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Commentary & Analysis

Driving movable data in the right direction

“Printing using movable type” has turned into “printing using movable data”. It has been almost eight years since Bernhard Schreier, CEO of Heidelberg, paraphrased Gutenberg’s invention to describe the transformation of the industry. And data has been moving ever faster, in ever more directions, ever since.

By Ed Boogard
Published: January 30, 2012

“Everything that can go online, will go online”, Bernhard Schreier - now appointed president of drupa 2012 - stated in his speech at GraphExpo 2011, last September. And ‘everything’, of course, includes the printing industry. Who could have imagined only three years ago to be able to access all relevant management information from your printshop by using an app on a smartphone? Or to allow your clients to view, annotate, and approve jobs - on their iPads? It was only at the time of drupa 2008 that Apple announced a new iPhone using 3G. And the iPad did not even exist. 

Get your App

Now, Heidelberg’s Prinect Mobile app connects your smartphone directly to the workflow at work, and let you check a job’s status, monitor machine reports of all equipment and even analyze production during shifts.

Agfa’s :Apogee Prepress App gets you quick check of a specific job during production on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. “A convenient status overview of the prepress equipment, including proofers, CtP systems and other output devices, can also be displayed with this App", says Erik Peeters, Marketing Manager for Apogee at Agfa Graphics.

And Fujifilm’s XMF Remote app is changing the way printers and their clients interact, as John Davies, workflow solutions manager Fujifilm Europe, explained at the UK Publishing Expo 2011: “Print buyers are, in the main, creative people, and it’s creatives who have been early adopters of iPad technology, using it as a professional business tool. If we want to enhance the experience of these creatives who are responsible for commissioning and approving print work, we have to provide them with tools that they want to work with.”

Shift to software

Between last drupa and the 2012 edition, capital investment has been impacted by the global recession. Printing companies have been forced to find new ways to innovate and improve their business without large investments in machines or equipment. Shifting their attention to software, focusing on the handling of data and information, has proven to offer affordable solutions that enhance productivity, efficiency and margin. Also, new services and products can be provided to customers, opening up new markets as well. As software from, for example, DirectSmile and XMpie shows, variable data does not only mean you can personalize print, but you can make it interact with e-mail, personal websites and mobile messaging as well.

Information and technology

Drupa 2012 is set to show printing really is all about information and technology.As lines of lead became streams of bits and bytes, digital information has been changing the printing industry dramatically. It allows the production process to become highly automated and standardized, by creating connected workflows from start to finish. Printing has not only become faster and more efficient by connecting commercial data with production data. It has also become more flexible and effective by using creative data on digital presses to produce highly segmented or even personalized printed products.

Digital information is changing the business of printing, by changing the way printers and clients interact, communicate and connect. ‘Web-to-print’ provides new ways to request and deliver quotes, exchange job information, upload files, do proofing and track jobs. It has strengthened relationships as printers became solution providers to their clients. It has weakened relationships as clients turned to the highly transparent Internet marketplace.

And digital information is changing shape and form, as more and more digital alternatives to print, like e-books and tablets, become available. They attract an increasing part of the moveable data as both print buyers and print consumers start to prefer pixels to paper.

Automate production

“The most important trend at drupa 2008 was the effort that all companies - in prepress, press and postpress - put in developing IT solutions to automate and control the entire graphic workflow”, says Italian prepress expert Ester Crisanti. “Many solutions were focused on handling the files exchange, others were specialized in checking the colour reproduction on-board of the press machine and, on top of all, there was the JDF technology. Crossmedia publishing and hybrid workflows were new at drupa 2008 and there were some interesting offers that now, after 4 years, are becoming a strong reality.”

Fujifilm early on put the Adobe PDF Print Engine at the heart of its JDF based XMF workflow. Others followed soon, like Agfa’s ApogeeX, Screen’s TrueFlow, Kodaks’s Prinergy and Xerox’ FreeFlow Print Server. These end-to-end PDF workflow solutions now guarantee output consistency and allow for true hybrid workflows, combining conventional and digital print, and crossmedia workflows, including all kinds of electronic media as well.

 

Hybrid workflows

“Hybrid workflows will arrive at drupa 2012”, says Gareth Ward, editor of Print Business magazine (UK), as he analyses developments since last drupa: “They not really exist, rather co-joined workflows and there is no great appetite for them in real use. MIS moves forward, but with different demands in different countries can hardly be said to have changed the industry. Web to print has been the most significant development, though again not all countries use it in the way it is used in Germany. And automation remains a concept rather than practicality in most shops.”

Eddy Hagen at VIGC, the Flemish Innovation Center for Graphic Communication, also picks ‘hybrid workflows’ as the main topic at drupa 2012, as more printers will be offering both conventional and digital printing. Also, JDF/JMF will remain an important theme, but it will still take time for it to live up to its full potential, Hagen thinks. He would also like to stress the importance of MIS: “Every company has to be able to analyze its costs and revenues on a job-to-job basis. You have to know which jobs earn you money and which don’t, so you can turn your company into the right direction. The financial crisis has made it clear that efficiency and automation are key. That is why many printers now turn their attention to web to print.”

 

Management information

Workflow solutions have grown from separate systems controlling (part of) the production process, to managing all business related information. For example Kodak’s Unified Workflow Solution was designed to bring all systems together and integrate and unify all information available. More recently, Screen introduced Equiosnet, a “universal workflow environment” providing end-to-end automation “from the initial job quote all the way through the invoicing of the finished project.”

JDF and JMF have enabled production workflows to connect to the business information systems surrounding it. Data needs to be available throughout the complete process - to everybody concerned in every possible way. That is why, early 2011, Heidelberg acquired software specialist CERM to expand its portfolio of management information systems. Marcel Kiessling, member of the Management Board responsible for Heidelberg Services, explained the strategy behind the takeover: “We aim to present a fully integrated MIS solution with central data management in combination with our Prinect print shop workflow at drupa 2012 and start the worldwide roll-out step by step.”

Connecting to customers

Customers become connected to the workflow as well. Suppliers like EskoArtwork provide software that enables brand owners, designers and retailers to collaborate with packaging manufacturers and printers in artwork creation and quality assurance. Softproofing and even virtual 3D modelling of the product to be printed has opened up ways to interact in a fast and secure way, on a global scale.

This interaction not only allows for automation and efficiency but also reduces costs and time related to miscommunication and technical errors. And that is exactly what also Enfocus is aiming at, by connecting designers, publisher and printers and let them at the same time to do what they are best at - be creative, or focus on content and sales, or put ink on paper.

Pascale Ginguené, consultant and trainer in digital technologies for the printing industry, looks back at drupa 2004 as a workflow, MIS and JDF oriented show, with 2008 following up on that with web to print en inkjet technologies taking centre stage: “Quite logical developments, as it is first necessary to improve, automate and streamline production before opening up your systems to the outside world via web to print.” She thinks drupa 2012 will be an opportunity for vendors to demonstrate integrated cross media workflows: “These will form both the backbone of marketing and corporate communications, as well as the heart of the services a printer has to provide.”

 

Web to print

At drupa 2008, InfoTrends published the results of an extensive survey in Western Europe finding that “only one-third of all respondents indicated that they had deployed a Web-to-print solution, and another 20 per cent were considering deploying a solution within the next few years. If all of these respondents did in fact deploy such a solution, this would result in a 68 per cent increase in installations over the next 5 years.” At the same time, Web-to-print volumes were expected to grow 264 per cent by 2010 to become worth in excess of €10.5 billion. As recent predictions concerning the US market show, this growth will continue. InfoTrends forecasts the Web-to-print share in commercial print volume to double from 15 percent in 2009 to 30 percent in 2014 - representing $31 billion on a total of $107 billion - after having increased already five-fold over the last ten years as only 3 percent of print volume was Web-enabled in 2000. Companies like Kodak have anticipated this growth and now offer a wide range of web to print solutions to be integrated into any existing workflow.

 

Moving to the Cloud

Digital workflows are yet about to take a another new direction. Although ‘Application Software Provider’ (ASP) and ‘Software-as-a-Service’ (SaaS) have been around for some time, ‘the Cloud’ is now fundamentally changing the way data is being stored, routed and handled. Hiflex, already showing their iPhone application at drupa 2008, is taking the lead with its next major release of Hiflex MIS - called version 2012 or ‘drupa-release’. It will take the complete management information system to the cloud. In this way, both Hiflex MIS and Webshop can be entirely operated via the Internet and installed and executed on a server in a printer’s facility (a so-called ‘private cloud’), in an external data center (‘public cloud’) or at the Hiflex Data Center (‘Hiflex cloud’). It took Hiflex almost three years to develop this new architecture for its existing solutions. Using the cloud will reduce the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) as users do not need to invest in server hardware, facilities or back-up solutions anymore. 

As more software solutions will be available in the cloud, more data will run through cyberspace. Information will not just be sitting in dedicated databases, waiting to be send to a designer or printing company. Data can go many directions. “The Cloud will be the overriding change”, Gareth Ward predicts, adding: “Can I be the first to claim 2012 as the Cloud drupa?”

Electronic media

Since drupa 2008, electronic media like e-book readers, smartphones and tablets have moved from hype to hip and happening. Especially publishers of books, magazines and newspapers have been eager to try and see how print on paper can be replaced by digital publications. Saving on print, distribution and stock on the one hand, and on the other applying new business models and trying to find new ways to serve customer’s needs. As e-books now outsell paper editions on Amazon, it is clear that ‘movable data’ are no longer always making their way to the printing press.

“The evolution is so fast that is not possible to figure out the future”, says Ester Crisanti. “We could only try to imagine how the market will evolve. I like to say we are living in “a fast changing world” so it’s important to stay updated trying to understand the technology evolution, the customer needs and the trend of doing communication.” drupa 2012 will offer the opportunity to do exactly that: get up to date with the way data move and make sure you know how to best connect the dots.

 

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