Postpress Automation — Backing into IT
BY MARK SMITH
From start to finish, the printing process traditionally has had a split nature. Digital technology initially increased that divide, but now promises to tie all of the process steps together.
On the front end, prepress has been as much about art, or at least craft, as it has been production. It's also where the digital revolution began, bringing an ever greater degree of computerization and automation.
At the back end, binding and finishing operations come closest to being what people think of as a traditional manufacturing environment. It's about precise measurements and exacting specifications, as well as repetitive actions and heavy lifting.
Postpress operations almost never get the same attention as what comes before. So it's ironic that striving to become manufacturing operations is now touted as key to the survival of industry companies. Granted, people tend to talk in terms of computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), and the bindery isn't a hotbed of electronics.
The latest product offerings do feature servo motors and electronic controls systems with touchscreens, digital preset capabilities and automatic makeready functions. That doesn't necessarily mean such capabilities are on the average shop floor, though. Even if they are, there are still a lot of manual operations that must be carried out in binding and finishing processes.
That's one of the reasons why Jim Harvey, executive director of CIP4 (Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress), says he prefers to talk in terms of "process automation" rather than CIM. "Computer-integrated manufacturing implies that you are trying to take as much labor out of the process as possible," he explains.
Process automation addresses that issue, too, Harvey admits, but it also encompasses automation of the business workflow and management of the human component. The latter is done by automating the bi-directional communication of information to and from operators. The goal is to eliminate keystrokes and improve communication, thereby eliminating errors and redundant activities while pulling all job information from a single source point, the executive director notes.