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Focus on Automation at Apogee Users Group

Monday, 13 November 2006
By Print21

Computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) for the printing industry moves a step closer to realisation at last week’s Agfa Apogee Users Conference in Belgium. Patrick Howard went over to find out what is new in the rapidly changing world of automated workflows.
Over 180 industry professionals from 21 countries gathered in Ghent to chart the future of automation in the printing process as Agfa prepares to launch its new generation workflow product, ApogeeX, this month in the US.

Getting the full picture in Ghent were Angelo Manno, Agfa Marketing Manager Apogee, Patrick Howard, Print21Online, and Garry Muratore, Graphic Arts Marketing Manager, Agfa Asia Pacific.

The 3rd Apogee Users Group, representing one of the largest installed bases of workflow products, provided a forum to address the challenges arising from the increase of automation in the printing and prepress process. With a conference theme of “Focus on Automation” It heard presentations on automation trends in the industry, what is driving automation, and how project management can be integrated with MIS.

According to Angelo Manno, Agfa Marketing Manager Apogee, automation is being driven by shorter run lengths and more complex jobs, the globalisation and consolidation of the printing industry, fiercer competition among printing companies, and a growing skills deficit in finding the right people for craft-style jobs. He proposed that printing is being redefined in an age of e-commerce and that while there are limited options available for businesses to reduce costs there is massive pressure to increase productivity.

The answer is to automate as much of the process as possible. Manno maintained that despite a widespread belief that it is a difficult and complex process suitable only for large companies with their own IT specialists, automated workflow is essential for every size of enterprise. It is essential for printer providers in order to meet the increasingly specific print buyer demands.

The participants at Ghent were given an overview of the Agfa project management software, Delano, which is to be released next year. This aims to automate the entire workflow from planning, to scheduling and traffic control of printing projects. It is still in beta stage and is designed to integrate seamlessly with the new ApogeeX

Automation of prepress

ApogeeX is Agfa’s new contribution to automating the prepress workflow. The latest version of the industry standard is now translated to a client server architecture using centralised processing and control. The product has a GUI that makes it relatvely simple to create automated workflows. (I got my hands on one of the systems in Ghent and it seems to be very intuitive, even when creating complex proofing and output processes).

Because there is no interface between traditional MIS systems (such as estimating and billing software) Agfa has enlisted ScenicSoft’s UpFront production planner to enter the information from the front office into the workflow.

Like all previous versions ApogeeX is Postscript-based, making extensive use of PDFs as the main carrier. This requires that PDF’s in the automated workflow system are valid. For this Agfa uses Enfocus Certified PDF, which ensures every file that is progressing through the system is correctly constructed.

The aim is to translate all tasks into a single electronic job ticket, rather like the job bag still most widely used. Using CIP3 and JDF conventions it is designed to reduce the amount of user interventions to a minimum.

ApogeeX is being released at next weeks Graph expo in Chicago and we can expect to see it rolling out in Australia and New Zealand in the next quarter and early next year. It provides an important platform to bring printing into the world of computer integrated manufacturing.

This article was brought to you by Focus on Automation at Apogee Users Group

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