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Digital Workflow -- Tools for the Trade

February 2004
By Marie Alonso

Business Development Consultant

Integration. that's the simplistic way to offer a microscopic definition for the goals of computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM). However, CIM is far from simplistic. In reality, it's quite massive—a vast concept for digitizing, automating and integrating print production processes.

Whether the banner of choice is JDF (Job Definition Format) or less distinct and clear approaches to integrating one's MIS/print management system with both production and administrative tasks, CIM is real—in theory, if not in true application.

Which brings us to a critical point: Workflow. How do today's technical and management consultants, information managers, prepress directors, pressroom operators and, yes, even CEOs attempt to understand, invest in and deploy a truly integrated digital workflow in the "CIM-est" sense of the word?

Time on Your Side

Stephen Shinnick, principal of All Systems, offers a perspective. "Time savings—that's a huge benefit of entering the digital manufacturing process. The goal is to eliminate gaps in the production line by having the vision to move your business into a more digital, more forward thinking, workflow," Shinnick asserts.

All Systems Integration specializes in serving and supporting the integration and workflow requirements of companies connected to a digital infrastructure, including printers, publishers, corporate marketing communications, advertising agencies, prepress trade shops and in-plant service bureaus.

"Printing businesses today need to have that kind of vision to survive—forward thinking vision, combined with practical experience and the ability to fix real problems fast. You want to improve the workflow dynamically and, as such, add value to your customers' experiences in working with you."

Markzware plays a role in Shinnick's digital vision at All Systems. FlightCheck Workflow (formerly MarkzScout) version 3.1, now with Apple Macintosh OS X support, is in place at All Systems, where it has become an essential tool at all prepress operations. It simplifies and automates many of the tedious workflow processes, while managing thousands of documents and electronic files destined for print.

As a "workflow manager," FlightCheck Workflow is used to create an automatic task management process that looks inside a native application file to sort, filter, categorize and route each file, based on its elements, to the appropriate prepress path. The package includes more than 300 pre-defined Rules and Scripts, as well as a library of layout templates. Hot folders, Checkpoints and Actionpoints allow the user to create both simple and complex layouts that are designed to keep jobs running through the prepress operation and to maximize press productivity.

Clearly, FlightCheck Workflow is just one digital soldier in an army of software technologies positioning to make a dent in CIM deployment.

Whether the target is Networked Graphic Production—the JDF-based initiative fueled originally by Creo and now expanded to include the participation of nearly two dozen companies including MAN Roland and Xerox, or CIP4-related initiatives that push the bounds of digitizing print tasks, it's clear that a truly "intelligent" and quite possibly "intuitive" workflow that delivers automation is the quest for today's printing community.

Are we there yet? With automated preflighting, page preparation and integrated workflows, the printing industry continues to move away from skilled staff positions to a manufacturing workflow. As in many industries, this means reliance on software- and database-driven solutions. Workflows utilizing software that is configurable to a printer's needs means faster and more accurate data preparation, as David Glover, president of S&G Partners, explains.

"Many in the printing industry have the same goal of ink on paper, but the devil is in the details. If some of the tasks, especially preflighting, page preparation, file organization and proofing can be automated—while at the same time specifying 'shop standards'—overall internal processes and interaction with customers can be more cost-effective," Glover states. "The tools are available to accomplish many of these tasks, while maintaining or (usually) improving the quality of product internally for the printer and externally for the customer. Many of these tools have very quick ROIs if evaluation and project execution are well thought out."

Good and the Bad

S&G Partners is a consulting company for the publishing industry with core expertise in prepress automation, workflow and asset management. As such, Glover knows well the dynamics—and downfalls—of today's prepress departments.

"They spend many hours evaluating customer files; fixing simple problems; preparing files for RIP, trap and imposition; organizing files for production; and on hold while proofs are sent out and marked up for corrections. With some smart software tools, these costly and time-consuming tasks can be greatly reduced," Glover states. "Deploying these software tools can 'glue' many of these tasks together."

S&G Partners uses Markzware tools as the core solution for this process. These tasks are accomplished utilizing one action: dropping the job files into a hot folder. The FlightCheck Workflow application watches the folder while the Hermes-based layouts and scripts can call native applications, organize and link all image files, fix common image problems, and deliver the files to asset management, RIP systems or soft proofing workflows. This provides added confidence to the evaluation and page preparation tasks because the prepress department will know what parameters have been applied to the job files.

"Even different specifications can be applied for different output workflows," he adds. "Low resolution copier or plotter workflows don't use the same standards as a press workflow. FlightCheck Workflow/Hermes allows for up to 20 different workflows."

Looking towards enhancing existing workflow performance, Glover reports that Markzware's software products allow S&G Partners to attach tasks and additional workflows to the front and back of the core solution. On the front end, customers can utilize different transport mechanisms to send jobs to the printer. These can be redirected to FlightCheck Workflow hot folders and begin the evaluation and preparation process automatically, while e-mailing a CSR or salesperson notice of the event.

"On the back end of the core process, we deliver properly formed, high-resolution data to any RIP and trap system that can utilize hot folders. At least as important as delivery to RIP systems, FlightCheck Workflow/Hermes can deliver the files for organization to asset management systems," he says. "We use MediaBank to organize files for production and set task stages and staff assignments automatically.

"We can integrate Real-Time soft proofing into the MediaBank Web component for customer viewing, markup and annotation of high-resolution data. The annotation comments can be integrated into the job database and given an open ticketing system, incorporated into job tickets for the correction process," Glover notes.

By utilizing these smart tools, customer files can go from task to task many times without any staff intervention. With the proper integration of in-house operations, it is possible for clients to send jobs and have them completely evaluated, prepared, RIPed, trapped and placed on a Web page for soft proofing. Staff can insert evaluation or quality control steps along the way to build confidence in the process. The result: Competitive advantage.

About the Author

Marie Alonso is president and editorial director of, a leading independent online news source for the commercial printing industry. PrintWriter is a free information site for today's printing professionals, featuring daily print industry news updates and special columns targeting the commercial printing industry. She can be reached by calling (856) 216-9956 or by e-mailing

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