Commentary & Analysis
Real World Production Scenario at drupa: Xerox FreeFlow Shows its Stuff
By Noel Ward,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: June 1, 2004
By Noel Ward, Executive Editor What if your offset press is needed for a rush job, requiring you to shift other work to a digital press? It's a scenario more than a few printers will recognize. June 1, 2004 -- One of the interesting aspects of a mega-trade show like drupa is that there are opportunities to do things that wouldn't even be considered at a normal three or four day show. After all, all the big equipment vendors have enough equipment and people on hand to support the printing needs of a small country, so most things are possible. I walked in on such an event in the Xerox stand and had the opportunity to see some key pieces of the company's FreeFlow workflow collection in action. I'd just finished being walked through a variety of application-driven workflow tools and was sagging from mental overload. Then Larry Zusman, Workflow Marketing Manager, comes up, excited and talking even more quickly than usual. "Don't leave yet. You have to see this. We just decided to try something right here that you just don't see done at a trade show. Come on." It's always hard to say no to Larry, so off I went. He leads me over to a DocuColor 6060. Taking a USB memory stick from around his neck he says, "This is the file for tomorrow's edition of the NGP Partner newsletter that's being printed every day at the show. A few thousand copies are printed overnight on a KBA offset press and distributed to all the NGP Partners. So we were thinking, what if this was a commercial print shop with both offset and digital presses? Now suppose a key customer had a crisis and needed a long offset print run done overnight, taking up the available time on the big KBA machine? We would still have to produce the newsletter, which is already imposed and scheduled for the offset press. What would we do, if the alternative device was a DocuColor 6060 or iGen3?" A very good question, and a scenario more than a few printers will recognize. Larry plugged his USB stick into the 6060's Creo Spire front-end and brought up the file. The newsletter had been created in QuarkXPress and saved as a PDF. It was set up as a single, 2-sided sheet about 25" long which was folded to make an 8-page newsletter. It was four-color throughout, but there were no bleeds or any special requirements. Larry opened FreeFlow Process Manager and FreeFlow Makeready, and selected various settings to change imposition, paper stock, binding, and so on. Next, Makeready automatically converted the PDF so it would run as an 8-page saddle-stitched document. The file was then sent to Print Manager, a new workflow software product under the FreeFlow Digital Workflow Collection that enables print providers to manage both digital and offset jobs with a single interface. Print Manager routed the job to a press, which happened to be a 6060 but could just as easily have been an iGen3. The entire process took maybe five minutes and the job was good to go. Having rearranged a more than a few PDF files in my time, fiddling with them to get everything just right, this is great stuff. I related this story to a group of direct mail and transactional service bureau owners at their conference in San Francisco last week and they thought so, too, having burned far too many hours when customer files originally set up for offset suddenly landed in their shops for printing on a digital color device. There are Acrobat plug-ins that do some of this, but not as easily or as fast. JDF & PDF Join Forces Another production tool I predict will generate a lot of smiles from production managers and designers alike has grown out of Xerox's strategic partnership with Adobe. The not-yet-named-or-released product leverages the capabilities of JDF and PDF, providing real solutions to a variety of problems print providers have had since the advent of desktop publishing. One of the challenges in digital document production is that designers use a variety of software programs in creating their layouts. But not all of these play well together, especially when it's time to print the file. This changes when Adobe Creative Suite is used because it integrates page layout (InDesign), graphics (Illustrator), image editing (Photoshop), and PDF creation (Acrobat 6.0 Professional) into what is essentially a single graphic design tool. When an InDesign layout using Photoshop and Illustrator is created, it can be readied for printing through the latest iteration of the Prepare for Output function. This exports both a PDF containing the document and a JDF job ticket that holds all the metadata about the job. The job ticket can be exported with a PDF from InDesign, or the entire job can be assembled as an InDesign document with all assets and the job ticket as a MIME package. The new product ensures the job callouts in JDF are consistent with job specs in the document and flags any errors. Likewise, the PDF can be preflighted based on the job options selected. This all happens behind the scenes and the job is ready to go to press. It is fast and easy to use, giving printers the ability to take in customer files with fewer headaches and have the entire process more streamlined and far less error prone. What about the designers who still prefer QuarkXPress as their design tool? They lose the front-end integration of Adobe's other design tools and the ease of using Prepare for Output, but once the job is at the print provider as an Acrobat Professional PDF many of the streamlined features will still help move the job through the system. When the new product is finally released--probably later this year--it will be part of Xerox FreeFlow, making the process of getting jobs to print easier and faster. The strategic partnership of Adobe, Creo and Xerox is ensuring jobs can be output to the Creo Spire RIP and work in a Prinergy workflow as well as with Xerox Freeflow products and DocuSP RIPs. Driving Profitability I've always thought it made sense for print providers to help their customers get new business, but as one veteran print provider informed me some years back, "Vendors never do that. Never! All they want to do is sell the box and collect the clicks." Well, never say never. Selling the box and building those clicks is still the goal, but many digital print engine vendors are now offering market development programs aimed at helping customers gain business. This shift was certainly evident at Xerox's stand, where presentations, kiosks and an entire section were devoted to the Profit Accelerator program. This is a broad set of tools and services developed specifically to help Xerox customers identify key prospects, determine the best services to offer them, and sell and produce jobs efficiently and profitably. The arsenal of tools includes portfolios of print samples, strategies for 'talking the talk,' templates for variable data direct mailers, job costing and financial analysis tools, and more. Xerox has been creating and rolling out a number of these components on an individual basis over the past two or three years. Those have now been further refined into Profit Accelerator and the synergy of the programs should give print providers many of the smart, sophisticated tools they need to win new business. Printers I know who have used earlier versions have found them effective, with the most creative using them as a starting spot for their own sales and market development efforts. Profit Accelerator adds more power and value. What struck me as I wandered the Xerox stand over a couple of different days, was that the company's years of experience and leadership in digital printing are evident in the breadth and depth of solutions the company is offering for virtually every type of customer. According to Xerox, about 70,000 people were expected to visit their stand during drupa, a number reached around the end of the first week. There are still hardware and software gaps to fill (more products are coming later this year) but it's clear this company has, on a number of levels, reinvented itself and the results were on display at drupa--and getting a lot of attention.