(Special to WTT.com) -- The Digital Smart Factory Forum is a unique event that takes places annually, and addresses key issues facing printing companies in our fast-moving industry. It’s a small conference with an interactive format, directly targeted at Owners, CEOs, Chief Technology Officers, IT Managers, Engineers, Production Managers and technically-oriented Sales Managers. Don’t be mislead by the name, the “Digital” part of the Smart Factory name means computers and integration, it’s not only about digital printing; the Forum covers all aspects of printing technologies, and computer application topics, whether you are printing gravure, sheetfed offset, web offset, flexo or digital.

The Forum is a place where attendees learn how to apply technologies to maximize the performance of print manufacturing operations. But the conference isn’t about “speeds and feeds”, it’s about the integration of customer-facing systems, business systems, and manufacturing systems into a cohesive unit whose whole is more than the sum of its parts. And the most important part about the conference is the networking that takes place between attendees.

Chuck Gehman is the conference co-chair, along with Tim Daisy of Kodak.  Chuck has led the conference for the last four years, and this year is his “retirement” year (although he will continue to play an active with the R+E, NAPL and the conference.)  Below is a Q&A with Chuck, who explains the Forum and why forward-looking industry leaders should attend.

January 16-18, 2007
Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport
Orlando, FL

Question: What is the Digital Smart Factory Forum?

Gehman: To me, it’s amazing that the Forum is now eight years old.  Time flies when you’re having fun! The topics have never been more important, though; the important thing is that what once were relatively far-out concepts discussed at this conference, have now become practical, applicable ideas and techniques.

Process improvement methodologies and technologies, like CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing), Web-To-Print, Workflow and PrintMIS, the main topics of the Forum, are only becoming more important to printing companies. The conference is more like a cross-vendor user group meeting with a defined agenda, rather than a bunch of sessions where speakers get up on a podium and speak to the audience.  It’s very interactive.

The purpose of the conference is to help printers understand how to apply these technologies, and to help vendors understand what their printer customers are looking for in these areas.

Question: Can you describe some of the speakers and sessions at this year’s conference?

Gehman: The conference kicks off on Tuesday 15th at 8AM with a tour of DME (www.dmecorporate.com) in Daytona Beach, a 650-employee direct marketing firm integrating print, telephony, e-mail, Web-based communications and CD-ROM technology into campaigns for major corporations. DME’s 11-acre complex has 120,000 sq. ft. of office, production and warehouse space. DME’s print production platform includes both digital and offset equipment, including four Xerox iGen3 digital production presses. DME has led the industry in unique cross-media personalization campaigns, with some very robust results achieved for their customers. This tour promises to be very exciting and informative.

When we return from DME, we’ll kick off the forum with a repeat performance by Barb Pellow, industry luminary and principal with Pellow and Partners, an industry consultancy, as the opening keynote. Barb is always thought-provoking and I’m sure we’ll all learn a lot from her talk.

Some key session content includes:

  • Marketing systems: how to bring customers into your Digital Smart Factory by leveraging customer-facing systems, including web-to-print, a panel moderated by NAPL board member Dean Hanisko from Great Lakes Integrated.
  • Computer Integrated Manufacturing, a panel moderated by CIP4 organization executive director James Harvey, featuring speakers from Japs Olson, Interstate Studio and Publishing, and Seckman Printing, Inc.
  • Enhancing collaboration between the marketer and the Service Provider, with John Sweeney from ICS and Gareth O’Brien from Objective Advantage, Inc. Technology-based collaboration continues to become more sophisticated and valuable.
  • JDF Update: the state of the art: with some of the most important industry players: Mark Bohan, VP Research and Technology, PIA/GATF, whose involvement with JDF includes heading up the industry’s first and only JDF certification program; Rainer Prosi, Senior Software Architect at Heidelberg, and CIP4’s CTO, as well as Doug Belkofer, Senior Principal Scientist at EFI, who has been deeply involved in building major portions of the JDF specification.
  • Maximizing Content Creation: A special session presented by Steve Bonoff, president of IPA, providing a rich snapshot of their immensely popular and powerful new “E-LEAN” program for improving efficiencies in graphic communication production operations.
  • Business Systems and the Smart Factory: case studies by Judi Hansen, Director of IT for venerable JS McCarthy Printers, and William Gentes, CFO of equally venerable The Lane Press.

Other sessions will focus on topics like workflow, finishing and fulfillment, business systems, how to market your Smart Factory, traditional offset commercial printers adding digital, and much more!

Question: What’s “really new” at the conference this year?

Gehman: There are plenty of great new technology advances that we’ll hear about at the conference, including advances in JDF (Job Definition Format). But to me, it’s just as interesting to see an emerging shift in business models for print manufacturers, and even fundamental changes in the way print buying companies approach their use of print.

There are some very exciting new entrants who are redefining printing as a business, who will be represented at the conference, one great example being 4Over, Inc. and their president Zarik Megerdichian, who will be speaking in a special presentation. 

I think it’s fair to say that over the last several years, many have embraced the idea that Printers should broaden their offerings into value added services.  Digital Photography, Creative Services, Fulfillment, Mailing, VDP, Personalization, On-Demand Books, Point-of-Purchase Displays—you name the “business extension”, and we’ve heard that it vaunted as the road to increased profits.  And it is true that Printers can make plenty of money with these services—so many of the sessions at the Forum will describe how to effectively implement such products and services.

New manufacturing techniques, CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing) processes, automated equipment and technologies like JDF (Job Definition Format), Web-To-Print and new workflows can deliver immediate and recognizable benefits from streamlined operation for companies that indeed have branched out into value-added service offerings; yet these techniques can also provide improved results even when companies specialize, so it will be interested in seeing this dichotomy framed in the case studies and panel discussions at the forum.

Question: Anything else you’d like to add?

Gehman: Even though we’re only a week or so away, there’s still time to register.  The Hyatt Orlando Airport is one of the nicest airport hotels I’ve ever spent time in, and flights are usually pretty inexpensive. Platinum Sponsors this year are Canon, EFI, FujiFilm, HP, Kodak, and Komori. Gold Sponsor is Printable Technologies, and Silver Sponsors are Xerox and ICS, I’d like to personally thank everyone for supporting NAPL, The Research and Engineering Council, and The Digital Smart Factory Forum.

Question: How does one register for the Digital Smart Factory Forum?

Gehman: The Digital Smart Factory Forum is an NAPL event. For a detailed description of conference sessions, visit www.napl.org, or call 800-642-6275, option 5