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Need To Know

Workflow Solutions

As prices come down and availability increases, the chances are you already have a workflow solution—but is it working as well as it should? Catherine Carter looks at what you should expect

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Connecting the dots

It is undeniable that there are a range of challenges facing the UK print industry, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is difficult trading conditions and a changing sector-specific climate that creates an environment where it becomes not just survival of the fittest, but of the most adaptable. With this in mind there are a range of technologies being developed that can help your company remain in trim. Indeed, Tangent PLC, an operation with £22m annual turnover, used to have the same problem as many other UK printers: identifying the best way to cost effectively and efficiently produce an increasing number of short-run jobs, while managing a broadening customer base. 

Processing more than 2,500 orders a day across multiple product lines, the company identified that streamlining its workflow system would enable it to achieve this objective, choosing Enfocus Switch 11 as the platform to do the work. 

Now all the businesses under the group umbrella of Tangent—Goodprint.co.uk, Printed.com, Smileprint.co.uk, Ravensworth, Tangent Snowball and Tangent on Demand—have a streamlined and automated workflow. 

Brian North, Tangent’s group work-flow specialist, comments: “We had been utilising various different solutions, but the sheer volume and complexity of traffic meant we had to reconsider what we were doing and find a single solution that could support the entire group.

The workflow market is now mature for some, but not all. Some users that invested in systems over the past 10 to 15 years are now on their second or even third workflow incarnation

“There are more improvements to come but there is no question that we are in a much better position today than we were twelve months ago, so for us Switch has been a great investment.”

Enfocus Switch 11 is designed to automate as many repetitive operations as possible, freeing users to spend their time on more productive activities. 

Tangent’s uses of Switch includes preflighting, file conversion, and the correction of files. Switch also auto-mates the process of building JDF job tickets and integrates with various databases to combine the necessary information into an XML template. It has reportedly allowed the company to transform what was a collection of often disconnected processes into a seamless unified workflow across multiple company and partner locations.

Another important factor was scalability and flexibility, as North explains: “We didn’t want to get tied into anything proprietary or that was incompatible with our publishing systems, our production devices, or anything else we might introduce in the future.”

Fragmented workflow

Kodak’s Prinergy Connect solution is designed to give good visibility of costs and
productivity

It is this fragmented approach to workflow that Mark Anderton, managing director of Color Engine, UK supplier of Enfocus solutions, says is a key consideration for companies who want to invest in more effective solutions, but already have systems in place. 

He explains: “The workflow market is now mature for some, but not all. Some users that invested in systems over the past 10 to 15 years are now on their second or even third workflow incarnation.” 

Anderton highlights three areas that are driving investment in such technology. The first centres on factors that are now directly influencing the value of the print market such as the internet, social media, digital presses, printing standards, apps and mobile devices; the second is the need to reduce staff costs as turnover decreases for many firms; and the third is that workflow systems have become easier to use—this has meant the business benefits are better understood and more accessible, resulting in more affordable implementation costs.

This last point is one which Kodak’s marketing manager, UK and Nordics, Dave McGuiness, agrees with. He explains that this technology bracket has matured considerably: “A good workflow will start in the planning and quotation stage, by connecting to an intelligent MIS system and preparing the job folder. 

A good workflow will start in the planning and quotation stage, by connecting to an intelligent MIS system and preparing the job folder

“Then it will offer an online sub-mission portal for customers to upload through and in return publish online proofs for approval. Once everything is ready the MIS will work in conjunction with the workflow system to produce the job, while having constant reports back to the systems on job status and any problems.”

It is with these elements in mind that Kodak developed its Prinergy system, describing it as taking, ‘prepess out of the prepress department’. 

McGuiness continues: “Most importantly, a good workflow gives visibility of costs and productivity to the people that matter. The versatility of a system enables jobs to be directed to many output devices—digital, conventional and wide-format—with minor intervention. Workflow is like air traffic control, in that it performs an incredible job that everyone takes for granted and only complains about when something goes wrong.” 

File management

Canon’s PRISMAaccess 5.2 allows for up to five web servers to be connected to
your central hub. The system is designed to allow a business to expand its
requirements, with no disruption to service, as its customer base increases

Antony White, Canon Europe European and UK product business developer, says that while it is getting easier to create digital jobs, the quality of files is often not great because the print knowledge of end-users can be limited, meaning more work is required at the pre-flight and pre-press stages. Documents are often published in multiple channels, with more jobs including variable data, making imposition and finishing more complex. 

White continues: “Workflow systems typically have reporting capabilities that are often under-utilised by print providers, but which, if correctly configured, can give valuable insights into the operational opportunities and challenges which print providers face.

“When linked with MIS/ERP systems, data can be used in real-time to improve decision making.”

Canon’s PRISMA Suite of software includes PRISMAaccess and PRISMA-prepare, for the cut-sheet market, and PRISMAproduction for continuous feed presses. It has recently been upgraded with UI enhancements, making the systems easier and more intuitive. Alternatively, there is COSMOS developed by Océ Project House, while Canon also distributes EFI Digital StoreFront and Fiery Central software suites—EFI has recently launched the SAAS and Essential version of Digital StoreFront. 

Workflow systems typically have reporting capabilities that are often under-utilised by print providers, but which, if correctly configured, can give valuable insights into the operational opportunities and challenges which print providers face

Craig Bretherton, KBA’s technical sales support manager for sheetfed presses, advises that to achieve accuracy automatic feedback from a piece of equipment is vital. 

He comments: “The saying goes ‘if you do not measure it, it cannot be controlled’; if your processes are not logical and related to the next task downstream you could be generating waste in time and materials, instead of contributing to the business.” 

The saying goes ‘if you do not measure it, it cannot be controlled’; if your processes are not logical and related to the next task downstream you could be generating waste in time and materials, instead of contributing to the business

KBA’s LogoTronic Professional will automatically capture 4,000 signals— such as blanket washing or plate changing, plus any customised event a client wishes to install—from a press, and these signals can be exported into a JDF/JMF enabled MIS system through the supplied interface. 

“KBA is the only manufacturer to include the interface that provides a gateway to communication, with third party MIS systems as part of their basic package,” continues Bretherton, adding: “A fully enabled JDF system removes the ambiguity and reduces the opportunity for choices to be made; it allows very detailed reports on all activities captured by the press. This can be a very effective motivational tool to drive performance up and ensure delivery dates can be met. Unnecessary overtime or overproduction can be eliminated.” 

He concludes: “The reductions in waste from all processes, however small, can be seen as ‘free money’ for a company.”

Workflow evolution

Heidelberg’s research highlights there has been a significant rise in companies
extending their workflow into the finishing area and looking at adding web-to-print

Heidelberg’s Prinect workflow solutions ensure integrated production and MIS is now the norm, with data transfer and information transparency throughout the print business.  

Lance O’Connell, Heidelberg business manager, comments: “In the last year we have seen a significant rise in companies extending their workflow into the finishing area and looking at adding web-to-print.

“Our workflows are constantly evolving,” he adds, referencing the addition of Analyze Point, a reporting tool offered as an option with Pressroom or Postpress Manager, to deliver real-time, real life key-performance-indicators (KPIs).

Indeed, such has been the growth in capability of such technology, that Kevin O’Donnell, marketing manager of graphic communications at Xerox UK, describes the current print production environment and the launch of Xerox’s FreeFlow Core as, ‘a perfect storm of opportunity’.

Ease-of-use—and through that delivering shorter runs, and faster turnarounds that are consistently error free—is the essence to me of the new world of digital workflow

He adds: “Automation tends to require some human intervention, but with FreeFlow Core we are putting in levels of intelligence where workflow starts making decisions. To do that we need to reach into the client’s back office and integrate into the printer’s existing workflows. One example is XML translator, where anything XML driven can be integrated seamlessly easily. With FreeFlow Core, workflow starts to become not just a process 
tool, but a marketing tool—it is more client-facing to improve production, handle more jobs, or win new business.”

O’Donnell concludes: “Ease-of-use—and through that delivering shorter runs, and faster turnarounds that are consistently error free—is the essence to me of the new world of digital workflow.”

Remote control

Kodak marketing manager for UK and Nordics, Dave McGuiness, says workflow
solutions have matured considerably

Remote proofing is another capability offered by comprehensive workflow solutions. This enables printing operations to be more efficient and cut costs, as John Davies, workflow business strategy manager for Fujifilm Europe, explains: “With our XMF Remote, jobs can be approved, rejected or have comments added at any stage, even on android mobile and tablet devices, making reviewing of jobs fast, simple and easy. This is practical, but the functionality also creates a positive perception of the printing operation as a technologically astute business.” 

He goes on to describe how the software is also helping operations make significant structural changes: “Not long ago the sales team would have won the work and then informed the prepress department. Now those two roles are blending into one and workflow is enabling that.”

Gareth Parker, strategic marketing manager at Ricoh UK, picks up on this point and highlights staff training and a comprehensive knowledge of new software as being critical to success in today’s print industry: “Not just the ‘how to use it’, but the ‘why we now have it’—meaning how it fits into the company’s plans and why it is required for the future.”

Workflow is about technology and people, so assessing current skills levels, including ‘hot spots’ for improvement and further understanding amongst employees, and then educating them well at the beginning, will have a much more positive impact on the balance sheet

Ricoh is set to bring its new MarcomCentral system to the table to provide a solution to these issues, which will be commercially available in late 2013. The SaaS-based product will essentially allows companies to build and store print and non-print based assets, such as logos and marketing kits, from a centralised site. 

Parker continues: “Workflow is about technology and people, so assessing current skills levels, including ‘hot spots’ for improvement and further understanding amongst employees, and then educating them well at the beginning, will have a much more positive impact on the balance sheet.” 

He adds to this by emphasising that it is important to get the right solution from the start: “Workflow only helps ‘work flow’ if it is the right solution for the business and the demands of its customers. Have a process evaluation done of the incumbent system and what is needed from the next system to help the company run more efficiently and put it in a position to grow the business.”  

This issue of growth and flexibility is perhaps the most important of all when it comes to choosing a workflow solution and where to invest your hard-earned pennies; something that  Kodak’s McGuiness picks up on when he explains the key requirements of workflows for modern print businesses: “Build for the future. A good system will need to change and diversify as the customer grows or changes their business model. Make sure it has good automation and can be expanded as demand grows.”

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