April 5, 2004 -- Vancouver, British Columbia — Metropolitan Fine Printers makes a habit at being at the forefront of technology and has the awards to prove it.
In 1999, the company was among the first in the world to embrace Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) it its pressroom. Two years later, it successfully produced an 1700 line screen (11.5 million dpi) poster to demonstrate the quality capabilities of its workflow. Then over a year ago, the mid-size commercial facility trumped the industry’s elite by taking home the most “Bennies” of any company in the world at PIA’s Premiere Print Awards, including the competition’s most prestigious “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done” Benny.
Now Metropolitan is leading the way in putting JDF to work in the real world. It’s working closely with its prepress provider, Creo; its press partner, MAN Roland; and its postpress manufacturers, MBO and Polar, to assemble all of the pieces — one step at a time.
Metropolitan began gravitating to an automated workflow four years ago, when it installed an eight-color ROLAND 700 perfector. It equipped the press with MAN Roland’s PECOM operating and networking system, adding modules like JobPilot, which streamlines pressroom makereadies.
“Basically, it lets an operator set up more than 100 key specifications for a job, like sheet size and run length, off-line, while the press is running other work,” says Mike Winteringham, Pressroom Supervisor at Metropolitan. “That’s a huge advantage.”
Metropolitan also relies on PECOM’s PrepressLink module to further streamline its workflow. “The digital inking profiles of a job are transferred directly over the ROLAND 700’s ink fountains, enabling us to achieve the color balance almost automatically,” Winteringham notes. “It’s another reason our makereadies are shorter and quicker.”
Two and a half years ago, Metropolitan installed Creo’s Prinergy workflow in its prepress department. “It was a big change for us to go to a PDF workflow,” says Derek Penrice, Metropolitan’s Vice President of Manufacturing. “But it worked out really well. We can get two-to-three times more throughput with Prinergy.”
That translates to a plate being produced every three to four minutes on Metropolitan’s Creo Trendsetter. The semi-automatic model feeds both of Metropolitan’s 41” ROLAND presses as well as its 26” Roland six-color perfector.
Prinergy-to-PECOM is currently the main connection between prepress and the pressroom at Metropolitan. But there’s a human interface as well. The company’s prepress operators, rather than its pressmen, are assigned to entering jobs in PECOM’s JobPilot module, essentially pre-programming the press for the next job. However, Metropolitan has built some flexibility into the connection. When prepress technicians are too busy to handle JobPilot keying, press operators step up to the software’s PC keyboard to keep the work flowing.
“PECOM is fairly intuitive, so it’s easy for both the press operators and the prepress operators to pick up on,” Penrice says.
PECOM is also simplifying implementation of Metropolitan’s latest technological advance — equipping its ROLAND 700 for UV production with an Aradiant UV system. PECOM is the focal point for controlling the necessary dryers, expediting wash-up, and maintaining the level of precision drying UV printed sheets require.
“UV will help us differentiate ourselves from the competition,” declares George Kallas, Metropolitan’s Founder and President. “We’re the only ones on the West Coast who have it. You have to go down to Portland to find another facility so equipped. That and the fact that we print everything in 10 micron should give us a leg up and attract new business. There are not too many printers out there who can offer 10 micron UV.”
The instant-drying characteristics of ultraviolet will also help Metropolitan keep its current clients satisfied. “Customers like to bring the job in today and see it printed and delivered tomorrow,” says Kallas. “We can address those issues by going to UV.”
The incremental building of Metropolitan’s JDF workflow is also designed to increase the company’s responsiveness to its customers. But it’s not being done at the expense of current priorities. Metropolitan has already established a JDF connection between its Polar cutter and its Prinergy workflow — but annual report season has come between the technology and the time to test it.
“The only thing we have not done is turn the switch,” says Kallas. “We don’t want to be experimenting with new technology during our busiest time of the year.”
When the switch is activated later this spring, Metropolitan’s cutter operators will be able to start processing each project immediately, since its parameters will already have been entered in the prepress stage. The next major component to be put into that loop is the company’s MBO Navigator folders.
As to plugging the pressroom into the JDF workflow, Penrice will be watching developments at drupa. He may be pleasantly surprised because MAN Roland’s participation in PrintCity is putting an exclamation point on JDF compatibility. Each of the company’s presses at the show will be at the heart of a completely integrated JDF workflow consisting of equipment from numerous manufacturers.
Meanwhile, MAN Roland’s position as a Networked Graphic Production (NGP) partner is offering additional encouragement to Metropolitan’s JDF implementation plans. “Networked Graphic Production is a great idea,” Kallas says. “Now we won’t have to go all over the place to find what we need to network our equipment.”
Kallas likened the current state-of-the-art in workflow to a home entertainment system “with too many wires and too many remote controls.” He envisions that NGP and the adoption of JDF will streamline the situation for the better.
“We look forward to seeing NGP giving us more plug-and-play opportunities,” Penrice adds. “We’d like to see a seamless workflow, one that is not too convoluted.”
Metropolitan has already automated its billing, scheduling and other back office functions with a Printcafe Hagen Management Information System from EFI. The next step is to digitally integrate that informational network into its production workflow.
“We hope NGP is going to help make that happen sooner rather than later,” Kallas says. “We and our customers are happy so far with what we have done with the PECOM, Prinergy and Hagen. By working with the manufacturers to standardize their JDF-driven systems, NGP will help us take it to the next level of connectivity and efficiency.”
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