By Cassandra Balentine
The ability for equipment to communicate with each other is a complex, but necessary function for automated print settings. This is particularly important for digital environments where print providers must remain profitable on more frequent, shorter run work. Production workflow solutions help facilitate automation and many equipment providers offer tools to optimize equipment for seamless production.
Production workflow solutions bring automation, efficiency, cost control, and data analysis to print environments.
To determine the best workflow tools for your particular environment, Bryan Hughes, product marketing manager, workflow products, Fujifilm North America, Graphic Systems Division, suggests examining how jobs flow through the operation, identifying the choke points, and working to automate or improve them. “Companies that specialize in a few things have a better chance of building automation,” he offers.
Fujifilm offers multiple workflow products for print providers depending on the vertical including Fujifilm ColorPath color management software.
Automation is in demand. Workflow solutions that provide automation increase visibility, efficiency, productivity, and cost control. Lisa Weese, director of marketing, Production Print Solutions, Canon Solutions America, says cost controls happen by including piece-level document tracking, closed-loop reprints, and regulatory compliance reporting. “Generally speaking, automation products help reduce touch points and errors in the print process while making the entire production more streamlined.”
Bob Albright, solutions manager, Connex Workflow System, Muller Martini Corporation, adds that automation can simplify the data input process, which helps operators eliminate set-up errors. This practice is especially valuable for shorter run jobs.
Albright adds that some users are only interested in data analysis, which enables increased performance. This is typically used for longer run jobs.
Muller Martini’s Connex Workflow System is designed to eliminate bottlenecks caused by the variabilities inherent in digital and hybrid print production. The Connex Workflow system is compatible with most major print engines and consists of three scalable modules—Connex.Info 4.0, Connex LineControl, and Connex LineControl Pro.
“With the functionality to send preset data to the press console, makeready times and paper waste are reduced during production runs. This same tool also give our users the ability to evaluate the production data from all connected presses and color measuring systems with informative reports,” explains Dawn Lindsey, Prinect product manager, Heidelberg USA.
Heidelberg’s Prinect is a suite of software tools needed to run a print facility. It was developed as an all-encompassing solution that includes production workflow, MIS, as well as business intelligence under a simple subscription model.
Production workflow tools are available from many sources, including original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). When investing in a new device it is important to consider workflow upfront. Many OEMs are invested in workflow and offer their own solutions as well as vetted third-party options.
Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing, Agfa, points out that in some cases, the OEM may develop software solutions that provide functionality not available in third-party solutions.
Agfa’s Apogee Prepress is a PDF workflow platform and control center with integrated preflight, imposition, color management, and rendering to a range of output devices. The Apogee Digital Print Link interfaces to all major digital front ends to drive cutsheet and roll-fed digital presses.
“Not only do equipment providers acutely understand the correlation between machine and workflow, they know that their customers are often faced with uncertainty in terms of who is responsible for what,” offers Albright.
Weese says Canon is in a prime position to promote software into a marketplace with a true need for short-run digital print workflow management and automation—namely the book manufacturing and commercial print digital markets.
Canon Solutions America offers a range of workflow products featuring integrated options for job creation, prepress, production, and delivery. These scalable, modular systems are configured to meet a print provider’s needs now and in the future. It offers both proprietary solutions developed by Canon Solutions America, including the comprehensive PRISMA Suite, Conveyance, and variety of partner solutions proven to work with its production print presses.
Jana Tarazi, director, professional services, software and solutions, Commercial & Industrial Printing Group, Ricoh USA, believes that due to long-term alliances with customers, OEMs have an intimate understanding of how the larger print and communications ecosystem works, particularly the role that software plays within it.
Ricoh’s workflow offerings focus on supporting the best solution for the environment. Available workflow products from Ricoh include Ricoh ProcessDirector, TotalFlow Prep, TotalFlow Production Manager, RICOH Supervisor, and MarcomCentral FusionPro.
Adding to Tarazi’s sentiment, Lindsey notes that Heidelberg is experienced in all areas of print production so its experts look at the entire picture. “We’re able to assist in improving their entire business and not just one aspect of it.”
Workflow should constantly be re-evaluated. This is especially true when bringing new equipment in house.
“During the sales cycle it can sometimes be challenging to convince customers that they should review their current workflow as part of the overall printing solution being discussed,” admits Weese. “Some customers see workflow as a separate discussion, but it really should be given the same consideration. An excellent time to do this is while evaluating an investment in printing equipment.”
“Print providers with more complex needs may benefit from more robust software that can work across equipment from pre- to post-press,” says Don Dubuque, director of marketing, Standard Finishing Systems.
Standard offers three workflow products for its Standard Horizon solution—Horizon’s pXnet System and Ultimate Technographics’ Ultimate Bindery and Ultimate Impostrip. Additionally, the company recently previewed the new iCE-LiNK digital workflow software along with iCE Series three-side trimmer and perfect binder. The launch of the new tool and associated finishing devices are forthcoming.
Managing Pain Points
Workflow is a complex and often challenging area of print production.
Reducing touchpoints is a common goal for many. “Each touchpoint represents an interruption in the process that can cause errors, loss of time, and increased costs. Lack of efficiency leads to a higher cost per product and a lower profit margin,” says Lindsey.
Print providers can optimize production from start to finish by automating processes in both administration and production. By preventing workflow bottlenecks, productivity is increased, and capacity is unlocked.
One of the biggest challenge is deciding on the level of automation needed. “The customer must weigh that investment by understanding and analyzing his or her own workflows and job challenges. Some may decide that less automation is sufficient,” shares Albright.
He says the first step is for the customer to evaluate their actual productions and workflow and then analyze how many workflows there are and how they differentiate from one another. The second step would be to quantify the time and labor savings if the processes were automated.
Gallucci suggests that customer file issues consume too much of the print provider’s time. Color management and consistency are a real struggle, as is shared visual appearance across different print technologies. Further, order intake and communication are often overly complicated.
Weese agrees, noting that the rise of a higher quality level of inkjet capabilities has empowered print providers to react to market demand wanes or surges, distribute print faster, and develop new revenue streams producing work on demand using digital printers and eliminating the need for warehousing materials. “One of the biggest concerns when introducing digital print into a traditionally offset world is the difficulty of delivering files quickly and accurately and minimizing the influx in manual touchpoints of shorter run production to maintain profit margins,” she stresses.
To solve these challenges, preflight automation can save time and expense. Integrated, automated color management that provides support for not just ICC profiles, but also G7 calibration, custom color libraries, and custom spot color definitions per printing condition reduce color headaches and inconsistencies. Gallucci says tools that provide streamlined or automated order/file intake and remote approval help to improve customer service while eliminating touchpoints and automating communication.
Hughes believes that the size and scale of the operation have a lot to do with the challenges. “Overall creating ways for work to flow through the operation with the least amount of touch points is the challenge. The more jobs that can be automated means the skilled operators have more time to deal with jobs that require touches,” he offers.
In some cases, workflow provided by the equipment provider may not support third-party equipment. “If the print provider has or acquires equipment from other vendors they end up with multiple workflow solutions that may not be compatible and add expense and complexity to support,” shares Gallucci. He stresses that a third-party workflow supporting an array of digital front ends and equipment often is a simpler, and effective solution.
“There is no single issue that can be solved without first conducting an in-depth analysis of the workflow pain points and then evaluating the portfolio of solutions that are available to determine the right fit for a customer’s existing environment,” adds Weese.
“The integration of bindery automation and tracking solutions with MIS, imposition software, and the press can be overwhelming. It is a big undertaking for many print providers and many are wary of the scope of the initial setup of working equipment,” comments Dubuque.
To help alleviate this, he says it is important that print providers take automation from concept to experience and demonstrate to printers how easy finishing automation can be and how it can maximize efficiency.
Meeting Workflow Needs
Workflow tools are essential to production efficiency and accuracy. A variety of functions are available from a wide range of providers, including equipment vendors with proprietary or partner solutions. dps
Jul2020, DPS Magazine