With On Demand upon us and Kodak’s acquisition of Creo in process, it seemed like a good time to talk with Creo’s President, Judi Hess, to get her perspective on the latest from Creo, the acquisition process, and what we might expect to see at what will most likely be Creo’s last On Demand show as an independent company. Hess spoke to us from her office in Vancouver BC. While she will not personally be attending On Demand due to the fact that the Creo Users’ Group timing conflicts with the show, she was able to give us good insight into what we might see from the company as On Demand sets up shop in Philadelphia next week.

WTT: Judi, thanks for making time to speak with us today and congratulations on the Kodak acquisition. I understand that once the acquisition is final, the plan is for you to assume the role of General Manager and Vice President, Workflow & Prepress in Kodak’s Graphic Solutions & Services group. Can you tell us a bit about what that role will entail, and what, if any, different types of products and services your Strategic Product Group will consist of other than the Creo portfolio?

JH: Effectively, this group will represent the Creo portfolio with all of the workflow, output devices and proofing that we currently offer. It will also incorporate portions of the KPG portfolio that fall in those three areas, including RealTimeProof, the Newsetter, their proofing and color applications, as well as storage applications. From the NexPress perspective, we will be driving workflow, but they will still be driving control of their device—the NexStation and any other front end controllers that are implemented. It will take a while to sort everything out, and we can’t make decisions until the transaction is closed. Right now, though, we have the key high-level pillars in place in terms of what each group will be focused on, and the management team is in agreement on key goals and objectives. The most important consideration is that we don’t want workflow driven from many different places in the organization; we want it to be focused in one area to enable us to deliver a true unified workflow for the hybrid printing environments that are becoming more common in today’s marketplace.

WTT: Both Creo and EFI were recently recognized by Xerox for your partnership efforts with them. Do you foresee any change in that relationship once the Kodak transaction is closed?

JH: I can’t really comment on that—it is really too early. These things will unfold over the next little while. Right now, we are going forward with business as usual, and we don’t assume any change from the Creo perspective.

WTT: I had been following Creo’s progress with its processless plates, for both on-press and off-press imaging. I haven’t seen anything on that subject recently. Can you bring us up to date on the status of these two products? Also, who manufactures those products on your behalf?

JH: We have the Clarus WL now in production that is our waterless polyester plate for DI systems. We are very happy with the plate. The product is doing well, and I have received great feedback from customers.

The other plate we have been working on is our Clarus PL plate, a switchable polymer plate. We have shown it in both technology and static demos at shows. That plate should be available later this year. As far as we are aware, it is the only true switchable polymer plate for this kind of application in the marketplace.

WTT: How does switchable polymer work?

JH: Some processless plates actually have a polymer coating that is bonded or ablated in the area where ink is attracted. The imaged plate might go through a water wash to remove debris. In these cases, the imaging process is not switching the polymer—in other words, changing the propensity of the material to attract or reject either ink or water. It is bonding it or ablating it. In our case,. where the laser images, the nature of the polymer is changed. The imaged area switches and becomes ink attracting, so in the resulting plate, part of the polymer is ink attracting and part is water attracting. There is no debris and it doesn’t even need the anodized aluminum substrate, although our first iteration of the plate will likely be coated onto an anodized aluminum substrate. The plate is negative working, which means that the exposed surface holds the ink and repels the water.

In terms of the manufacturing process, we do outsource the manufacture of both of these plates. But we are not at liberty to disclose who those partners are.

WTT: What are your thoughts about the future of processless plates in general? I am particularly interested in your thoughts relative to the timeframe in which processless will become the de facto standard, if in fact you think it will reach that stage.

JH: I think that there will always be run length constraints on processless. Depending on the manufacturer and the manufacturing process, there may be a claim that you can get hundreds of thousands of images off of a plate, but it may only end up at 50,000 or 100,000 in actual production. I think processless will take a large part of the market—if you can get up to 100,000 or 150,000 impressions, that is a lot of the market. And if processless plates are viable, who wants to deal with chemistry and everything that is entailed in that. With processless, you will have a cost reduction because you are eliminating the processor, the chemistry, disposal of chemicals, etc. You will also have less variability in the plate imaging process, since the chemistry balance in the processor can have a huge impact on the quality of the plates produced. And there is the whole positive environmental aspect. Creo has always maintained and believed that processless is the wave of the future, but I don’t think it will be everywhere largely due to run length constraints. There also might be UV limitations or some harsh chemistries and inks that processless may not work as well with, but it will take over a large part of the market eventually. Its deployment will depend on the job mix for the specific printer. But there is no question that the viability of thermal processless is upon us. It has been promised for a long time, and I believe we are on the threshold of this technology entering the mainstream.

WTT: Creo has been a key player in the effort to drive JDF into the products, services and marketplace to make the print production process more efficient, through its Networked Graphic Production initiative (NGP) and now its membership in CIP4. Can you bring us up to date on the latest happenings there, and share your thoughts about the future of JDF in our industry?

JH: With respect to NGP, Creo initially drove the initiative and now it is an open industry initiative available for everyone to join, and it is very practical. Some of our competitors will encourage customers not to do anything with NGP because it is not JDF or CIP4. But the truth is, NGP is part of CIP4 and everyone that joins NGP is required to be a member of CIP4.

NGP is about practical integration and deploying the complete JDF standard among various different suppliers to be able to create intelligent automation throughout the entire production process. We are focused on intelligent automation from the perspective of both traditional and digital or hybrid print production, including connectivity to MIS systems and downstream processing including binding, the pressroom—whatever you have connected in your operation. With NGP, you don’t have to pay to join, but you do have to commit to delivering integration with at least one other partner—delivering it and implementing it in a customer site. NGP is all about making JDF real in the graphic communications community from a very practical perspective. In other words, it takes the standard to the next level by ensuring that integrated product pairs are actually being proliferated into the installed base of the graphic communications world.

We have almost 50 partners now, and hundreds of integrations. We feel that NGP has really put the rubber on the road in terms of JDF, and if we look at Creo specifically, we probably have more JDF running in production than anyone else because we pioneered it from the very beginning.

WTT: How will Creo and NGP be involved in the Interoperability Conformance Specification (ICS) process and the conformance testing that will be done by GATF and others?

JH: We will be happy to participate in the ICS process in whatever way we can. In fact, we are dedicated to participating in anything CIP4 is driving in whatever way makes sense. We have a lot of people on CIP4 committees. Our perspective was that we wanted to get stuff up and running. In a CIP4 committee environment, things take a bit of time. We wanted to drive it faster and that’s what we did. In terms of the testing, right now we make sure that all the integrations are tested in labs and then tested at a customer site, and that is proof of concept for us. But we will participate in ICS and integrate it in our environment when it becomes a reality.

WTT: Do you anticipate continuing NGP post-acquisition?

JH: I certainly cannot speak for Kodak. I certainly think it would be a great idea to continue NGP and we are keen for Kodak to join and to carry it forward after the acquisition is completed.

WTT: What can we expect to see from Creo at On Demand this year?

JH: There will be lots of exciting things, some of which I can’t talk about yet because they will be unveiled there. But we will be showing a lot of JDF integration as part of NGP in terms of our workflow driving various digital front ends, with Spire being a key one. You will also see more on Darwin and variable imaging tools from Creo, including partnerships in the area of variable imaging.

One thing that is kind of interesting is that there is really no PDF or JDF equivalent in variable imaging, so we are trying to bring together the key people in this area using NGP to drive a standard for variable imaging. It is limiting when you have so many different formats. And variable imaging is becoming more important now that we see more applications where variable imaging is delivering a proven return.

You will also see Prinergy and Brisque driving the NexStation as part of our JDF environment.

WTT: Judi, thanks again for your time. Before we close, do you have any other thoughts or words of wisdom you would like to share with our readers?

JH: I would just like to say that I am personally excited about bringing Creo and all of the various companies together under the Kodak umbrella, and our team is excited about it as well. Initially, some Creo customers were concerned. We have great relationships with them and have tried to do a lot for them. But as time goes by, they have been growing more and more confident about what can happen with this acquisition and the kind of positive change it can bring. It will accelerate things for us and provide wider distribution. By combining the strengths of Creo and the other companies that have been brought together to form the Graphic Communications Group, we can really drive the evolution of the graphic communications industry. Kodak and Creo are both synonymous with quality, and we are very aligned in terms of what we want to bring to our customers. The big challenge will be integration, but if we can get that right, it will change the face of the industry.