Posts Tagged ‘workflow’

  • New workflow acronyms – Print21 Magazine

    It took nine years for the experts who draw up the world’s standards at the International Standards Organisation (ISO) to come up with a new version of PDF, the portable document format at the heart of printing workflows.

    It has taken decades for CIP4, the organisation dedicated to process automation in the printing industry, to come up with a slimmed-down version of JDF, the job description format. Both are careful not to claim revolutionary changes in the venerable formats, happier to describe them as evolutions. Patrick Howard asks what it all means for printers in the latest issue of Print21 magazine.

  • Workflow and inkjet star in latest ‘Xtraordinary’ Print21 magazine

    The latest issue of Print21 magazine is out now, featuring Fujifilm’s Onset X-series of flatbed inkjet presses, a deep dive into workflow, a profile of IVE boss Geoff Selig, and more.

    Print21 has hit the ground running at Yaffa Media with an issue packed full of news and features you can’t afford to miss. On the cover, Fujifilm’s powerhouse Onset X3 inkjet press wowed audiences at an open house for its customer Active Display Group with its lightning speed and stunning resolution. “We found print speed at high quality will ultimately enable us to become even more competitive in a challenging market,” said Stuart Gittus, general manager of operations at ADG.

    In a nine-page workflow special, Patrick Howard examines the new PDF 2.0 and XJDF standards, and asks what they mean for printers; the feature also looks at offerings from PrintIQ, Kodak, Ricoh, Esko, EFI, and Tharstern to help automate and streamline your workflow and prepress procedures.

    Carrying on the connectivity theme, Andy McCourt plugs in to how the industry is connecting to the world, socially, culturally and economically. “We are in effect primitives in a new culture,” he writes, and urges printers to seize the opportunities modernity has to offer.

    For this issue’s People in Print profile, Geoff Selig, executive chairman of IVE Group, one of Australia’s largest printers, shares his outline for improving the working lives of IVE employees. “It’s about having an open view and awareness around elements of inclusion,” he said.

    German press giant Heidelberg is taking the hard work out of operators’ hands, gradually moving towards a “push-to-stop” system where manual intervention only happens when it’s absolutely needed, as MD Richard Timson told Patrick Howard. “Most of our presses are completely under-utilised because there’s too much fog in between the processes. You don’t need to run a press seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. If you streamline some of these processes in this way you might be able to run a single shift and make as much money,” said Timson.

    In the packaging world, digital printing is making its mark on labels with a surge in press purchases across inkjet, toner and Indigo. That’s not the only area digital is reshaping, though – the humble corrugated box is receiving a makeover thanks to massive inkjet presses from companies such as EFI and HP. Jake Nelson delves into how the digital world is impacting both sectors, one job at a time.

    All that plus installations, profiles, and important news from the coalface makes this issue of Print21 magazine your vital long-weekend read. Check it out today!

    To subscribe to our print edition, go here or email editor@print21.com.au.

  • Apogee 9 points commercial printers towards wide-format

    One of the default workflows of the industry continues to enhance convergence between different types of printing and printers.

    Apogee is Agfa’s PDF-based workflow that is widely used throughout the commercial printing sector. The release of version ‘9’ is an indication of its longevity and the amount of development that has gone into it.

    The latest iteration, available later this year, has enhanced imposition and colour quality management capabilities. It aims to unify the workflow by operating as w=a production hub for both wide-format and commercial print operators.

    According to Andy Grant, Global Head of Software, Agfa Graphics, the Apogee 9 colour management is a new patented approach to a perennial challenge while tools and function like integrated tiling and nesting expands the output options.

    A patented approach to colour management: Andy Grant

    “With Apogee 9 as the production hub, commercial printers can automate their workflow, and it helps them to expand into the wide-format inkjet market,” he said. “Apogee 9 now brings typical wide-format tasks and existing powerful prepress functions together in one single, PDF-based workflow. It provides them with more flexibility and integration so they can remain competitive with added value products such as banners and posters.”

    Apogee 9 incorporates Adobe’s latest core technology for processing complex designs, and with HTML5 the new WebApproval portal for page submission and approval can now be used on tablets and other mobile devices.

  • Workflow dominates Print 13, Pt.1 – David L. Zwang

    US-based industry commentator David L. Zwang looks at the many new production workflow solutions that were introduced at Print 13 in Chicago.  Part one of a two article review for Print21 addresses production workflow solutions.

    For those of you who have been reading the ‘Transforming and automating workflows series‘ on Print21, Zwang has strong feelings regarding the need to research and implement a good infrastructure to help businesses transform and automate their production systems.

     

    Workflow dominates Print13 – Part one

    There were many new MIS/ERP business and production workflow systems announced at Print13. Some are cloud-based solutions, some are new and/or updated server based on-site solutions, and others offer a hybrid model with either a combination of cloud-based and local servers, or a choice between the two with a clear migration path.

    One very important product introduction was Adobe PDF Print Engine 3 (APPE3) . In a previous article, we discussed the important role the RIP core plays in any production DFE and workflow. Since APPE is at the core of many of the production DFE and production workflow systems in the market, this announcement will ultimately affect most of them. The new ‘Mercury RIP’ architecture brings dynamic load balancing and multiple concurrent processing instances to a single or multiple systems on a network. This is targeted directly at the high speed, high volume production digital print devices and at more efficient handling of variable data jobs. Look for APPE V3 to be included in new DFEs and production systems starting in 2014.

    Pipeline Solutions

    The production workflow solutions shown at Print 2013 all seemed to be addressing automation, although they don’t all approach it in the same way. In the past, we have discussed ‘pipeline’ workflows. These are solutions that provide a way to connect various production tasks together to create the desired process automation. However, based on what we are seeing in the currently available solutions, we need to be a bit more specific on what ‘type’ of pipeline workflow system each of them deploy. Here I arbitrarily break them into three types of pipeline workflows for clarity. Please understand that there likely are features that may blur the lines between the types, but for the most part the overlap is not enough to reclassify them.

    The first type would be a predefined pipeline. This type of offering only allows you to choose how the production files are input and how they are output for a fairly well-defined process. Web-to-print catalog ordering and on-demand book production are examples. The second type is a linear pipeline. This type of solution provides flexibility in how you build the process to support your requirements, but without an intelligent ‘rules based’ infrastructure. In this case, you will need to have individual predefined workflows to address all of your production variables. Finally, the third type is a fully flexible rules-based pipeline solution. The main advantage to rules-based pipeline systems is that you can minimize the number of workflows you need to define as well as the amount of potential operator intervention that is required. In essence, the system can be programmed to make its own intelligent choices.

    Xerox

    Xerox introduced FreeFlow Core at the show. This new technology was designed from the ground up to power a new platform of product offerings and shouldn’t be confused with FreeFlow Process Manager, the legacy Xerox workflow application. FreeFlow Core takes a fundamentally different approach, expanding some of the features and functionality beyond what is currently available or even possible with Process Manager. Core gives customers a more granular control of prepress operations. Xerox is marketing FreeFlow Core in three upgradable configurations: FreeFlow Core Base; Advanced Prepress; and Advanced Automation. The first two configurations, Core Base and Advanced Prepress, include updated versions of many of the process nodes that are currently available in Process Manager that are now Core compatible. These configurations and the supplied nodes can be used in the creation of a linear pipeline workflow, while the Advanced Automation configuration adds rules-based workflow capabilities to the system to enable fully flexible and ‘rule based’ variable workflows.  In taking this approach, Xerox is recognizing that workflow is not “one size fits all,” and allowing a more modular approach to workflow deployment.

    Xerox also showed several new Core enhanced solutions.

    • Xerox IntegratedPLUS Finishing Solution – automates job production from order entry through online or offline finishing in conjunction with the newly designed Imposition node;
    • XMPie StoreFlow – a B2B and B2C all-in-one Web to Print solution that integrates directly to the FreeFlow Core production automation system, providing an end to end workflow;
    • FreeFlow Digital Publisher – an integrated solution that providers service providers with the tools to repurpose print content into media rich mobile and online content.

    XMPie, a Xerox company, whose products are marketed through a variety of channels, also showed its XMPie Circle Marketing Workflow product, including an impressive future roadmap that we will cover in a future article.

    Hybrid Software

    For those of you not familiar with Hybrid Software, many core employees came from the Artwork Systems team, prior to the acquisition of that company by Esko. And while their roots are in packaging prepress, their solutions are also great for print service providers in general. Cloudflow is Hybrid’s new HTML5 browser based workflow platform. It supports the open JSON REST API for scripting and a NoSQL database backend making it easier to integrate with other cloud-based (web) solutions and services. Many of the available modules have been developed, released, and integrated by Hybrid in the last couple of years, but the core platform has been in development for a longer time and the concept as well as the implementation is very interesting.

    The Cloudflow platform is designed to combine local processing with remote processing in a hybrid model, a concept we also saw in the OneFlowCloud solution I previously reviewed. The system uses a user-friendly rules-based pipeline node structure for building workflows which can include Web Portal, file processing, pre-press, and data flow. The platform base is Cloudflow Workspace, and the currently available modules include Cloudflow Proofscope for softproofing, Cloudflow Proofscope Live for PDF editing, Cloudflow Printplanner for layout and VDP, Cloudflow DAM, Cloudflow Pre Press Workflow, and Cloudflow RIP. Some of these modules are developed by PACKZ, a Belgian software company that also has its roots in Artwork Systems. Hybrid Software has also just announced a further partnership with PACKZ to distribute a new packaging prepress application. Hybrid Software will be an exclusive distributor for this solution in most parts of the world and will be introducing it at Labelexpo Brussels later this month.

    Ricoh

    Ricoh TotalFlow Process Director V3 was introduced on March 31, but Print 2013 is its U.S. public debut. This is a significant upgrade to Process Director and Process Director Express, which is a subset of the full Process Director. The application was initially developed by IBM InfoPrint, which was acquired as a subsidiary of Ricoh in 2010 following a period of joint venture between the two companies. Process Director is built on a common backbone that includes an IBM DB2 database and a modular component architecture. This rules-based automation pipeline solution enables the software to be configured to the needs of many different applications, from high volume variable data direct marketing to general commercial print. Initially designed to support the IBM digital roll-fed production presses and applications, V3 added a visual and conditional workflow builder, as well as support for Ricoh cut sheet devices, resulting in a flexible and very scalable production workflow solution.

    Ricoh also introduced TotalFlow DocEnhancer, a rules-based plug-in for Adobe Acrobat that allows users to add, edit, or replace static or variable data in a PDF file destined for print production through a very simple user interface. It is available in two configurations, one that operates as a standalone and one that integrates with Process Director and Process Director Express.

    Kodak

    The introduction of PRINERGY Workflow 6 , Kodak’s rules-based pipeline automation solution, has been anticipated for a while. It has been in development for three years, and Kodak has been testing and seeding it to select customers to ensure it is rock solid at release. We have discussed PRINERGY in past articles, but this new release is undoubtedly a statement of Kodak’s intention to support and grow this platform. This release is focused on enhancing production automation throughout its processes. It includes; PREPS v7 for imposition; COLORFLOW v2, for color management; and INSITE Prepress Portal v6.6.

    However, the big change in PRINERGY 6 is the new browser-based and simplified user interface. This change in itself will undoubtedly streamline production operations for PRINERGY users. The PRINERGY Workflow 6 Workspace is divided into three modules: Plan, Manage, and Track. This helps users manage all jobs and production tasks. Using the underlying PRINERGY Rules-Based Automation (RBA) functionality, you can now set up chains of workflow tasks from receipt of the customer order through prepress through to digital presses and CTP devices. The workflows can be triggered by events or manually by hitting a ‘play’ button.

    HP

    HP showed its latest version of the SmartStream Production Center which is currently a linear pipeline workflow solution that integrates with their other SmartStream offerings. However, we are confident that it will evolve into a rules-based pipeline solution over time.

    Konica Minolta

    Konica Minolta announced and promoted its renewed relationship with Kodak through the integration of the Creo DFE and the optional PRINERGY 6 Workflow solution in addition to its standard EFI Fiery DFE. Konica Minolta also showed two of its own new workflow solutions:

    • EngageIT Automation a predefined production system that operates with a portal and print catalog; and
    • EngageIT XMedia, a cross-media marketing campaign workflow solution. We will cover this in a future article.

    Fujifilm

    Fujifilm showed its XMF production workflow, which was previously introduced. It is primarily a linear pipeline workflow. Fujifilm was the only exhibitor at the show to feature implementation of APPE3 in XMF driving the J Press 720 Inkjet Press.

     Agfa

    While not displaying at Print13, Agfa announced that the new APPE3 will be integrated into both the :Apogee and :Asanti product lines.

    DALIM

    DALIM introduced Twist 7, its latest update to its rules-based production automation solution. Twist 7 updates focus on speed, more complete and flexible job input, and support for BigTIFF and additional printer marks on multi-page documents.

    In the next article, Part Two, we will look at some of the new and updated MIS/ERP business workflow solutions that were introduced at Print 2013 in Chicago.

     

  • Workflow takes to the cloud – David L. Zwang

    Software of all sorts is taking to the proverbial cloud, and printing industry software is no different, with print management workflow systems also making the great leap into cyberspace. North American print industry expert, David L. Zwang, reviews some of the top players in this new field and how they compare to the traditional offering.

    Throughout this series, I have presented both concepts and solutions that can be used to transform and automate your business and production workflows. We covered MIS/ERP business systems, packaged and customised production management systems, and some of the component architecture that forms the base of a good system infrastructure.

    In the last article, we looked at some solutions for managing and bridging disparate production systems and devices, which is the key to addressing many, if not most, print provider environments. However, the solutions we have looked at to date have all been server-based on-site solutions, or better described, solutions that sit on hardware located in your premises, inside your firewall.

    With the cloud becoming such a key influencing technology in all of our business and personal lives, it wasn’t long before we could expect to see business and production management solutions that reside in the cloud. While there were a lot of early entrants during the internet boom of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, many of those were very narrow in scope and didn’t survive.

    Some of the survivors included a variety of cloud-based solutions to support portal functions and web to print; but for the most part, their reach is still fairly narrow when considering the scope of an entire plant’s production. Please understand, I don’t want to minimise their importance. They do address an extremely important part of any service provider’s infrastructure: the way in which work enters the plant. We will be covering web-to-print solutions in much greater detail in a future article. However, once you get the work into the plant, then what?

    There has been some ‘bridging’ of web-to-print and/or order- entry portals to server based MIS systems and/or production workflows, but only recently have we really seen hosted solutions that are designed to reside in the cloud and integrate with both web-to-print systems as well as your plant production processes. In this article, I will highlight three of these cloud-based MIS solutions that extend beyond just being a web-to-print solution or web portal. There were going to be four, but as a result of the recent departure of HP Hiflex from the market, a system which I described in a past article, that left three.

    Before I introduce the solutions, let’s look at the differences between cloud-based multi-tenant solutions and onsite server-side solutions. The multi-tenant concept is what you see used in most of the other cloud-based solutions many of you probably use every day, like Salesforce, Google Mail, etc. In essence, you are sharing the basic software system infrastructure, but your business and client data is firewalled from that of other entities.

    Many web-to-print and web portal solutions do the same thing, allowing you to offer each of your clients their own secure web interface yet operate on the same system with other clients. There is another reasons some have concerns over cloud solutions, the potential for interruptions in connectivity. However, while the system is not on your premises, the reliability of these connections has improved dramatically as more and more companies rely on cloud based solutions of various types, especially email in their business operations. Additionally, many of these cloud based solutions have implemented local backup and interruption functionality.

    There can be significant cost advantages in using cloud-based solutions. There is usually no up-front capital or long-term software or hardware maintenance expense for the user, although some of the solutions do have a one-time setup fee. Otherwise, each of them works on a pay-as-you-go model. Of the three solutions highlighted below, two have a fixed monthly charge for the service, independent of volume, although there can be supplemental costs depending on what services you choose to use. One of the solutions, PixtaFlow, charges per seat, per volume, per feature. So if you have more terminals in the plant, or if you want more features, you pay more. OneFlowCloud, however, charges by transaction, which is a fairly unique and interesting approach.

    Their transaction fees are volume dependent; as your volume increases, your fees per transaction decrease. As you can see, the cost of using any one of these cloud based solutions could be much less expensive than an installed on-site solution. Each of them may tell you that you can just discontinue their service if you don’t like in the future without any real penalty, although setting up your individual cost and pricing tables is still a big job, regardless of whether you do it on a local MIS server or in the cloud, so there are no easy outs. Most importantly the availability of cloud based MIS solutions put this important functionality within the reach of many small to medium sized print service providers.

    However, there are also some downsides to the cloud solutions. This is specifically in respect to how they integrate (or not) with on-site production and other systems. Each of the reviewed system has developed API’s to try to improve that, but in the end you have no control over what is accessible ‘under the hood ‘in these SaaS systems.

    In the case of many of the on-site server-based systems, in the absence of a needed API, you can usually access the internal database directly if required. There is also a potential for business interruption should the network or cloud-based system itself be interrupted. However, these types of interruptions have been proven to be less of an issue of late. That being said, each of these cloud based solutions have created ways to integrate varying amounts of operational business information both in and out.

    As is the case with the on-site server-based MIS solutions, each one of these was initially developed to meet the requirements of a specific client, and then expanded to reach a broader set of audience requirements. With that in mind, you need to use the same caution to ensure fit when shopping for these cloud-based systems as you would the server-based systems. All of the systems support estimating to varying degrees.

    Some do it using a product catalog like many of the web-to-print solutions, and some of these offer classic activity-based cost accounting as seen in typical MIS systems. All of the systems reviewed also support direct integration with many, if not most of the shipping platforms, like UPS, FedEx, etc. This allows them to include shipping cost in any estimate as well as provide labels and shipping communications directly.

    Since all of the cloud-based solutions tend to focus on order entry, at a minimum, the following three solutions are discussed in order of their level of integration into the production processes.

    The first one I looked at was Presswise from SmartSoftUSA. Presswise was developed in 2006 for a digital printer in Southern California and has expanded its services over time. SmartSoft currently has about 150 companies using its solution, and is growing at a fairly consistent rate. As is the case with many, but not all, of these cloud services, Presswise tends to focus on printing companies in excess of about $1.5 million in annual revenue.

    It has input API’s to help integrate with web-to-print solutions, although SmartSoftUSA has already built in support for many of the more widely used systems. Additionally, Presswise includes a utility to support mapping of XML input from client systems to support more seamless order entry. It also has an API to support export of information to company accounting systems. Presswise currently offers no shop floor integration. Its pricing is based on a flat monthly charge, although there are limited feature options offered for a fee if required. Of the three, Presswise has the largest ongoing client base.

    PixtaFlow was initially designed for a large format printer in San Mateo, California. The developer is in Marin County, California, where the company is, for the time being, targeting the large format printing community. The developer of the software was a senior engineer in the electronic game industry. The company has been in business for just under ten years. Its first solution was a browser-based secure file transfer solution named PixtaSynapse.

    The core technology from this solution is now at the core of PixtaFlow. The version I reviewed was a ‘technology preview,’ expected to be released later in the year. PixtaFlow offers most of the same functionality I have previously discussed, although it also brings a Virtual Job Ticket to the shop floor. PixtaFlow has also focused a lot of effort on client plant communication, something that is critical in custom print manufacturing. It has an “email to job ticket” function that ensures that all client correspondence is traceable and highlighted in the ‘to do’ list for action. Scheduling was in the last release, but due to a major change in the core technology, it was taken out for this release. It is expected to be added back in a future release.

    OneFlowCloud was developed in the UK, initially for Precision Printing, an old line offset printer that moved to digital in 2006. The development was spurred by the realisation that orders were coming in with shorter runs and faster turn times than they had ever seen before. The developer of this cloud-based MIS solution, which has been running for more than five years, had prior experience developing a cloud-based solution outside of the print industry.

    This solution had the most user-friendly graphical UI of the three solutions highlighted. It has an API for easy integration with electronic order source input, as well as a very simple and quick button-selectable interface if the order is entered by a CSR. While it addresses all of the features previously mentioned, of the three solutions reviewed this one has much deeper integration into the production process.

    It uses a rule-based automation system at its core. After bringing the order in house, it automatically checks and batches orders, sorts for outsourcing or load balancing, and prioritizes the schedule. The imposed files are sent by the solution to the appropriate DFE, and the schedules are sent to generic tablet displays at each production work area.

    The operator checks in and out of the job enabling the system to assign costing, and as a result it allows the plant, job status and financial reporting to be monitored through a dashboard. It handles orders with or without barcodes from entry through bin collection, assembly, shipping and invoicing. Rule-based customer communication is also supported.

    OneFlowCloud will be entering beta sites in the UK beyond Precision Printing later this year, and expect to enter the US in 2014.

    In the next article, we will look at some of the new and updated workflow solutions that will be shown at Print 13 in Chicago.

    Remember, if you have any topics you think are important and would like us to cover during the balance of this series, please let us know!

    To see some informative ways to automate and transform your workflows, download an informative whitepaper on “Automating and Optimizing a Book Production Workflow”

    David Zwang, travels around the globe helping companies increase their operational productivity, margins and market reach. With over 40 years of industry experience, David specializes in process analysis and strategic development for firms in the fields of publishing, design, premedia, and printing.

    You can contact David via email at david@zwang.com.

  • Bridging the workflow gulf – David L. Zwang

    For printers who, like most of the service providers out there, are managing their own legacy production workflow systems in addition to all of the other workflow suites that came with purchased equipment, there are dedicated bridging applications available that can take the pain out of integration. North American industry expert, David L. Zwang, investigates the options.

    In the last article, I looked at some of the packaged production workflow systems that have evolved from original plant-centric CTP solutions, as well as those that ship with and drive many of the digital print devices that are sold in today’s market. But in your company, if you are like most of the other service providers out there, you probably have to manage your own legacy production workflow and all of the other workflows that came with purchased equipment.

    And, what about your workflow beyond these production systems to other non-production-specific processes, or your customer workflows? As a refresher, early in the series I looked at the PRIMIR Transformative Workflow Reference Model as an example of what your business infrastructure and processes should look like to support business and process requirements today and in the future. You should continue to reference that to ensure that you maintain a ‘bigger picture’ focus as you plan.

    Beyond the packaged workflow systems that are available with your hardware purchases, there are alternatives that offer additional flexibility. Many of these ‘non-aligned’ (to vendor specific equipment) systems offer similar workflow mechanisms like ‘pipeline workflows’ (flexible task connectivity), or API (Application Programming Interface) integration, but are specifically designed to bridge disparate systems and processes into a cohesive solution.

    I have selected three examples of bridging applications to highlight, based on my positive experiences with each of them. Each one offers a differing approach and focus. As I have constantly tried to reinforce throughout this series, the term ‘workflow’ can be very misleading. Until you really dig into the offerings, you really can’t see what problems or solutions are addressed, or more importantly, how they can help you transform your unique production workflow.

    In my experience, the most flexible of these would be Enfocus Switch. This is an automated, rules based pipeline solution that connects various production, business and communication processes. It is a scalable server-based application that easily integrates with other systems through a number of built-in features. Switch has support for inbound and outbound transmission of production files, customer communication, and metadata. It is supplied with built-in tools that connect processes, and coordinate file and job handling and internal and external communications. It supports the use of ‘configurators,’ which are API-driven integrators for an increasing number of third party applications.

    It also supports the use of hot folders for use when applications and processes don’t have configurators. For more complex needs, it includes scripting support (JavaScript, Visual Basic, and AppleScript) for further workflow customization.

    Switch also interacts very nicely with the other Enfocus products like PitStop Server to offer even more intelligent task handling and the newly-announced Connect ALL to enhance file submission accuracy and customer communication. There really isn’t anything else like this in the market with this scope and at its affordable price point, and it is highly regarded.

    Another set of process bridging applications is available from Hybrid Software. Its approach uses a ‘suite’ of applications that can be interconnected and integrated with your existing systems. As I mentioned in previous articles, MIS integration really isn’t plug and play, so one of the areas Hybrid has focused on is integration with MIS/ERP systems. In addition to MIS integration, Hybrid has also created a middle-ground suite of applications that can supplant many of the functions of an MIS system.

    It now offers Frontdesk OLM, which can actually acts as a portal for your plant with some order entry functionality; and Fileforce, which addresses job ticketing, file management and time tracking functionality that is found in most MIS systems. All of this and more can be automated using its Pipeline application. Hybrid’s roots are in prepress and packaging, so rounding out its offerings are Proofscope, an online softproofing application, and ProofscopeLive, a very interesting browser-based PDF editor.

    A different approach comes from MetaCommunications. MetaCommunications started offering its very flexible Virtual Ticket, a standalone project management application, in the late 1990s. It created a virtual job ticket that would allow for a replacement of the existing paper-based job tickets and included the added value of automation of many scheduling and management tasks.

    Since then, MetaCommunications has added Digital Storage Manager, a DAM application; Approval Manager, a soft proofing application; and Job Manager, an estimating and cost accounting application. More recently, the company combined its standalone applications into Workgroups DaVinci, which offers a more complete project management and automation solution. It has been designed to allow flexibility in workflow design and integration.

    While each of these systems offer the tools to build a workflow, these same tools can also help you build efficient or inefficient solutions. In the end, you still need to understand what you want to accomplish and find the most effective way to achieve it. These systems are only tools that can be used to ‘help’ you transform and automate your production workflows. Ultimately, you need an effective plan to start with, or you wind up automating an inefficient workflow and gaining very little. Ideally, working with experienced ‘change agents’ and taking cues from best of breed operations is the best way to proceed.

    So what are you to do? You can continue to have multiple detached workflow silos, that cost more to operate and make it more difficult to train staff to manage, or you can implement alternatives that allow you to build custom bridges among all of your disparate workflows.

    As I discussed in the last article, many of the existing packaged workflows supplied with your equipment offer ways to bridge through the use of hot folders, but that is a fairly limited option. Some bridging can occur with the integration of compatible MIS/ERP systems, especially those with strong planning and scheduling functions, although getting this to work in a disparate process environment is no small challenge, if even possible.

    However, after many years of addressing process efficiency in plants around the globe, I believe that in the absence of a single all-encompassing workflow solution that can automate all of your disparate equipment and processes, the answer is that you need to find the best way to bridge the individual best-of-breed pieces into a more flexible and complete best-of-breed solution that specifically addresses your environment.

    In the next article, I will look at some of the other workflow components that can add efficiency and added value to your production workflows, and talk about how you can begin to look at connecting them all together.

    Remember, if you have any topics you think are important and would like us to cover during the balance of this series, please let us know.

    David Zwang, travels around the globe helping companies increase their operational productivity, margins and market reach. With over 40 years of industry experience, David specializes in process analysis and strategic development for firms in the fields of publishing, design, premedia, and printing.

    You can contact David via email at david@zwang.com.

  • How to grow with workflow – David L. Zwang

    North American print expert, David Zwang, investigates workflow systems, what they encompass, and what you need to pay attention to as you review them – all of this done with an eye toward building a flexible platform upon which to grow.

    In the last article, we looked at how many of the equipment manufacturers have designed their DFE offerings, and some of the included components. But if DFEs are designed to control a specific device, how do we manage and control the overall workflow that can include many DFEs and the associated devices from disparate manufacturers? And more importantly, how do you do this in a way that allows you to optimize your plant manufacturing capabilities, while ensuring that you have the flexibility to continue to change as future requirements change?

    I guess the first question is; what is a workflow? Back in the mid 1990s when CTP started to proliferate, vendors started to market ‘workflow systems.’ Unfortunately, each one of them had a different view on what a workflow system really was. At that time, out of frustration and curiosity, I decided to create a base model of all of the potential tasks that a CTP workflow could include.

    Subsequently, in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s we reviewed and compared most of the workflow systems available at that time against the base model and published the results in the Seybold Report. It was an important step since it provided each of the solution developers a way to begin to focus and measure their products. This model, in many respects the predecessor to the PRIMIR Transformational Workflow model highlighted earlier in the series, is broken into three sections.

     

    • Production Tasks, which include the granular production operations;
    • Production Management Tasks, which comprises the necessary operations to manage and control the Production Tasks; and
    • Business Management Tasks, which include the operations that are needed to bridge the business requirements with the production requirements.

     

    Trying to include many if not most of these tasks in a solution became the goal of many of the manufacturers, and you can see some of this in the DFE and workflow offerings available today.  In many respects, they mimic the earlier CTP workflow systems. However, while this may have made sense when CTP was the core of a prepress plant workflow, today with the addition of many disparate digital print, cross-media, and other output production requirements, there is a need for a new look at how this model or a new model should be applied to product offerings and plant implementations. Ultimately the workflow needs to be the hub, not the device.

    As I alluded to in the last article on DFEs, perhaps it has to start with a reevaluation of what a DFE needs to support in the context of the broader workflow with today’s new requirements. If we were to extract the relevant operational tasks from the above model, the DFE could be something simple like this basic RIP.

    But this really isn’t completely adequate to address all of the needs of a DFE. What about inter-process communication, and device-dependent operations like color management, preflight, trapping, imposition, VDP, etc. So perhaps it should look more like this?

    Of course, since a DFE is by its nature a device dependent solution, some of these operations may be unnecessary, and it’s ultimate construction can and should vary based on the specific device requirements. The key here is not to include more than is necessary. Once the operations in the DFE start to expand beyond the device requirement workflow and move into the territory of the plant workflow, you could wind up with operational feature redundancy which can add cost, confusion, create production silos and inconsistencies in output from different devices, etc.

    The specific designation of operations and roles between the DFE and the plant workflow are increasingly the key to successful process automation and greater plant flexibility. It’s not that you can’t create an efficient automated plant workflow with bulked up DFE systems or even some of the tightly controlled device vendor based workflow systems; it just adds an unnecessary level of waste or complexity to the final solution.

    Since a workflow is really about building touch points for a series of operations, we need to look at the primary clients of those operations. There are two separate parallel, but sometimes interconnected, data streams in a production workflow: production data, and production files. There can also be a third if there is variable data involved. To achieve maximum success in building a forward- facing automated workflow, you need to have a solution that will support each of these data streams and provide for the interaction of the results with the other data streams as needed. This requires an open workflow with good inter-application communication capabilities and good, open, applications to process the data streams.

    These ideal workflow and application candidates can come bundled in a comprehensive solution, or can come as separate components that you can select and build to meet your individual plant and process requirements. In the next article we will look at some representative samples of the currently available comprehensive workflow systems and some of their features.

    Remember, if you have any topics you think are important and would like us to cover during the balance of this series, please let us know!

    David Zwang, travels around the globe helping companies increase their productivity, margins and market reach. With over 40 years of industry experience, David specializes in process analysis and strategic development for firms in the fields of publishing, design, premedia, and printing.

    You can contact David via email at david@zwang.com.

  • Keeping up with the times: transforming and automating Workflows – David L. Zwang

    Automation and workflow technologies are becoming increasingly vital for printing industry players competing in a market with tight margins and stiff competition. In a new monthly series of articles by long-time industry consultant, David L. Zwang, the processes and products that can lead to the positive transformation of a print company’s workflows and business are brought into focus with the aim of preparing printers for the new challenges ahead. 

    In this month’s article, Zwang (pictured) lays out the key steps necessary to prepare for a successful transformation. While it is important to look toward the final destination goal, without a map delineating the best path to achieve that goal, there are many more pitfalls along the way and unseen problems in the future.

    Transforming and Automating Workflows:  Preparation is paramount

    The technologically driven changes in communications and market distribution have placed new demands on print and publishing service providers. These demands include cost and turn time pressures, new vertical integration requirements, and a host of new required services. While the state of the market and some of the newly required tools are starting to find some balance, most service providers have not made the necessary internal changes to adapt. Those who have will prosper, and those who have not will continue to struggle.

    As a service business, your company is measured every day by many things. However, ultimately it is measured by your ability to deliver on a set of expectations. At times, that means doing whatever is necessary. As you all know, this can even get a bit ugly at times, but if you deliver on those expectations, and the client doesn’t see what goes on behind the curtain, it all works. However, this approach is a stopgap measure that usually results in slow bleeding and the ultimate weakening of companies that choose to take this path.

    This approach is also not the best way to look at transforming your business. Some companies think that ‘plugging holes’ in workflow by throwing people at it or making a quick hardware or software purchase are good solutions, and even transformational. Of course, this is perceived as the easy way, and if you can afford it, shopping for ‘stuff’ is probably fun as well. However, while these actions may provide some short-term benefit, it isn’t usually the best long-term strategy.  Especially with the direction print and mobile media has been heading, it is time to step back and look at what you have and where you are going. It is time to stop the bleeding and begin to gain the benefits that a truly automated workflow can bring.

    So what are the steps necessary to begin the process of business transformation? While we will look at individual process tasks, requirements, some solutions and success stories throughout this series, there are a few key questions that need to be answered before you can begin a successful transformation process.

    Where are you now?

    This first step is critical, since your goal for the transformation process will be to develop a roadmap of where you need to go and how to get there, and you must start from your current position. It is very important to fully understand where you are and what tools and skills you have to work with before you proceed.

    You must start with a process map. Look at the all of the tasks from your customer-facing processes to order entry through delivery and billing. You should also extend this analysis even further to business development. Usually the best approach is to start by creating two workflow maps. One, map shows production flow and the other map shows the business transaction flow. In an ideal world, there are many intersections between the two, but it is usually easier to draw them separately and then look at where they currently intersect. The following is an example of a very basic flow that shows both production and business transaction. While this diagram is rather simple, each of the task boxes in the diagram can actually have a workflow of its own, which would also need to be detailed. That being said,  it is always good to start simply and then expand on the detail. And don’t forget that throughout the entire process, “the devil is in the details.”.

    What do you want to be when you grow up?

    The next step is to think about where your business is today, and where you would like it to be over the next 5 to 10 years. While it is always good to build new service offerings to support your existing client base, new services and new markets can also offer many great opportunities to acquire new customers as well as to gain more “share of wallet” from existing customers. And some of these new revenue streams can be built off of the strengths of your existing business team. Most businesses think it’s a luxury to spend the time looking ahead, while in fact it’s really a critical step in the ultimate survival and long-term growth of a business. Taking the time to go through this investigative step can provide real benefits in the needed transformation process and in growing your business. The other reason this step is important is that it can have both short- and long-term effects on your ultimate workflow designs and purchasing decisions. It can also earn you some short-term benefits that only require changes in process where you find inefficiencies, and these can often add up to a big impact on your bottom line. Keep in mind that workflow in many businesses evolved over time in a random sort of way. A problem arose, and a change in process was put in place to address that problem.  Over time, this can result in unnecessarily complicated processes and procedures that have a negative impact on both your business and the perception of customers.

    Completion of the first two steps allows you to begin to create a plan of attack.

    What are the missing pieces?

    Once you have addressed the first two questions, you are in a position to identify the missing pieces required to get you to your end-point vision and look at possible solutions. These pieces can include skill sets, infrastructure requirements, software and hardware tools, processes, etc. This step should not be rushed. Too often companies are convinced by vendors that they have the ultimate solution that will address all of the problems now and in the future. However, the reality is that any solution can be force fit to make it workable, but this approach will likely not offer the longer-term flexibility you need in any future process or business changes; they are simply more stopgap measures piled on top of those that might already be in place. Taking the time to investigate, and discussing your thoughts with internal staff, business partners, clients, and outside consulting resources will help you make the right decisions. When looking at solutions, it is also very important to look closely at the company who is selling them. Are they financially stable? Do they have a growth plan of their own, and does it track your needs? Do they have a history of delivering innovative solutions, keeping them up to date and well supported? Are they someone who you can trust to be there and work with you for the long haul, or are they in it for short-term gain?  We will get into this much deeper in future articles, when we start to look at how you can begin to evaluate your choices in each area.

    How can you get from here to there, and still maintain flexibility for the unexpected?

    First of all, it is important to realize that you don’t need to attack the whole plan at one time. That’s why creating future workflow maps similar to the current maps previously discussed are also critical. The process of creating these future workflow maps helps you identify the benefits, visualize the tasks ahead, gauge your progress, and identify the best pieces to attack and in which order. During your investigations, you will undoubtedly find some “low hanging fruit,” things that can be addressed quickly, easily, and with minimal expense. They should be identified and evaluated for immediate action. Even if these do not find their way into the final plan, they are likely to offer some significant short-term gain, or just help show the staff that you are serious about change. In any transformation, the technology and processes are usually fairly easy to implement; getting the staff on board and working with you is always the tougher part. So being sensitive to this, and establishing a top down directive from the beginning, is another key to a successful transformation.

    In the next article in the series, we will look at business and production infrastructures, and some of the products and services that can be used to develop a forward thinking infrastructure. If you have any topics you think are important and would like us to cover, please let us know!

    David Zwang, travels around the globe helping companies increase their productivity, margins and market reach. With over 40 years of industry experience, David specializes in process analysis and strategic development for firms in the fields of publishing, design, premedia, and printing.

    Please contact him at david@zwang.com