By Ed Marino, CEO of Presstek November 3 , 2003 -- In the wake of Graph Expo, where JDF and its role in the future of the printing industry played a key role, there has been increased discussion about the role of Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) in the print production process. Printers have long considered themselves craftsmen-even artisans-and providers of a service, rather than as manufacturers. But with the increasing digitization of the print production workflow and the growing level of automation prevalent in today's equipment mix-from RIPs to platemakers to presses and the bindery-print production is inexorably moving away from a craft-based process toward true manufacturing. This is not to say that all remnants of craft are being excised from the industry-skilled individuals are still essential to the process, and are likely to be so for the foreseeable future. High-quality printing is far from a "lights out" process, to be sure. But as the industry marches further along the continuum from "craft" to manufacturing, the associated business models must change as well. The manufacturing industry consists of two basic categories of manufacturers: * Process manufacturers alter the basic molecular structure of raw material. Examples include chemicals and pharmaceuticals, petroleum, rubber, glass, paper and metals. * Discrete manufacturers produce distinct or unconnected elements. Examples include clothing, furniture, appliances, cars-and printing. The product may be finished and ready for consumption, or sub-assembled and ready for further manufacturing. As discrete manufacturers, printers must re-examine the very underpinnings of their business and production architectures, questioning processes and procedures that have been accepted standards for generations. Printers must also begin exploring such manufacturing megatrends as Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma-whose principles have become a way of life among the manufacturing community and large printing entities-and begin applying these principles to their businesses to gain a clear understanding of where process inefficiencies and avoidable costs can be rooted out to make their operations more competitive and productive. Keep in mind that it is not only the increased digitization and automation of the process that is driving this requirement. At the same time, customer requirements are changing-run lengths are getting shorter, as are turn times, and these are dynamics that we live with every day in the printing industry. Whether your operation is digital, offset, or a blend of both, the reality is the same. It is absolutely crucial to survival to improve efficiencies, remove waste and keep costs in line. Most printers grasp this concept at some level-all it takes is an examination of the balance sheet each month, and the cold, hard facts come clearly front and center. But as with anything else in life, there are foundation assumptions that often do not receive the scrutiny they deserve because they are accepted as a given. As technologies evolve, the early adopters take advantage of opportunities for new efficiencies, often gaining significant competitive advantage over their market majority compatriots. These leaders are able to do so due to their inherent innovative, entrepreneurial nature, which allows them to easily think outside the box and leave no sacred cow untouched. An example of this in play is the evolution of the platemaking process. The move from film to CTP offers obvious advantages in terms of workflow steps, cycle time and cost structure. For decades, there was no alternative to film, and printers either acquired the staff and equipment to produce their own film or outsourced the process. As the process continued to evolve, imagesetters allowed more printers to bring the process in-house, and with the emergence of CTP, imagesetters began to be replaced with platesetters, with the accompanying-and obvious-process and cost improvements. The early adopters of these technologies undoubtedly lived through some pain as they made the transition with products that many not have been quite ready for prime time. But in the end, their investments paid off with improved efficiencies and increased competitive advantage. Nonetheless, underlying all of these stages in the evolution of platemaking is the chemistry required to produce film and/or plates. There are costs associated with acquiring, managing, using and disposing of chemistry that many printers accept as a cost of doing business-even those early adopters-and they frequently do not even consider these costs as discrete elements when estimating jobs or calculating individual job profitability, when, in fact, even with CTP, chemistry and associated processes such as pre- and post-bake can add as much as 40% to the cost of the plate. If Graph Expo demonstrated nothing else, the show made it clear that JDF, CIM and process-free platemaking systems are on their way, and that as these standards crystallize, formalize and become integrated into an increasingly wider range of products and solutions, our industry-and the underlying production process-will be changed forever. We won't have a choice. Without it, we will be unable to remain competitive. And our customers will demand the seamless, end-to-end workflow that these standards deliver-just as they are demanding shorter runs and faster turn times today. Now is the time for print practitioners to find and question all of the sacred cows. Accept nothing as a mandate, and unleash your creativity and that of your staff as you examine every aspect of your business. Educate yourself on the concepts of Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma, and develop some expertise in these important tenets. In this way, you will position your company for success amidst the turbulent waters rapidly heading our way.