AT THE dawn of this still relatively new millennium, the printing industry was all abuzz about the concepts of computer-integrated manufacturing, the Digital Smart Factory and lights-out manufacturing. Workflow integration via the job definition format (JDF) became its quest for the Holy Grail.
At the center of this automated processing was to be a management information system (MIS) feeding job data downstream to set up prepress, press and postpress equipment, with instantaneous updates from the shop floor communicated back upstream to the MIS. This revolution has yet to sweep through the printing industry, but that vision is still alive and actively being worked on.
DIMS!, for example, touted the fact earlier this year that it is the first MIS vendor to receive five JDF certifications, including MIS to Web Press ICS and MIS to Finishing ICS. Also, Heidelberg recently announced the first U.S. implementation of a JDF-based, bidirectional exchange between its Prinect system and the EFI Monarch MIS.
There is another pathway for integrating MIS and production, however, that already has been more widely realized—shop floor data collection and direct machine interfaces (DMIs).
For years Lane Press, in South Burlington, VT, has been working on various ways to integrate its front office and production workflows to improve process efficiency and gain business intelligence, thereby enabling it to better serve its customer base—publishers of short- to medium-run magazines. It started by attempting to interface its Hiflex MIS solution and the manroland PECOM control system for its presses using JDF.
About a year ago, it launched a project to replace the Covalent (now EFI) Auto-Count system it had used for decades with Prism's QTMS data collection system. The company currently is sending job and paper roll information from its Hiflex system to the QTMS installation in the pressroom and receiving job activity (press stops, good copies, waste copies, etc.) and rolls used data back.
Capturing and sharing data electronically has a dual benefit, explains Scott Luck, Lane Press' system analyst. It saves press operators from having to input/record data manually, while increasing the timeliness, amount and accuracy of the bidirectional information flow. The system, for example, "gives our pressroom manager a lot of information that he uses to analyze the performance of each job on-press."
Paper waste reduction is the big ROI usually touted by sellers of press management systems like QTMS, Luck continues. "That is something we are definitely going after—reducing the waste stream throughout the entire process."
"This system gives us a tremendous amount of visibility into what's going on (in production) and a great deal of data to analyze our performance on a very regular basis," adds Donald Gaffney, IT manager. "The pressroom and production staffs get together every day to evaluate how they are doing."
Having years of experience with its previous system gave Lane Press a big leg up in terms of figuring out how to capitalize on the rich data set, according to Gaffney. "There is a learning curve, for sure, in analyzing how jobs are running and looking at how to improve your internal processes."
The printer elected to implement the system as a tool to guide operators, rather than automating or moving certain functions upstream. There is a warning light that is illuminated when the count hits the 1,000 impressions-to-go mark, but the decision of exactly when to stop the press is still left up to the operator rather than the machine cutting off automatically. Also, the production office organizes jobs for the presses so the operators can just follow the queue order; but they can change that order if there's an issue with the plates, paper or whatever, Luck says.
One Step at a Time
When the company moved to the Hiflex MIS in 2004, the decision was made to keep the Auto-Count system in place for the time being. "I wouldn't have wanted to tackle them (Hiflex and QTMS installs) simultaneously," he comments.
Luck and the rest of the team still have plenty to keep them busy, with completion of the Hiflex to PECOM JDF integration targeted for this year, and integration with the prepress department's Kodak Prinergy workflow also in the offing. Extending the QTMS system to the bindery is under consideration, as well.
Initially, Freeport Press had a modest goal of just upgrading part of its existing management solution to address employee complaints about its job ticket. After investigating the options, management decided to instead do a full implementation of the system now branded as EFI's Monarch print production and management solution.
The company's facility in Freeport, OH, primarily produces short-run publications on three web offset presses and employs roughly 140 people. James Pilcher, vice president of manufacturing, says a "clean slate" approach was taken in implementing the system by first identifying all of the workflows within the plant.
"We identified what still worked and what didn't with the new system," Pilcher explains. "We also had to figure out what information was important to continue passing to production and how we were going to do it. We basically redid everything in our entire company."
Freeport brought the Foundation, Planner and Auto-Count DMI components of Monarch all online the same day, but waited almost six months before converting over to the PrintFlow automated scheduling system. Even given the somewhat older web presses the company had at the time, Pilcher says the Auto-Count system was relatively simple to install, so there was no reason not to include it in the first phase.
"I'm a huge Auto-Count supporter," Pilcher confesses. "We tried to push as much of the automation through that process as possible, even with the older presses (two of which have since been replaced). We had the system auto de-accelerate and shut down the presses once it made count.
"No manual counting is great and I'm a firm believer that math works. Before we put in the Auto-Counts, I'd say we were going back on-press one job every two to three weeks for a shorted job form. Ever since, it might be only once every six months that we go back to press due to an unknown shortage."
The printer has extended use of the Auto-Count system into its bindery. This has also enabled it to use the system for distribution of daily work schedules via instant messaging.
Part of the reason for implementing the PrintFlow scheduling component later was that it represented a radical change in thought for the plant, Pilcher says. "We are a production schedule-driven facility; we live and die by it."
Putting Data to Good Use
Freeport Press does a lot of short-run work, completing more than 10,0000 makereadies in 2009. Its scheduler was extremely proficient, even using the home-grown, Excel-based program that the printer ran previously. Implementing PrintFlow, which can dynamically schedule the entire plant based on the production updates fed back upstream, has now freed him to spend about half the day doing Crystal Report writing so the company can capitalize on all of the production data it is receiving.
"Having someone internally who can write your reports is critical. You need a person who can put the data into a form so you can actually make sense out of it," Pilcher says. "It's not like you put the system in and forget about it. If you do it right, it becomes part of your culture and how you do business.
"You get out of a system what you put into it," he continues. "Today, we (department managers) probably spend 60 percent or more of our time focusing on workflow. We're looking at what can we do to improve our process."
Freeport Press has also been able to capitalize on data from PrintFlow to develop what Pilcher terms a "poor man's JDF" connection to the press by exporting a .csv (comma separated values) file that is imported by the K-Station console of its Komori System 38S web press to pre-build jobs—ink key settings, paper parameters, folder type, etc. Electronic job information is also being fed to its cutter.
The company is hoping to become a beta tester for a new interface between Planner and its Kodak Prinergy workflow, as well as prodding EFI and Komori to develop JDF-based integration between Planner and the K-Station.
Pilcher says Freeport has had to take a larger role in spurring discussions between vendors than he would like. Of course, that's the role the JDF initiative was, and still is, supposed to fill. PI