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DATA INTEGRATION -- Tooling Up for CIM

June 2003
BY MARK SMITH


Computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) may still be a new concept in print production, but it's a long established practice in other business sectors. The term itself actually is starting to get a little dated.

The notion of a computer, per se, being at the heart of it all seems limiting. What's really being integrated is the information generated and acted upon by various systems involved in the print production process. Embedded controllers, touchscreen displays and Web browsers are as likely to produce and consume job data as is a traditional computer.

The beginning point—as well as middle and end points—for all this information integration is the print management system, also generically referred to as a management information system (MIS). Therefore, a more apt label for the process might be information systems integration (ISI). The last thing the industry needs is another acronym, however.

The alphabet soup already includes JDF/JMF (Job Definition Format/Job Messaging Format), an XML-based digital job ticket specification on its way to becoming a standard. It is being developed under the direction of CIP4 (the International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress). JDF, among other things, is seen as enabling a direct interface between print management systems and production systems—hardware and software. (For more background on JDF, see "It's Just the Ticket" in the April 2003 edition of Printing Impressions or visit www.cip4.org.)

The industry seems to have reached consensus on the vision of integrated print processes, but it's clear that much work remains to be done to achieve that end.

As a national consultancy specializing in helping printers improve their business processes and embrace information technology, Sarasota, FL-based Profectus Inc. tracks and works with vendors of print management solutions. Craig Press, president, says his company's research has identified more than 100 vendors offering management systems for some aspect of the printing process. Only a small fraction of them have indicated they are actually starting to develop CIM capabilities, Press reports.

Lack of Vision

"A lot of print management system vendors still don't have that vision of tying print management systems into production," he says. "This is a big change from what they've done in the past. They need to look beyond the front office to process workflow, and not just management."

Press says he is finding that a lot of printers are buying into the CIM vision. "They've been hearing about it from the production system vendors and already seen an increase in the level of automation in their plants. Printers are now ready for the next step—tying in pre-production," he explains.
 

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