COMPUTER-INTEGRATED MANUFACTURING -- Systems that Serve a Greater Good
BY MARK SMITH
The vendors are loath to admit it, but on the surface there is a growing degree of parity in the capabilities of today's prepress workflow solutions. Their core systems are typically client-server based, database driven and handle tasks such as preflighting, PDF conversion/normalization, trapping, imposition and rendering.
At the same time, advances in technology have led to workflow being widely viewed as a digital continuum—from file creation to final output. This shared vision dovetails with the industry's move toward computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) and implementation of the JDF (Job Definition Format) specification.
Internet portals for online proofing and job submission (with upfront preflighting) have been the most common first steps. Full-fledged e-commerce and e-production represent the next level of customer integration.
On the production side, interfacing to a shop's business systems (MIS or ERP) is seen as a linchpin for the end-to-end CIM/JDF workflow. There also is a trend toward enabling offset and digital printing devices to be driven by a common workflow, but variable data printing and other considerations still can justify use of dedicated systems. Offset workflows will be considered here, since they're at the forefront of JDF adoption.
"With the advent of JDF, we're seeing the workflow process being extended upstream to the content creators and all the way out to the finishing process," says Lesley Hepditch, Agfa Corp.'s marketing manager for workflow, North America. "Workflow automation is critical to printers remaining viable." While every system must be capable of doing certain core tasks, there still are differences in the ease, accuracy and flexibility with which those operations can be completed, she asserts.
Agfa recently updated ApogeeX, its PDF- and JDF-based workflow solution. According to Hepditch, two key focuses of the upgrade are cost-effective fault tolerance and load balancing, for dynamic scaling of system resources. "System reliability is becoming a more critical issue as more of the major workflows are database driven," she notes. "Something still can go wrong with the hardware, so how do you recover if everything is tied into a database and you no longer have access to it?"