Transcontinental Inc. : Automating the ProcessFebruary 2010
AUTOMATING THE prepress process is a significant undertaking for any company. At an organization the size of Transcontinental, which is the second largest printer in Canada and sixth largest in North America, the challenges are magnified.
Transcontinental has made a concerted effort to automate operations for several years now, originally with the use of scripts and hot folders to automate specific tasks, for example, Adobe Photoshop Droplets and Batch Actions. Although they saved time and delivered performance benefits, "They were ad hoc silos of automation," recalls Matt Pugliese, technical sales and project support for Transcontinental Printing's Integrated Solution Center (ISC) team. "We didn't have an overall architecture or a standardized approach."
The firm's automation initiatives gained momentum when it was able to leverage its Kodak Prinergy system to implement enterprise-wide prepress workflows. Still, Pugliese and his colleagues were looking for ways to tie everything together and better deal with situations not involving Prinergy. "What about business units outside the WAN, and/or those sites not running Prinergy or tasks that it may not address?" he wondered.
"How do we bring other businesses and clients into current process chains using mainstream applications, such as the [Adobe] Creative Suite and PitStop, and from different inception points?"
The Missing Link
With Enfocus PowerSwitch, Transcontinental has identified the basis for a solution. PowerSwitch is a server application that enables users to set up rules-based workflows that govern file routing, processing and notifications. Based on criteria such as file type, metadata and naming conventions, it will move files from FTP servers, local hot folders, even Prinergy, into flows that use a variety of common desktop publishing applications to process files without user intervention, while notifying internal and external personnel about progress along the way.
In 2008, Transcontinental started testing Switch to help with a project involving the optimization of 70,000 images using an application called Elpical Claro, a classic example of a business opportunity that is only feasible in an automated environment. Today, clients simply cannot afford to spend the sums of money required to have an operator manually correct thousands of images. And, while it's possible to run Photoshop in a semi-automated mode using scripts and/or batch actions, as a desktop application, it is not sufficiently robust to deal with this volume of data.
However, by using Switch to drive an application such as Claro on a server platform, this is now a viable service for Transcontinental to offer its clientele. "Using our best operator on Photoshop, we could manually correct six to 10 images per hour; in a semi-automatic environment using scripts or Droplets and Actions in Photoshop, we got up to about 60; and then, using Switch and Claro, we could process upwards of 150 images per hour and gain the benefits of Claro's intelligent image analysis," Pugliese observes.
To be sure, Pugliese's team at ISC had done plenty of configuration work to achieve that kind of throughput. Whereas Switch enables users to configure and execute simple workflows, Transcontinental's workflows leveraged metadata and/or handled large volumes in complex ways that required more testing and troubleshooting. "There's a lot of preparation that goes into automated workflows, and you have to troubleshoot carefully," he says. "But, once you categorize and organize and dial in the flow, it tends to work very well."
Having achieved success with images, the ISC is now deploying Switch to automate other tasks. One initiative involves using metadata to automatically retrieve files from a digital asset management system and send them to a proofing system. For this application, Transcontinental is positioning Switch within its customers' ERP systems workflows to obtain comma-separated value (csv) files with the names of the files to be proofed. They are then parsed into XML by Switch, and used to query and "pull" the content files from a digital asset management system.
These are then assembled using scripts and templates, and transferred to the required proofing system (online or otherwise) and delivered to the customer—all without manual intervention.
Tying It All Together
Given the scale of Transcontinental's operations, Switch's ability to fit in with a variety of third-party applications and tie together disparate operations is key. "We never look at anything just within four walls," asserts Pugliese. "We also evaluate how it lends itself to an enterprise, centralized or standardized style deployment."
Thus, Switch's ability to work with Group Logic MassTransit is a major benefit. Transcontinental uses MassTransit to enable customers to securely upload files into its system, and then uses PowerSwitch to route the files to the appropriate flow according to the supplied metadata. "We can point files from a browser or via internal IP directly to specific flows with specific task sets, and use sophisticated file routing to pull files out of Prinergy and put them back in," he points out.
Not surprisingly, Transcontinental has pushed Switch—and its partner applications—to the breaking point. But, by working with the Enfocus technical support team, the ISC has been able to troubleshoot workflows, identify problems and solutions, and get the flows to perform according to expectation.
Switch, now in version 08, is also benefiting from maturity and improved stability. By carefully testing the flows to determine how much volume a particular task can handle, Transcontinental has been able to safely deploy selected PowerSwitch flows into live production. "Now that we have invested the time to prove the concept and conduct tests, it's time to expand its use strategically." PI