightning Source apart from the competition. “We guard our workflow process very carefully. It represents hundreds of man-years of effort by our IT and operations groups,” he explained. Although LSI zealously protects its trade secrets, Best will talk about what they went through to reach their very advanced level of performance. “It evolved in stages as the growth of the business required. Most of our associates had no print background and happily had no preconceived notions of how things were supposed to be done.” This blank slate encouraged creative thinking about how to reach the goal. Software and hardware vendors have been critical in helping LSI get where it is today, and the bar is continually being raised. Today they continue growing with determination and attention to detail. “We don’t do anything by trial and error,” he declared. “Every project is carefully evaluated and justified. But what we are doing is so new and the processes so unexplored at the scale of operation we have, that even though we plan carefully, we have an expectation that some projects will fail. If they don’t, then we are not being aggressive enough to explore new ways to make one-off books.” Vendor Support Critical Software and hardware vendors have been critical in helping LSI get where it is today, and the bar is continually being raised. “We could not have done it without them,” Best declared. “We manufacture over one million books per month, and I look forward to doubling or even tripling that number with the addition of our new digital presses.” Lightning Source has begun installing new Océ VarioStream 9210 continuous form digital presses at its printing facilities in both the United States and United Kingdom. Digital workflow and online capabilities have already eliminated chunks of work from the traditional book-manufacturing model. “We have no order department,” Best said. “All orders come in electronically via EDI or the web. Orders are acknowledged and invoiced electronically. For maximum efficiency, order workflow links electronically in two directions: to our customers, the publishers, and to their customers, the retailers and book wholesalers.” “Most of our processes are near-line to provide maximum redundancy in a manufacturing environment,” Best explains. “No one piece of equipment can force other pieces of equipment or processes to halt.” One problem with confined inline systems is inflexibility; when one piece is down, they are all down, and that is unacceptable to LSI's way of thinking. One problem with confined inline systems is inflexibility; when one piece is down, they are all down, and that is unacceptable to LSI's way of thinking. Manual labor is still a part of the book manufacturing process, even at a state-of-the-art operation like Lightning Source. “This is a true one-off operation, and there is significant manual labor at various stages like binding, cutting, packing and quality control. We spend time inspecting every book before it ships.” Still, the driving force behind Lightning’s progress has always been to decrease the time to receive and ship the book. That now occurs in 12 hours or less for many orders. This “lightning” response plays right into the immediate gratification mentality most consumers and even businesses have adopted. I know I’m always eager to see the UPS or FedEx truck pull up, and the next time I get my book fix from Amazon, I’ll have a better idea of how it was printed and maybe even who did it. You can always reach Carro Ford Weston at her new email address: carrof@earthlink.net. See More Exclusive Articles



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