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COMPUTER-INTEGRATED MANUFACTURING -- Systems that Serve a Greater Good

November 2003
BY MARK SMITH

Technology Editor

The vendors are loath to admit it, but on the surface there is a growing degree of parity in the capabilities of today's prepress workflow solutions. Their core systems are typically client-server based, database driven and handle tasks such as preflighting, PDF conversion/normalization, trapping, imposition and rendering.

At the same time, advances in technology have led to workflow being widely viewed as a digital continuum—from file creation to final output. This shared vision dovetails with the industry's move toward computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) and implementation of the JDF (Job Definition Format) specification.

Internet portals for online proofing and job submission (with upfront preflighting) have been the most common first steps. Full-fledged e-commerce and e-production represent the next level of customer integration.

On the production side, interfacing to a shop's business systems (MIS or ERP) is seen as a linchpin for the end-to-end CIM/JDF workflow. There also is a trend toward enabling offset and digital printing devices to be driven by a common workflow, but variable data printing and other considerations still can justify use of dedicated systems. Offset workflows will be considered here, since they're at the forefront of JDF adoption.

"With the advent of JDF, we're seeing the workflow process being extended upstream to the content creators and all the way out to the finishing process," says Lesley Hepditch, Agfa Corp.'s marketing manager for workflow, North America. "Workflow automation is critical to printers remaining viable." While every system must be capable of doing certain core tasks, there still are differences in the ease, accuracy and flexibility with which those operations can be completed, she asserts.

Agfa recently updated ApogeeX, its PDF- and JDF-based workflow solution. According to Hepditch, two key focuses of the upgrade are cost-effective fault tolerance and load balancing, for dynamic scaling of system resources. "System reliability is becoming a more critical issue as more of the major workflows are database driven," she notes. "Something still can go wrong with the hardware, so how do you recover if everything is tied into a database and you no longer have access to it?"

The latest Apogee version also provides increased direct driver support for non-Agfa recording engines and features new options such as WebApproval and ApogeeX Proofing. It extends the system's JDF functionality in a couple of ways. Through ApogeeX Create, it brings JDF-based automation upstream to content creators. It's also using the specification to facilitate a distribute-and-print production model.

The Human Touch

Hepditch doesn't see online tools eliminating the need for customer service, but the function is becoming more integrated with the overall production workflow, she says. Agfa's Delano product family is a case in point.

Designed for mid- to large-size commercial printers, Delano Production enables Web-based collaboration with clients. It gives users a birds-eye view of the entire operation—from preflight to finishing—with the ability to zoom-in to check the status of a particular task. The latest version generates JDF job tickets for use by Apogee and other open, PDF-based prepress systems and integrates with MIS solutions via JDF.

Growth in the capabilities and use of online systems is impacting the traditional role played by CSRs and blurring the lines that previously defined the production workflow, agrees Christine Krause, workflow product marketing manager at Creo Inc. The onus is being put on the customer to handle some tasks that had been considered part of the print supplier's internal workflow, she explains. The impact can be dramatic, Krause adds, noting that one of Creo's early adopter customers reportedly has been able to reduce its CSR staffing by a factor of 10.

The manufacturer recently released version 3.5.5 of its Synapse InSite prepress portal for remote job submission, proofing, workflow automation and job status reporting. Among the improvements are an updated file transfer engine that speeds uploads/download and support for third-party workflows. In addition, Synapse Prepare users now can upload files directly from their desktop application to the InSite server.

For a shop's internal workflow, Prinergy Version 2.2 features the new Creo PDF Trapper, offering enhanced functionality and greater ease. (The system's existing PDF-to-PDF vector trapping capabilities are retained.) The upgrade also provides complete ICC-based color management and features improved versions of the Creo Virtual Proofing System software for Mac OS X and Windows.

Heidelberg has taken a tiered approach in developing workflow solutions, reports Dennis Ryan, prepress product manager for Heidelberg USA. MetaDimension serves as an entry-level system for offset and digital print production, but it also can be incorporated into the Prinect Printready system to create an automated, PDF-based workflow that implements JDF.

MetaDimension is a RIP-centric workflow—upgraded to the Adobe 3016 interpreter with version 4.0—that supports processing of PostScript and PDF files. It implements PJTF (Adobe Portable Job Ticket Format ), not JDF, to enable creation of output plans that direct the processing of jobs, Ryan notes.

Through a sequencing process, MetaDimension can also be integrated into a Printready system to handle rendering functions. Once configured, it ceases to function as a standalone product and no longer uses PJTF, Ryan says. "Every processing task happens in the Printready system as a true JDF event," he points out.

How the system handles impositioning is a good example, the product manager says. An imposition plan can be brought into the system via JDF import and then anyone with client software can assign pages to the plan, he explains.

Avoiding an Overload

As Heidelberg extends its implementation of JDF to the pressroom and on through finishing operations, Ryan says he can see advantages to having a separate master JDF server connected to every area of a plant. "You probably don't want all areas of production hitting into your prepress server," he notes.

Screen (USA) is another company taking a layered approach to its workflow solutions. While continuing to offer its Trueflow system for high-end, PDF-based workflows, at this year's GRAPH EXPO the company announced it was becoming a reseller of Electronic For Imaging's (EFI) Velocity OneFlow prepress software. Both systems are said to integrate with Trueflownet, Screen's JDF-based, end-to-end workflow concept.

Under this umbrella is the new Riteportal, an Internet portal designed to provide a reliable method for creating and delivering Certified PDFs. Another new component is Eorder, a turnkey software application for online, browser-based print ordering of static or dynamic documents. In the future, tying everything together will be a centralized JDF controller, called Ezcompass, the manufacturer says.

EFI recently announced a spate of other new business relationships involving its workflow technology for CTP and/or digital printing. It has teamed up with Presstek, Mitsubishi Imaging, Xerox, Enovation Graphic Systems and Kodak Polychrome Graphics.

As the product name implies, EFI positions Velocity OneFlow as a PDF-based, automated prepress solution for both CTP and digital printing applications. Soft proofing of high-resolution pages is enabled by the View application, while Velocity OneFlow Screen Proof outputs color-accurate, screened proofs on ink-jet printing systems.

Velocity Exchange is the company's online system for order submission, real-time job tracking and online proofing (PDF format). It is designed to be used by small- to mid-size print centers.

For digital printing operations, Velocity Balance provides centralized management of up to 16 digital print devices (color or black-and-white). The software automatically balances large jobs across devices.

Enovation Graphic Systems offers its own Fujifilm-branded, Adobe Extreme-based workflow solutions, but also puts together solutions for high-volume applications using Rampage Systems technology.

The company offers a modular product line that starts with the CV5 RIP and can be upgraded to a full CVx5 workflow system. It supports PostScript and PDF input file formats, with the CVx5 Primer module incorporating Adobe Normalizer technology for automated creation of print-ready PDF files with preflighting enabled by Enfocus Pitstop. The workflow system's imposition function supports late page editing and replacement.

The Rampage RIPing System has evolved into a full-blown workflow solution, despite its name. Version 9 adds a NORM (normalize once, render many) workflow for PDF files. Operators are given the option of working internally in vector-based PDF or Rampage's legacy raster format, both supporting late binding imposition.

The company has increased its support of JDF with the introduction (at no cost) of PATHway modules in Version 9.3. Providing a means to import or export JDF, modules currently are available for estimating, customer management, costing, job archiving/retrieval and reporting functions.

Rampage Remote is the company's solution (PC-based hardware and software) for proofing and collaboration over the Internet. It features free client software and works with Rampage or (Creo/Scitex) Brisque workflow systems.

Esko-Graphics positions its FlowDrive output management system as suited to medium-sized commercial printers. It is based on the Eclipse release of Global Graphics' Harlequin RIP, which supports native processing of PDF 1.4 and PDF/X files. The company still talks in terms of CIP3 support for ink-key presetting with the Extension InkControl function.

According to René Delbar, senior vice president of marketing, Esko-Graphics is looking to first implement JDF in its high-performance FastLane Next Generation (FLNG) workflow system for commercial printers. FLNG features an imposition program called FastImpose, developed by the manufacturer, and it supports soft proofing of PDF files.

Some Assembly Required

Many printers opt to buy a front end bundled with an output device, since this tactic can simplify integration and potentially offer pricing incentives. That hasn't stopped several independent workflow system developers from carving out their own niches, though.

"True process automation" is the focus of DALiM Software's product development efforts, says Gee Ranasinha, director of marketing. This includes providing a customer interface for the printing workflow while integrating JDF compliance into a complete set of workflow tools, he explains. DALiM's TWiST workflow system (running on Linux) serves as a platform for delivering several components of this strategy.

TWiST PRiNTEMPO, offered as an optional module, is a browser-based production management system that implements JDF for automated imposition. Clients can submit files over the Web, which are then preflighted using "intelligent soft interpretation." Imposed forms then can be generated using JDF imposition templates.

Designed for use with "publishable" materials (i.e., books, magazines, catalogs, brochures, etc.), DALiM MiSTRAL is a broader Web-based file submission and production management solution. The JDF-compliant collaboration tool is said to be able to sit on top of any workflow system and can integrate with MIS/accounting systems.

Group Infotech has positioned its PrintLine Automation (PLA) technology as a CIM workflow system from its introduction. Different versions are available with features targeted to specific market segments—currently including preprints, books and publications.

The company claims to have achieved a higher level of automation by employing a "content-driven" manufacturing metaphor, focused on data (and metadata) instead of individual processes and the end product. PLA works with cells (or components) that make up pages, rather than working at the level of finished, composite pages.

Artwork Systems used GRAPH EXPO as a forum to officially launch Odystar, its native PDF (1.4) workflow that implements JDF. Utilizing PDF as its internal format, the system incorporates Enfocus' PitStop and Certified PDF technologies to provide automatic file preflight and correction.

Odystar is targeted to mid-range commercial printers and reportedly can turn any existing RIP environment into a full PDF workflow through use of its file flattening and printing capabilities. It runs on the Mac OS X platform.

Artwork Systems also continues to offer Nexus, its flagship workflow solution running on Mac OSX. The SmartNexus add-on module enables a data-driven production workflow via a bi-directional link to one or more existing databases, including MIS systems. WebWay lets users view production files over the Internet, along with providing a mechanism for job submission and preflighting.
 

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