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JUSTIFICATION FOR CTP -- Streamline Your Production

May 2002

FCB is the key to success for today's printing companies. What is FCB? Keep on reading.

Ever since 1984, when the first Macintosh was introduced, the printing industry has been in a state of digital upheaval. Slow to the acceptance of this new technology, many companies reluctantly spent money on computers in an attempt to sustain their business. This bitter-sweet relationship is evident once again today and we call it computer-to-plate (CTP).

In an industry where changing technology has become the norm, it is still with reluctance that many printers even consider CTP.

Perhaps it's the fear of the unknown or maybe it's just human nature. But whatever it is, get over it! The second stage of digitization is under way with a full head of steam. Today, since we are capturing images and setting pages digitally, does it make any sense to produce film in order to make plates? New technologies have now given us the opportunity to close the door on almost all analog processes.

The time to harness all of these technologies and build a completely digital network—going from pixel to paper—is now. The World Wide Web has given us the opportunity to seamlessly work with our clients by providing services that we could only imagine a few short years ago.

Through the use of FTP servers, we are able to receive clients' files directly to our digital department, thereby streamlining the process to a complete CTP workflow. Considering all the technology we have at hand, it's hard to believe that many printing companies still look the other way. Smart owners are now cashing in on the very low interest rates available and using this slow market to carve out unbelievable deals with leading platesetter manufacturers.

You must use this slowdown as an opportunity to ramp up your digital department so you can be ready for the next wave of success. Those owners who always wait until the market changes first before investing in their companies are usually the ones left behind when opportunity comes knocking.

One persistent problem that plagues the graphic arts industry is the lack of trained employees. Your electronic prepress department staff must become proficient in running a totally digital network. To fully integrate all the available digital services, you need people who are well versed in IT (information technologies).

Let's face it—all these services run on computers and most are not Mac-based. The first order of business should be to hire or outsource qualified IT personnel. You really need a person you can count on to grow your internal network.

If you have good people in place already, perhaps some additional training is all that is needed. Salespeople who work for various CTP vendors can be an additional source for information. However, don't let them dictate your needs.

Does anyone remember the early '80s and all the million-dollar CEPS systems and the huge lease payments that accompanied them? Today, printers have a wide choice of CTP manufacturers that sell some really good products. Don't base your deal on financing, though.

You need to educate yourself by attending the many different industry events available, and you need to use the staff you pay every week. Make it their responsibility to inform you about what's going on in the industry.

If your company has experienced a slowdown (as most have), have your digital staffers do the research and provide you with some information about integrating these new technologies. Together, the ownership and the staff should seek out some IT expertise to determine the best fit for your company.

Most CTP systems now use either NT, 2000 or UNIX as the OS platforms to run their software. When your systems crash—and they will—95 percent of the time its cause can be traced to an OS or network topology problem. If you do not have a staff that understands these different operating systems and basic networking skills, you are captive to the $300-per-hour field service support, which the platesetter manufacturers are happy to provide.

IT isn't just sending film to an imagesetter; it is the understanding of how all the pieces of the digital network interact. Yes, you can train your existing staff but, in reality, you need a solid IT person heading the team. The benefits of such experience will propel your printing establishment to the forefront of opportunity and project professionalism to customers, which is needed to compete in today's marketplace.

If you want to attract new salespeople to your company, you need to provide them with a good reason to migrate. They have to be able to sell the whole enchilada—from FTP file transfer to CTP technologies and every digital service in between. Selling quality output and free pickup and delivery may have worked 15 years ago, but today's print buyers want and deserve more. You must make it painless for them to interact with your company by providing them with as much remote technology as possible.

Remote digital proofing, FTP file transfer, CTP technology and digital asset management are all realities today. The imagesetter that you are still running should be getting little use and be thought of as an adjunct to a fully digital workflow. Your current stripping staff has valuable experience and should be working closely with your desktop department, providing them with information about building digital layouts, impositions and trapping issues.

Traditional plate makers will become platesetter operators and should understand how the process works. As in any other industry, this electronic automation will undoubtedly cost some jobs since fewer hands will be needed to produce the work. This is an unfortunate by-product of automation.

Your company should also be conducting off-hour, off-the-clock training sessions led by a knowledgeable team leader. And these sessions should be offered to everyone who wants to attend. The benefits are twofold. On the one hand, you will be helping those who have proven to be loyal employees get educated in these newer technologies and possibly get a new job in the event of a labor reduction. On the other, you are establishing your company as a leader that provides its staff with the necessary tools to ensure success.

Management needs to have a well-defined business plan, as well. It should look five years ahead, and outline new purchases based on a three-year ROI—a plan that allows you to build these new digital services in a coherent, cost-effective manner.

The biggest problem with the printing industry is that it didn't change much before 1984, and that caused widespread complacency and a sense of false security. Those days don't exist any more.

The printing industry has been evolving during the last 15 years in an exponential way. This paradigm shift should make printers re-evaluate their entire business models—from hourly cost structure to new marketing approaches.

The average press run today in the United States is under 10,000. You must make up for this lack of production with efficiency and the technology to do that is now available.

To succeed today, it truly has to be Faster, Cheaper, Better (FCB).

About the Author

Bob Pellegrino is an industry consultant and owner of CyberColor Technologies, a graphic arts network support and systems integration company. He can reached at (631) 232-9515 or e-mail


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