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WORKFLOW SOLUTIONS -- Can't Beat the System

November 2005
BY MARK SMITH

Technology Editor

"Workflow" used to be an easy, concise way to reference the digital equivalent of conventional prepress. It spanned the processes from when a file came in the door until the plate went out to the pressroom.

Over time, usage of the term has been extended to encompass so much of the print production process that it now is in danger of applying to everything and effectively defining nothing. Workflow already has been—or is in the process of being—extended:

* back to the customer, initially in the form of preflighting and remote proofing solutions, but increasingly including production portals and e-procurement/digital storefronts;

* out to the pressroom and bindery, with presetting of equipment first via PPF/CIP3 and now JDF/JMF (Job Definition Format/Job Messaging Format); and

* across the functional boundary between production and business management, as a rapidly growing number of connections are made between pairings of MIS solutions and digital workflow systems.

In addition, more links are being made between offset and digital workflow systems, which previously had represented largely parallel production paths. Such connectivity accounted for a number of the workflow-related announcements at PRINT 05 (detailed in the "Streamlining the Process" workflow portion of the post-show coverage in Printing Impressions' October issue).

For the most part, the level of connectivity currently being introduced is an interface between the offset workflow solution and the digital printing system's front-end software. Job information is passed along with the file to be output, and color management applied for the target device.

JDF typically is an integral part of such offset/digital workflow connectivity, along with being the foundation for a growing number of bi-directional interfaces between MIS solutions and production systems. Both developments represent steps toward achieving the vision of an interconnected printing workflow touted by early champions of JDF.

All of the talk of big benefits from implementing CIM (computer-integrated manufacturing) in the printing sector has been considered overblown, or at least premature, by much of the market. Skeptics questioned the ROI from this proposed reengineering of the process.

As part of its efforts to spearhead JDF's development, one of the ways CIP4 (The International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress) has responded to this challenge is by establishing the "CIP4 International Print Production Innovation" (CIPPI) awards. This program highlights tangible results of process automation, with an eye toward JDF-enabled solutions. The 2005 winners in three categories were announced recently.
 

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