CIM In Action -- Awaiting the Big Payoff
By Erik Cagle
Computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) is to return on investment (ROI) what exercise is to weight loss.
In the latter scenario, the early stages of a new workout program can be quite transforming. It only takes a couple of days at the gym to notice a difference in the way you feel—the air seems fresher, the body feels invigorated and experiences more energy in the beginning and the end of the day. Even after just one week of intense weight lifting and cardiovascular training, one's body can feel like a million bucks.
But after one week, don't step on a scale. Chances are, the machine will say that your hard workouts are lies, all lies! Your weight loss ROI likely will be zero, and there's a good chance you will actually pack on a pound or two.
So the question is, are there benefits here that can't be quantified? Most certainly. And it stands to reason that a sustained exercise program will eventually lead to better results on the scale.
Apply the same principles to CIM and ROI and the similarity can be seen. Some, but not all, printers that have taken the JDF/CIP4 highway to CIMville can boast of a tangible return. But virtually every printer can speak of the benefits from process integration.
"The industry has to take a longer term view on this," notes Michael Murphy, president of Japs-Olson in St. Louis Park, MN, which is an associate member of CIP4, the International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress. "Our industry as a whole needs to say that (CIM) is good for the industry. It's giving us vital data about each step of the process and each area of our company that we need to manage more efficiently. I really think of CIM as the base level from which the industry is going to become more efficient overall."
Dean Fairley, executive vice president with JohnsByrne Co. of Niles, IL, notes that his company has been on the CIP3/PPF come JDF train for two years and believes a lot of the CIM criticism is unwarranted and unfair.
"If you think about it, you're looking at a two-year-old child," he says. "As it continues to develop and mature, we see continual enhancements, integration and improvement at each step along the way.
"We obviously wish the technology providers were moving a little faster, but they're not. In the meantime, you utilize everything you can do today," Fairley says.
There's more to it than just the capabilities of new equipment, he adds. "You can't rebuild a printing facility overnight. Our operation is integrated really well. As we continue to make upgrades in equipment and infrastructure, we're seeing those benefits being further enhanced from each of the manufacturers."
The Right Direction
JohnsByrne—which utilizes JDF and CIP3 technology—is generating what Fairley terms "bi-directional" information. Jobs set up in its MIS system are posting into its Creo Prinergy workflow. Prinergy kicks back information such as job tracking, material usage and alteration information.
On the press side, it is not a completely bilateral connection, Fairley says. Information currently is being sent to the press, including ink key profiling, job specifications, gross and net counts, job ticket information and paper size. Two new presses are being targeted that will incorporate technology from Komori and EFI.
"One of the problems we're having is that we're waiting on our vendors to release new software for our MIS system that will be JDF-compliant based on the current ICS specs," notes Tim Uchwat, vice president of finance for JohnsByrne. "We're pushing toward that one level at a time."
Uchwat believes vendors are still grappling with the implementation of ICS (Interoperability Conformance Specifications), which all vendors should be using in their compliance with JDF. Once the wheel-spinning ends, he says, progress can be made.
Again, when the company views its CIM initiatives, it is done with progress in mind as opposed to dwelling on the level of integration JohnsByrne is ultimately seeking. Fairley believes that day will come soon enough.
"Two years ago, we basically merged an estimate into a job and used none of that estimate to populate a job ticket," he says. "Today, we use that estimate to populate close to 60 percent of that job ticket with information. Just two years ago, we received all of our estimates on a hand-written form. Today, we're seeing the integration of (EFI) Printer Site Internal start to increase the efficiencies and throughput of our estimating, as well as our order entry process through the Web portal. Before, we did nothing that way.
"When we open a job on the EFI Hagen system, we're already setting up the file folder structure in our prepress department," he adds. "Two years ago, we didn't do any of that. We didn't drive PPF data to the printing press or the profiles to set the ink keys. We were relying on operators to enter every bit of data, so data accuracy was somewhat limited by the capabilities of the operators to do that correctly.
"Today we're measuring that equipment. For the first time, we're gathering info and providing shop floor reports to train our managers how to better manage the facility from an efficiency, and not just a quality, standpoint. And that's an improving process."
In terms of ROI, Uchwat compares the CIM concept to where computer-to-plate (CTP) return stood in its early days, back in the mid-1990s. He is satisfied with the knowledge that CIM has taken some cost out of the printer's manufacturing processes and allowed the company to better manage its day-to-day operations. Future integration could provide that quantifiable return.
For Worcester, MA-based LaVigne Inc., the road to CIM is a dual highway. The company incorporates a JDF workflow (since August 2003) on the digital side and a PPF/CIP3 configuration (which bowed in 2002) on the conventional offset printing side, according to Chris Wells, president and CEO. Both take integration through the press, but stop before finishing, and the digital side resumes with shipping.
The results thus far have been outstanding, according to Wells. Using PPF files on the conventional side, LaVigne has sliced makeready time by between 50 and 60 percent, a major coupe for the short- to medium-run printer. Information being sent includes ink key data, gripper settings, stock info, color settings for the final approved document and job-specific information.
Its digital printing workflow has enjoyed an even greater impact, Wells says, with JDF having been integrated into all of its Web-to-print solutions. When customers order a job over the Web, a JDF file is delivered to LaVigne's HP Indigo press.
"We're using Production Flow to read the JDF file and process it," Wells says. "It's eliminated setup, so we don't need to do anything to the file. It just lands on the press imposed and ready to print. It's been pretty fantastic."
Right Out of the Cart
LaVigne worked with Printable Technologies to develop a JDF export function out of the shopping cart function of the latter's online print procurement system. Then in came HP's Production Flow system to consume the JDF on LaVigne's end.
"We had to create a bunch of little hooks and links on our own," Wells explains. "It wasn't an out of the box connection, for sure."
Wells has been more than happy to take his integration approach on a piecemeal basis, for at least two reasons. One, the company has reaped significant ROI on the prepress job entry side of the equation. Two, Wells hasn't found a "great JDF-compliant finishing suite of equipment for us to integrate."
Open standards seem to be a sore spot for some users, including Wells. "What is frustrating for me, as a whole, is everyone claiming to use open standards and saying we're JDF compliant," he says. "What I find is that within their workflow, everything is using, say the PrintTalk JDF standard or CIP4 standard. But on the front or back of the workflow, or in between, you just can't feed in a JDF/PrintTalk-compliant file that was generated somewhere else and have the system actually pick it up and send it through. I think it's a bit misleading. It's all compliant in the middle, but it's not open on the front or on the back."
That's where people seem to be moving now, he adds. "Companies like ours, with two solutions that already are working great, don't want to have to recreate the front end. If we put in an overall system, we want to be able to pump things in from the system that we currently have in place and have it picked up and brought through the rest of the (production) scenario."
The fact that the integration has its shortcomings is lost in a sea of positives for Wells. He points out the ROI has been double on the digital side. By reducing its own costs and passing savings on to customers, concepts such as a print run of 10 or less are no longer unfathomable because of setup costs.
At Japs-Olson, all preset information is being sent to its presses for ink key presets. The information travels one way; Japs-Olson has written its own direct machine interface to get production feedback from the shop floor.
"We get important feedback from the floor in terms of how our production is doing," Murphy relates, "so we're able to track materials much more closely in terms of paper usage and waste. We're getting a lot more information back in terms of productivity, production status, etc."
Staring at the Bullseye
Murphy is of the belief that the true payoff will come when the entire production process is fully integrated. He urges companies to pay less attention to the acronym soup and keep their eyes on the main prize.
"JDF and CIP3 are OK. I'm not so enamored with the terms," he says. "Just throwing out the term 'JDF compliant' doesn't mean anything to me. Of much more importance is the fact that we're looking to integrate all of our processes. Here at Japs-Olson, we ended up writing pretty much our own system for that. We didn't write any JDF spec into it because we don't need to.
"That's not to say you shouldn't use JDF, because I think all vendors selling new equipment should have the JDF standard built into their protocol. That, to me, is a given more than anything else."
JohnsByrne understands that it is operating in somewhat of a fish bowl, with all eyes watching its CIM progress. But Fairly has a warning for those companies taking the wait-and-see approach when it comes to integration.
"They better not sit too long because, in reality, it's only hurting them," he says. "There are too many printers out there that don't understand their costs, what it takes to produce a project. Therefore, all they're doing is eroding a margin they don't even know. We know what it takes to produce a project from start to finish. And our operators know what their targets are.
"We enjoy being in the fish bowl because that's where suppliers come to feed first. We're giving feedback to the manufacturers and helping their development efforts. We definitely want to remain on the cutting edge, because that's what this industry needs."