WORKFLOW SOFTWARE -- Betting on a System
BY MARK SMITH
Not to get philosophical, but if a word comes to mean everything, there's a danger of it ending up to mean nothing. The digital revolution was already on its way to making "workflow" a catch-all term in prepress, when the rise of CIM (computer-integrated manufacturing) extended its use to the entire print production process.
As a result, an ever wider array of products now can be called digital workflow solutions. For the purposes of this article, the definition is being limited to the evolution of what used to be called prepress systems.
Vendors have responded to this trend with a shift toward marketing workflow solution brands as much as specific products. Creo arguably gets credit for pioneering this approach with its Network Graphic Production concept, but Agfa Graphic Enterprise, Heidelberg Prinect and Screen Trueflownet came into being about the same time.
Modularity and flexibility are at the heart of this concept, with users able to incorporate specific components based on the demands of their work and operations. Open data formats, such as JDF and PDF, are key enabling technologies. Another central aspect involves extending the workflow out to print customers with online capabilities such as remote proofing, preflight and job submission.
Driving Offset and Digital
The closest thing to a new trend in workflow developments is the ability for one system to drive both offset (CTP, primarily) and digital printing. Also, vendors continue to expand the capabilities of their solutions to address packaging applications. While this trend may create the potential for commercial printing applications to receive less attention, it does help justify continued development of the technology.
Agfa already is previewing ApogeeX 3.0, which builds on the recently released 2.0 version and is slated to be available in the first quarter of 2005. Expansion of the system's JDF/JMF (Job Messaging Format) functionality is a key focus of ongoing development work.