Commentary & Analysis
Transforming and Automating Workflows: Workflow Dominates Print13 (Part One)
In this article, David looks at many new production workflows solutions that were introduced at Print13 in Chicago. Due to the sheer volume of new announcements, this is Part One of two articles covering this new product review.
By David Zwang
Published: September 20, 2013
For those of you who have been reading this series, by now you have realized that I have very strong feelings regarding the need to research and implement a good infrastructure to help you transform and automate your business and production systems. It was very exciting to see so many new and existing production hardware and software solutions providers recognize this as well, as evidenced by their exhibition strategy at Print 2013.
To date, we have covered MIS/ERP business systems, packaged and customized production management systems, and some of the component architecture that also forms the base of a good system infrastructure. In the last article, we looked at a new and growing segment; cloud-based production workflow systems. At Print 2013, we saw many new MIS/ERP business and production workflow systems announced. Some are cloud-based solutions, some are new and/or updated server based on-site solutions, and others offer a hybrid model with either a combination of cloud-based and local servers, or a choice between the two with a clear migration path.
Due to the volume of new product announcements, I have broken this review into two articles. This first one addresses production workflow solutions, and the second article will cover new MIS/ERP business workflow systems.
One very important product introduction was Adobe PDF Print Engine 3 (APPE3) . In a previous article, we discussed the important role the RIP core plays in any production DFE and workflow. Since APPE is at the core of many of the production DFE and production workflow systems in the market, this announcement will ultimately affect most of them. The new ‘Mercury RIP’ architecture brings dynamic load balancing and multiple concurrent processing instances to a single or multiple systems on a network. This is targeted directly at the high speed, high volume production digital print devices and at more efficient handling of variable data jobs. More detailed information on APPE3 can be found in a recent review. Look for APPE V3 to be included in new DFEs and production systems starting in 2014.
The production workflow solutions shown at Print 2013 all seemed to be addressing automation, although they don’t all approach it in the same way. In the past, we have discussed ‘pipeline’ workflows. These are solutions that provide a way to connect various production tasks together to create the desired process automation. However, based on what we are seeing in the currently available solutions, we need to be a bit more specific on what ‘type’ of pipeline workflow system each of them deploy. Here I arbitrarily break them into three types of pipeline workflows for clarity. Please understand that there likely are features that may blur the lines between the types, but for the most part the overlap is not enough to reclassify them.
The first type would be a predefined pipeline. This type of offering only allows you to choose how the production files are input and how they are output for a fairly well-defined process. Web-to-print catalog ordering and on-demand book production are examples. The second type is a linear pipeline. This type of solution provides flexibility in how you build the process to support your requirements, but without an intelligent ‘rules based’ infrastructure. In this case, you will need to have individual predefined workflows to address all of your production variables. Finally, the third type is a fully flexible rules-based pipeline solution. The main advantage to rules-based pipeline systems is that you can minimize the number of workflows you need to define as well as the amount of potential operator intervention that is required. In essence, the system can be programmed to make its own intelligent choices.
Xerox introduced FreeFlow Core at the show. This new technology was designed from the ground up to power a new platform of product offerings and shouldn’t be confused with FreeFlow Process Manager, the legacy Xerox workflow application. FreeFlow Core takes a fundamentally different approach, expanding some of the features and functionality beyond what is currently available or even possible with Process Manager. Core gives customers a more granular control of prepress operations. Xerox is marketing FreeFlow Core in three upgradable configurations: FreeFlow Core Base; Advanced Prepress; and Advanced Automation. The first two configurations, Core Base and Advanced Prepress, include updated versions of many of the process nodes that are currently available in Process Manager that are now Core compatible. These configurations and the supplied nodes can be used in the creation of a linear pipeline workflow, while the Advanced Automation configuration adds rules-based workflow capabilities to the system to enable fully flexible and ‘rule based’ variable workflows. In taking this approach, Xerox is recognizing that workflow is not “one size fits all,” and allowing a more modular approach to workflow deployment.
Xerox also showed several new Core enhanced solutions.
- Xerox IntegratedPLUS Finishing Solution – automates job production from order entry through online or offline finishing in conjunction with the newly designed Imposition node;
- XMPie StoreFlow – a B2B and B2C all-in-one Web to Print solution that integrates directly to the FreeFlow Core production automation system, providing an end to end workflow;
- FreeFlow Digital Publisher – an integrated solution that providers service providers with the tools to repurpose print content into media rich mobile and online content.
XMPie, a Xerox company, whose products are marketed through a variety of channels, also showed its XMPie Circle Marketing Workflow product, including an impressive future roadmap that we will cover in a future article.
For those of you not familiar with Hybrid Software, many core employees came from the Artwork Systems team, prior to the acquisition of that company by Esko. And while their roots are in packaging prepress, their solutions are also great for print service providers in general. Cloudflow is Hybrid’s new HTML5 browser based workflow platform. It supports the open JSON REST API for scripting and a NoSQL database backend making it easier to integrate with other cloud-based (web) solutions and services. Many of the available modules have been developed, released, and integrated by Hybrid in the last couple of years, but the core platform has been in development for a longer time and the concept as well as the implementation is very interesting.
The Cloudflow platform is designed to combine local processing with remote processing in a hybrid model, a concept we also saw in the OneFlowCloud solution I previously reviewed. The system uses a user-friendly rules-based pipeline node structure for building workflows which can include Web Portal, file processing, pre-press, and data flow. The platform base is Cloudflow Workspace, and the currently available modules include Cloudflow Proofscope for softproofing, Cloudflow Proofscope Live for PDF editing, Cloudflow Printplanner for layout and VDP, Cloudflow DAM, Cloudflow Pre Press Workflow, and Cloudflow RIP. Some of these modules are developed by PACKZ, a Belgian software company that also has its roots in Artwork Systems. Hybrid Software has also just announced a further partnership with PACKZ to distribute a new packaging prepress application. Hybrid Software will be an exclusive distributor for this solution in most parts of the world and will be introducing it at Labelexpo Brussels later this month. An example of an implementation using Cloudflow can be seen at http://seetheproof.com.
Ricoh TotalFlow Process Director V3 was introduced on March 31, but Print 2013 is its U.S. public debut. This is a significant upgrade to Process Director and Process Director Express, which is a subset of the full Process Director. The application was initially developed by IBM InfoPrint, which was acquired as a subsidiary of Ricoh in 2010 following a period of joint venture between the two companies. Process Director is built on a common backbone that includes an IBM DB2 database and a modular component architecture. This rules-based automation pipeline solution enables the software to be configured to the needs of many different applications, from high volume variable data direct marketing to general commercial print. Initially designed to support the IBM digital roll-fed production presses and applications, V3 added a visual and conditional workflow builder, as well as support for Ricoh cut sheet devices, resulting in a flexible and very scalable production workflow solution.
Ricoh also introduced TotalFlow DocEnhancer, a rules-based plug-in for Adobe Acrobat that allows users to add, edit, or replace static or variable data in a PDF file destined for print production through a very simple user interface. It is available in two configurations, one that operates as a standalone and one that integrates with Process Director and Process Director Express.
The introduction of PRINERGY Workflow 6 , Kodak’s rules-based pipeline automation solution, has been anticipated for a while. It has been in development for three years, and Kodak has been testing and seeding it to select customers to ensure it is rock solid at release. We have discussed PRINERGY in past articles, but this new release is undoubtedly a statement of Kodak’s intention to support and grow this platform. This release is focused on enhancing production automation throughout its processes. It includes; PREPS v7 for imposition; COLORFLOW v2, for color management; and INSITE Prepress Portal v6.6.
However, the big change in PRINERGY 6 is the new browser-based and simplified user interface. This change in itself will undoubtedly streamline production operations for PRINERGY users. The PRINERGY Workflow 6 Workspace is divided into three modules: Plan, Manage, and Track. This helps users manage all jobs and production tasks. Using the underlying PRINERGY Rules-Based Automation (RBA) functionality, you can now set up chains of workflow tasks from receipt of the customer order through prepress through to digital presses and CTP devices. The workflows can be triggered by events or manually by hitting a ‘play’ button.
HP showed its latest version of the SmartStream Production Center which is currently a linear pipeline workflow solution that integrates with their other SmartStream offerings. However, we are confident that it will evolve into a rules-based pipeline solution over time.
Konica Minolta announced and promoted its renewed relationship with Kodak through the integration of the Creo DFE and the optional PRINERGY 6 Workflow solution in addition to its standard EFI Fiery DFE. Konica Minolta also showed two of its own new workflow solutions:
- EngageIT Automation a predefined production system that operates with a portal and print catalog; and
- EngageIT XMedia, a cross-media marketing campaign workflow solution. We will cover this in a future article.
Fujifilm showed its XMF production workflow, which was previously introduced. It is primarily a linear pipeline workflow. Fujifilm was the only exhibitor at the show to feature implementation of APPE3 in XMF driving the J Press 720 Inkjet Press.
While not displaying at Print13, Agfa announced that the new APPE3 will be integrated into both the :Apogee and :Asanti product lines.
DALIM introduced Twist 7, its latest update to its rules-based production automation solution. Twist 7 updates focus on speed, more complete and flexible job input, and support for BigTIFF and additional printer marks on multi-page documents.
In the next article, Part Two, we will look at some of the new and updated MIS/ERP business workflow solutions that were introduced at Print 2013 in Chicago.
Remember, if you have any topics you think are important and would like us to cover during the balance of this series, please let us know!
To see some innovative ways to automate and transform your workflows, download a free informative white paper, "Automating and Optimizing a Book Production Workflow"