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DIGITAL digest

October 2003
Clients and Suppliers Seen as Extensions of Print Operations

PHILADELPHIA—According to the final count, this year's 5th Annual Digital Smart Factory Forum drew nearly 100 attendees here from across the country. The event is sponsored by the Research and Engineering Council of NAPL.

A "digital smart factory" is an environment in which information technology (IT) is strategically applied across the printer enterprise to integrate manufacturing, business and customer-interfacing systems, according to the forum's sponsor. At this year's edition, a number of speakers stressed the importance of extending the concept beyond the print operation to include both ends of the supply chain—customers and suppliers.

"While computer-integrated manufacturing, or CIM, is an integral part of the digital smart factory, it is not the only component. Customer-facing technologies are the other critical component," asserts Charles (Chuck) Gehman, chairman of this year's forum and director of product marketing at Printcafe Inc.

Putting the idea into practice, Quebecor World has grouped a broad range of customer-facing solutions under a QWikLink brand umbrella, reports Mark Jones, senior vice president of customer solutions. "QWikLink is our portal to exchange information with our customers," Jones explains.

"Grouping our various tools helps unify Quebecor World's efforts and combats the perception of disjointed products. QWikLink represents the beginning of a truly integrated set of tools for our clients."

Jones says QWikLink is only being targeted to select customers, for now, and functionality is being provided gradually. "The key," he advises, "is to engage the system with customers who are willing to participate in its development."

Chris Wells, president of LaVigne Inc., says his company leverages e-commerce as a vehicle to implement numerous customer engagement models and revenue opportunities. Opportunities exist in providing solutions for collateral, inventory and print management, as well as print-on-demand systems and a campaign launch program, Wells asserts.

"Traditionally, the only way to capture more business when demand is shrinking has been to emphasize lower prices," he continues. "These customer engagement models provide another way."

Mills Davis, managing director of Project 10X, believes value chain integration is key to the concept of a digital smart factory. "A focus on process integration promises huge benefits to the industry—up to 10 times improvement in performance in some cases," Davis says. While noting that significant barriers remain, he claims the "shared resource architecture promises a new process platform with dramatically better lifecycle economics that benefit all value chain participants."

Tim Daisy, CIM product manager at Printcafe, contends that a number of benefits can be realized through systems integration with suppliers, including increased accuracy of physical inventory, the opportunity for just-in-time purchasing and reduced inventory costs.

Getting back to the foundation of the digital smart factory, a comprehensive briefing on the current and anticipated future status of the Job Definition Format (JDF) standard was presented by Dr. Rainer Prosi, CIP4 technical chairman and senior software architect at Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG. According to Dr. Prosi, the next version of JDF (JDF 1.2) is now in preparation, with an anticipated publication date of late 2003. In this update, he says the standards group is addressing the interface between the customer and the printer, and between MIS and production, as well as prepress, press and postpress enhancements. (www.smartfactory.org)

Heidelberg and Danka Expand Partnership

KENNESAW, GA—Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG (Heidelberg) and Danka Business Systems PLC announced a series of agreements designed to expand the presence each has in the digital print marketplace and to further meet the needs of their digital customers.

The named parties include Heidelberg USA, Danka and NexPress Solutions LLC (a development and manufacturing joint venture of Heidelberg and Kodak).

Included is a multi-year distribution agreement that enables Danka to continue direct sales of the branded Heidelberg Digimaster product family worldwide. Also, a cooperative marketing agreement gives Heidelberg USA and Danka more direct access to each other's digital product portfolios. Lastly, a cooperative service arrangement enables Heidelberg to extend its service geographies in the U.S. by outsourcing service to Danka's nationwide technical services organization. (www.heidelberg.com/ www.danka.com)

WAM!NET Assets Purchased by SAVVIS

HERNDON, VA—SAVVIS Communications, an IP services provider, agreed to purchase the commercial business unit of WAM!NET Inc., a provider of content management and delivery services. Under the deal, SAVVIS will acquire certain assets and customers of WAM!NET in return for $3 million paid at closing, and additional consideration to be paid based on the revenue performance of the business unit.

The companies claim current users will benefit from the extended reach and robustness of the SAVVIS network, which spans 45 countries. In addition, they will have access to enhanced enterprise networking capabilities, better customer service and more solution offerings, such as firewall and security services.

"Media-centric enterprises are increasingly being challenged to extract demonstrable value from the growth of rich media content that threatens to overwhelm their IT infrastructures," asserts Lou Latham, an analyst with industry research firm Gartner Inc., in commenting on the move.

"A compelling opportunity exists for managed content management and distribution services to provide a 'content utility' that keeps capital expenses low and accelerates return on investment, while maintaining security and inter-operability through the use of secure private networks."

According to SAVVIS' management, the acquisition supports the company's plans to deliver expanded network-based rich media applications services, such as digital content management, collaboration, archiving and delivery services, as well as transport and transcoding capabilities. (www.wamnet.com/www.savvis.net)

Creo Acquires Plate Manufacturing Facility

VANCOUVER, BC—Creo Inc. announced recently that it will manufacture, sell and support its own thermal printing plate. The Creo Positive Thermal Plate ("PTP") uses the company's own plate technology and is now commercially available in North America and Europe. Creo will use its existing channels and global service infrastructure for the sale, distribution and support of its printing plate.

The Creo board of directors approved an agreement to acquire a plate production facility in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, from First Graphics (Pty.) Ltd., for an aggregate price of (U.S.) $11.25 million.

"The introduction of the Creo plate represents the culmination of a long-term effort to develop our own plate and developer technology, as well as characterize imaging behavior and optimize on-press performance of the plate," notes Amos Michelson, Creo CEO. "We have supplied our plate emulsion under license to several manufacturers that have commercially produced and sold plates under their own brand names over the last 18 months...More recently, Creo has leveraged its existing sales, distribution and service organization to enable logistics and field support for the new plate."

Customers in North America and Europe took part in a confidential pilot program to assess Creo's delivery and support capability. "Our customers' experience to date has shown that the Creo Positive Thermal Plate has high resolution, low water consumption and quick rollup. We believe that the Creo PTP plate is suitable for long run lengths (250,000) without pre- or post-baking; offers wide processing latitude; and is well-suited for most commercial print applications."

Creo plates will be produced through a combination of wholly-owned and outsourced manufacturing. The Pietermaritzburg facility has a modern, recently installed, plate manufacturing line that is now already producing the Creo PTP plate.

For many years, Creo has qualified suitable plates from a variety of plate suppliers and, in some cases, has bundled those plates with equipment and software to provide a complete packaged solution. In the last two years Creo has increased the number of CTP systems sold bundled with plates and now sells approximately 20 percent of new systems in North America as part of a bundle.

"The digital plate market is the fastest growing portion of the estimated (U.S.) $3 billion worldwide market for printing plates," Michelson concludes.
 

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