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Commentary & Analysis

Looking Ahead in 2004

January 19,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: January 19, 2004

January 19, 2004 -- The industry faces major challenges in 2004, but there also are many great opportunities ahead. I'd like to share with you some of the things that we can look forward to that I believe will be important as the year unfolds. First up is the ongoing trend toward industry consolidation. This has been a theme in the industry for several years, but it seems to be heating up considerably: FedEx-Kinko's, RRD-Moore Wallace, EFI-Printcafe (and EFI-T/R Systems, too) and Kodak-Scitex. These are just a few examples and we can expect more, both for printers and their suppliers. Second, and following closely on the consolidation theme, is the general state of the marketplace. According to industry economists, things are improving but are still tough: growth for some printing companies will come at the expense of other printing companies. With the print market continuing to lag the GDP in growth, it's a challenging environment. Printers who will be successful in 2004 will be those who provide additional, value-added services that help to lock-in customer relationships and grow margins. JDF This is the year of JDF (Job Definition Format). Everyone in the industry is expecting to see real JDF applications at DRUPA in May, and vendors will not disappoint. DRUPA will mark the beginning of a new era in workflow. Before DRUPA, we'll begin to see these technologies come to market at the On Demand Show in March. Then things will accelerate as we move into DRUPA which many are also calling the "JDF DRUPA." EFI's Connect users conference in late June, and the NAPL's Digital Smart Factory Forum, also in June, will see more JDF news. And the "show season" should come to a dramatic climax at GraphExpo later in the Fall. Automation Automation is coming. Production workflow is still predominantly a highly manual process. Beginning this year, we will see advancements in workflow systems that make printing a more automated and less labor-intensive business. A fundamental change in the way printers and their customers conduct business will be brought about by the creation of a real electronic "supply chain" for printing, from job submission to production to distribution, which will streamline operations and enable print professionals to successfully focus on offering customers more flexible, affordable end-to-end solutions that are also more profitable for printers themselves. Many industry visionaries have predicted and advocated this supply chain concept, some under the umbrella of The Digital Smart Factory, certainly among them the early pioneers of JDF (the CIP4 organization, www.cip4.org) and PPML (from PODi) initiatives, as well as the active participants in PrintTalk. The big news for 2004 is that the vision is becoming reality. This new supply chain concept encompasses customer-facing systems, business systems at the printing company (with connections to customer business systems) and production systems. The core enabler of this new supply chain is the concepts and technology of Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) for print. CIM CIM may well be the most significant idea to influence the printing industry since Adobe's invention of Postscript. The use of computers and automation technologies embedded in offset presses and in finishing equipment and the connection of workflow technologies to the pressroom are some of the most important digital applications emerging today. Connecting ordering to print production to print management systems will bring enormous efficiency, cost savings and productivity to printers. In order to achieve these benefits, however, printers will need to embrace systems that are open, rely on standards, operate in black & white and color, work with both offset and digital, and support a wide range of output devices and printing technologies. XML The new industry standard, XML format for interoperability—JDF—and the software developers who support it, will make CIM possible. With CIM and JDF, every printer and every print customer can increase their productivity and cost efficiency by having a print job's ‘genetic code' transferred automatically throughout every step of the printing process. What the customer requests then becomes exactly what the output delivers. It is the responsibility of each and every vendor supporting this industry to not only support, but embrace, the set of standards that will bring this vision to reality. There is a need for multi-vendor interoperability to further the advancement and growth of the graphic arts industry. This can only be achieved through support of open standards through involvement with industry organizations such as CIP4 (the international association that is developing JDF), PODi (the consortium promoting the variable data printing (VDP) standard language known as PPML), and the NAPL's Digital Smart Factory initiative. Resolving Complexity Print output devices, RIPs and VDP applications that are available today signal the readiness of the technology and the market to support these new applications. Standards like JDF and PPML will help spur adoption. A key component to accomplishing this will be to resolve the inherent complexity that exists today in connecting creative people and their chosen technologies, corporate databases (where much of the variable content resides), and print production processes into one integrated whole. These are the things that we can hope will happen in 2004. CIM and JDF will have a tremendous impact on productivity in print manufacturing operations, enabling print providers to benefit from a complete, customized and automated workflow (from multiple vendors, whose systems will work together) for greater efficiency and productivity. As the economy recovers and customer demand picks up, the climate for printers will remain challenging: again, the marketplace isn't growing— winning companies will need to be more aggressive and offer better solutions than their competitors to achieve success in this difficult climate. And there is no question that the keys to this success lie in the rapid adoption of JDF-enabled computer integrated manufacturing strategies. Here's to an exciting and profitable 2004!

 

 

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