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COMPUTER-INTEGRATED MANUFACTURING -- Making Customers' Work Flow

August 2003
BY MARK SMITH


Two truisms seem to come up in most discussions of computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) in the printing industry. One, print is a custom manufacturing process. Two, it may be the only manufacturing environment in which the customer provides—or at least controls—so much of the raw materials.

Striving to build a Smart Factory and implementing CIM-based production are worthwhile goals, but the full benefits only come when the definition of workflow is extended beyond the walls of a printing plant. Connecting to customers' upstream processes is required to achieve true integration.

That's a tall order. The range of print customers and applications encompasses a tremendous variety of workflow requirements, points out Mark Jones, senior vice president, Customer Solutions, at Quebecor World in Charlotte, NC. Publication and catalog work is fairly easy to get a handle on because the details are spelled out in contracts and the specs typically don't change very often or by much, he says. "The commercial printing space is wide open, though."

Any attempt to build a system that can address all of those needs must start with establishing some consistency in the requirements, Jones asserts. The critical first step is to capture the customer's intent in a defined way.

"If you are going to get into open-architecture, JDF-based communications, you have to establish a product definition," the company exec explains. "The better the (input) information, the more efficient the workflow it feeds."

Quebecor World has branded a solution called QwikLink, which Jones describes as a Web "Portal" that directs clients to the appropriate "Hub" where jobs are properly prepared for efficient processing by a company plant (Portal--Hub--Plant). Each hub provides a set of tools matched to the demands of the work, also known as a Solutions Series.

"We believe JDF (job tickets and JMF messaging between systems) becomes the glue that holds everything together," the company exec notes. "We are building our strategy on JDF, XML and PDF."

The printing organization is trying to decouple Web-based interactions with customers from its production workflow, Jones says. "The systems will be integrated and some tools overlap, but we like to think of them as being separate. If a job isn't tied into a specific workflow, we have the flexibility to figure out a better way to produce it."

Laying the Foundation

One of the foundations for its efforts is Agfa Delano project management software, which the company exec sees as an internal customer service tool. It will be passed product definitions from the "Print Management Solutions" Quebecor World is rolling out to customers, Jones explains.
 

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