Continuing our coverage of workflow and Web-to-print at Graph Expo 2006, Parts Two and Three of this three-part series cover more of the latest in workflow solutions exhibited at the show, with solutions designed to meet the needs and pocketbook of any size printer, down to the smallest shop. What became clear to me as I walked the show floor and spoke to both exhibitors and printers was that automated workflow is quickly going mainstream. It is not so much whether to implement these days, but how, and as print service providers give consideration to improving their operations, it would behoove them to look closely at what they are spending today when they consider investments for the future.
By getting automated, printers can reallocate resources - both in terms of labor and dollars - to more efficient workflows that will actually increase capacity, allowing them to grow their businesses at the same - or a slightly moderate increase in - level of spending.
In most cases, the addition of automated workflow is more a reallocation of resources than it is a new investment - the dollars are already being spent on less efficient workflows that are constraining capacity. By getting automated, printers can reallocate those resources - both in terms of labor and dollars - to more efficient workflows that will actually increase capacity, allowing them to grow their businesses at the same - or a slightly moderate increase in - level of spending.
Kodak had one of the larger presences at the show, consuming a total of 20,000 sq. ft., just slightly smaller that Heidelberg’s booth. Kodak’s announcements relative to digital print engines and CTP have been covered by Noel Ward and Pat Henry, respectively. From a workflow perspective, Kodak has been placing a significant focus on its offerings relative to Unified Offset/Digital Workflow of late. Not only is this a hot area in the industry as digital printing goes mainstream, but it makes sense for a company that arguably has the broadest portfolio in the industry, crossing the bounds of both offset and digital production. Kodak’s vision of Unified Offset/Digital Workflow, as shown generically in the diagram below, does one of the best jobs I have seen of explaining how this works, with the exception that it does not address electronic output as an alternative to print.
Subsequent to its acquisition of Creo, Kodak began to develop this model, designed to help customers target investments toward solutions for blended production, which the company believes is the model that will be in place for the foreseeable future, with digital printing still being the poster child for growth.
At Graph Expo, Kodak unveiled this Web to Unified Print model. Although it is JDF enabled, Kodak indicates it is still using some private tags. However, the company does intend to submit its workflow to ICS certification to ensure compliance and interoperability. Kodak’s implementation features rules-based automation, with the rules engine separate from the individual applications, but with all of the applications cognizant of the rules engine.
This implementation also features a Kodak-developed Web storefront, InSite Storefront. While Kodak has alliances with other storefront providers, including EFI and Press-Sense, the strategy over time will apparently be to phase out partner solutions, an approach that seems to run counter to the practice being pursued by other suppliers, including Xerox. Kodak believes it can achieve better back-end integration by utilizing its own storefront implementation, which will be available for both Prinergy and non-Prinergy users. For Prinergy users, a job created in InSite Storefront will simultaneously create the job in Prinergy. At launch next May, Web to Unified Print will include the storefront as well as support for Kodak’s NexPress, HP-Indigo and the Xerox iGen3. The storefront implementation will be ideal for managing business identification materials, marketing collateral and books/manuals at its release, according to company representatives.
“In many cases, the companies demonstrating at this show have great products and concepts. If they could make them more understandable, and market themselves better, they could take advantage of other markets and not limit themselves to a market that has seen tough times lately.”
Kodak also featured a new architecture called Kodak ColorFlow Technology to help customers communicate, control and confirm color from idea to delivery by streamlining connectivity, improving predictability and eliminating errors. This architecture guides the design of color products and how they are deployed in the unified workflow. Kodak will be certifying both Kodak and third party products, and compliant products will bear the Kodak ColorFlow logo. This architecture is designed to communicate the print service provider’s capabilities to the designer as early in the process as possible, and to confirm that whatever information is communicated upstream is applied properly. At end of the certified process, a ColorFlow confirmation cover sheet will be printed with the job certifying that all steps have been appropriately executed. The complete vision for ColorFlow will be rolled out over several years in a system approach to closed-loop, end-to-end color management.
While Pantone doesn’t offer workflow solutions, my discussions with Doris Brown, VP of marketing, turned up some very interesting new developments at the company. The company, long known as the standard for color matching in the graphic communications industry, is taking its knowledge, expertise and creativity to the retail space in a big way. Its very cool and cost-effective monitor calibration tool, Huey, is now available in the photo channel as well as in Apple stores, bringing color calibration into the mainstream.
The company has also partnered with Fine Paints of Europe to bring Pantone colors to paint. The paint products are now available in Sherwin Williams paint stores. Using Pantone’s ColorCUE, any color appearing on anything - a printed image, textile color, child’s toy - can be converted to Pantone and a custom paint color can easily be produced on the spot. While Brown admits that it has been a challenge retooling and reeducating itself on new tactics and techniques required in the retail environment, she adds, “In many cases, the companies demonstrating at this show have great products and concepts. If they could make them more understandable, and market themselves better, they could take advantage of other markets and not limit themselves to a market that has seen tough times lately.”
“Printers will not be profitable if they are getting files they have to manipulate in order to print in an environment of shorter runs, faster turns and more jobs coming through the system. Our goal is to deliver correct, certified PDFs into their operations with a plate coming out the back end in as automated a fashion as possible. This is the only way printers will survive going forward.”
Presstek was showing both its Momentum and Facet RIPs. Momentum, based on the new Harlequin 7.1 RIP from Global Graphics, incorporates Print Production Manager and drives Presstek’s DPM, Vector and Dimension Series CTP solutions as well as Presstek-enabled DI presses. Facet, developed in collaboration with EFI, incorporates EFI’s well-known Fiery interface and delivers true unified offset/digital workflow, with the ability to control Presstek’s DPM, Vector and Dimension Series CTP solutions, Presstek-enabled DI presses, and through Command Workstation, to easily move work to any Fiery-driven digital device on the network, including color and black & white digital, as well as proofers and wide format devices. For digital shops that have already implemented an EFI workflow, this provides an easy transition into an offset workflow with limited training requirements for the prepress department.
Printware demonstrated its QuickFlow Workflow for metal platemaking and its implementation of Global Graphics’ Print Production Manager for polyester platemaking. QuickFlow is in beta test in the UK and this was its first public showing. It features an easy-to-use drag-and-drop graphical user interface to a hot folder workflow and comes as an option with the purchase of a platemaker, ranging in cost from $10,000 to $20,000. Print Production Manager (PPM) was also shown by Printware for the first time at Graph Expo. This option for the Harlequin RIP will become a standard bundle interface for the company’s polyester platemakers, priced at $1,000 if purchased with a platemaker and at $1,500 if acquired later. The solution is also being offered to existing polyester platemaker users as an upgrade. Among other things, PPM can locate plates for re-output instantly and allow remote preview of plates to ensure the correct plates are being selected.
Proof-It Online announced Version 3.0 of its software-as-a-service proofing and approval management solution. The company has taken a different approach to online proofing, coming at it from the creative’s perspective. According to president and founder Rob Munz, “Creatives don’t want to have to download special proofing software, so you have to keep it simple, while at the same time giving them the tools they need to review and annotate as well as to streamline their internal approval processes.” PDFs are inputs to the system, and the process includes the usual e-mail notifications, time and date stamping for tracking of activities, etc. The user interface is fun, friendly and intuitive; for example, when you click on the mark-up tool, the cursor turns into a very lifelike pen, just like you were marking up a hardcopy document.
Proof-It Online has 250 deployments with over 20,000 users. The application is generally purchased by printers to use with their customers, and is a hosted solution with a transactional based pricing model and no setup fee. The average cost per proof is 85 cents, including all of the iterations during the life of that proof.
“Printers need to get as automated as possible. Automation provides lower costs of output but it also provides with faster throughput, more capacity, and higher productivity - and it is not expensive.”
Screen’s new North American president, Mike Fox, was kept busy, showing off the myriad announcements Screen USA made at the show, including Trueflow 3 Version 4.0, the core of its Trueflownet operating environment, and another implementation of Adobe’s PDF Print Engine. Trueflow 3 is a workflow management system based on PDF and JDF, and extends across prepress operations, and CTP plate production and digital press output. According to Fox, “Our strategy is one of automated workflow. Printers will not be profitable if they are getting files they have to manipulate in order to print in an environment of shorter runs, faster turns and more jobs coming through the system. Our goal is to deliver correct, certified PDFs into their operations with a plate coming out the back end in as automated a fashion as possible. This is the only way printers will survive going forward.” This was a refrain that was widely echoed among almost all of the suppliers I spoke with at the show.
Screen continues to enhance its Rite Suite as part of this strategy. New at the show was an improved RitePortal that allows content creators to produce the certified PDFs critical to an automated workflow. With RiteApprove, Screen showed a new remote color approval system including new color profiling software. Screen expects its implementation of Adobe PDF Print Engine to be available in the spring, and it is designed to accommodate both printing and viewing. It will also include native transparency trapping. Fox says, “With Certified PDFs a key element of our workflow strategy, this was the next logical step for us.” TrueFlow starts at about $20,000.
In this time of dynamic change. Fox offered the following advice to print service providers: “Printers need to be a complete service provider, from prepress to proofing, file certification, output and distribution. They need to implement CRM strategies that allow them to be more intertwined with their customers. And they need to get as automated as possible. Automation provides lower costs of output but it also provides with faster throughput, more capacity, and higher productivity - and it is not expensive.”
Fox added, “Keep your options open. Don’t lock yourself into any particular manufacturer or any particular type of system. The market is changing too quickly and is too dynamic to lock yourself into specific technologies or manufacturers. You should be looking for an open systems architecture where you can produce any kind of screening technology, not lock yourself into a specific plate manufacturer or specific workflow or proofing system. You need to be nimble, flexible and keep your options open at all times.” Sage, but somewhat unexpected, advice from a supplier.