By Stu Gallup of Presstek October 31, 2005 -- The focus on workflow continues to grow as printers look to taking advantage of digital products and services to improve their productivity, reduce their costs and ensure they remain competitive. The more automation you can introduce into your work process, the more profitable you can expect to be. You can eliminate keying and re-keying of information and the associated potential for error, and you can remove the burden of repetitive, redundant and non-productive work from your employees, freeing them to perform more exciting and productive tasks. The good news is that workflow is not just for the big guys anymore. As more affordable solutions come into the market, there are options that can bring value to a shop of any size. Establishingan effective digital workflow no longer requires an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in large integrated solutions, an IT department, and custom software development. There is significant benefit to having a single RIP interface that eliminates the need for employees to learn to work with RIPs from multiple vendors. One thing that became very clear to us as we spoke to the many visitors to the Presstek booth at Print 05 was the high level of interest, especially among smaller printers, in leveraging their RIP investment as the centerpiece of their workflow strategies. As RIPs continue to grow in functionality and decrease in cost, more shops are seeing the opportunity to leverage this critical production element in new and different ways. For example, EFI's Fiery RIP has had a place in many smaller printers' operations for many years, and production employees are comfortable with the interface. This is not surprising in light of the fact that EFI has some 12 million Fiery users worldwide. So for digital printing and copying, Fiery has already become a de facto standard. But how do you then link the digital part of your business with the offset part of your business to create an efficient hybrid offset/digital workflow? A RIP should be able to drive just about anything in your shop these days. And there is significant benefit to having a single RIP interface that eliminates the need for employees to learn to work with RIPs from multiple vendors. A RIP should be able to drive just about anything in your shop these days. A good example is EFI's Command Workstation, which allows users to monitor and manage all of the Fiery RIPs on your network. Especially in smaller shops where employee turnover can be high, a familiar workflow reduces training needs and helps prepress and production employees be more effective across different functions. And because Fiery RIPs are so widespread, even new employees are likely to have had exposure to them in past jobs. Then There's Offset In the past, every device--digital press, CTP device and DI press--had to be driven by a different and unique front end. With more and more shops having both digital and offset capability, though, having a single common RIP interface becomes even more important to overall efficiency, and a RIP-centric workflow can change the picture significantly. With that challenge and potential in mind, Presstek and EFI have co-developed the Facet RIP which is sold through ABDick. It's designed to drive high resolution printing using DI or CTP and offset, yet can be managed using the Command Workstation. From a single interface, a print shop can now drive not only digital printing and copying, but CTP and wide format as well from a single RIP. A multifunction RIP can work closely with your Print MIS solution so that, right from the RIP, you can bring up the job ticket that is managed by the MIS. This common interface lays the groundwork for having a RIP as the centerpiece of your production workflow, not only RIPing files for print, but also interacting with other parts of the shop to expand the benefit of that automation beyond prepress and production. For example, a multifunction RIP can work closely with your Print MIS solution so that, right from the RIP, you can bring up the job ticket that is managed by the MIS. It can also interface with web submission tools so that as soon as a job comes in, it can be sent directly to the RIP for processing. It opens up the ability for the production manager to literally make last-minute decisions about what print output device will be used--whether it is a toner-based printer/copier, a DI press or a CTP solution--without the need to reformat the job or engage designers or prepress personnel to make the switch. And as JDF becomes an integral part of more products from a wide array of vendors, this RIP-centric approach can truly streamline end-to-end processing for the small print shop in an affordable and easy-to-use manner. While Facet is the first truly hybrid RIP for the small print shop, we expect--and welcome--an adoption of this approach by other suppliers. To the extent we can infuse more digital content into the workflow of print shops of all sizes, all constituencies of our industry will benefit. From the beginning, our goal at Presstek has been to take steps out of the production process, and to make the job of producing print easier and more efficient. Making a RIP-centric hybrid workflow a reality for the small shop is another step along that path.