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SYSTEM INTEGRATION -- Process Ins and Outs

August 2001
BY MARK SMITH


The basic concept has been given many names. Digital Smart Factory. CIM—computer integrated manufacturing. CIP4—International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress. Or, you can simply call it "process automation."

Welcome to system integration in the digital age. The terminology alone is confusing enough.

System integration used to be a fairly straightforward problem in the graphic arts arena, even if productive solutions were sometimes hard to come by. The challenge was to get different pieces of electronic prepress equipment to communicate and work together efficiently in a unified workflow. While the digital revolution was redefining the front end of the printing process, it overshadowed the more quiet advances computerized controls were making into the pressroom and bindery.

The introduction of digital printing and computer-to-plate systems helped bring the all-digital workflow concept to the forefront. Suddenly, the revolution no longer stopped at the door to the pressroom. The entire printing process became a system to be integrated. This shift has major implications for printers and their hardware/software suppliers alike.

Japs-Olson Co. in St. Louis Park, MN, has committed to integrating its prepress, pressroom and bindery operations by implementing CIP4 technology. The sheetfed and web printer took its first steps down this path several years ago when it set out to utilize the ink key presetting capabilities of its sheetfed presses, according to Chris Illa, prepress manager. To accomplish its goal, Japs-Olson had to take the initiative and nurture a relationship between the manufacturers of its prepress system and presses, he says.

The work paid off. Today, the direct mail and commercial printer has systems in place that enable it to use data captured in prepress to preset the ink keys on all of its sheetfed and web presses. Along the way, the company did hit another snag when it switched to a new front-end system. "Both manufacturers were very good about working to resolve the problem, but it took some going back and forth. Ultimately, the fix required patches to the software on both ends," the prepress manager says. "Fortunately, we are a large enough company that we could devote the resources to get it done." (In 2000, Japs-Olson's sales exceeded $120 million and it employed almost 700 people.)

Linking With the Bindery
Unfortunately, the same types of problems are now cropping up as the company works to extend this link to the bindery, according to Illa. "Currently, if we want to take full advantage of the automation features in our bindery equipment, we are faced with having to switch imposition systems. We would have to change our whole workflow, learn a different software application and add six new PC-based workstations," he says. "We are trying to push our existing vendors to step up to the plate, but at some point you can't wait any more."


 

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