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Need To Know

Workflow Software

These days, a modern print business cannot function without a good workflow system. Sophie Jones asks the industry professionals to break down the complex world of workflow software

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A logical equation

Chances are, these days, most large printers already employ some kind of workflow system. It is also true that a lot of smaller companies will still rely on customers sending their artwork across via email or file transfer systems and processing them individually by hand. There are obvious reasons as to why this is a time consuming method of pre-press production in a fast moving modern print world, but there is a lot more to know about the software that could persuade the smaller printer to make the investment.

There are a number of types of workflow software, which can be suitable dependant on the type of business you own. At the top end are the high end production workflow systems, touted by ‘the big five’—Agfa, Heidelberg, Fujifilm, Kodak, and Screen—which have been on the market almost uncontested until recently.

John Davies, manager of print production workflow solutions at Fujifilm, explains the role of the company’s XMF workflow: “It has an online portal called XMF remote, which is what printers use for their clients to submit work to be printed, and to approve, annotate, and release work for printing.

Fujifilm’s XMF remote is what printers use for their clients to submit work to be printed and is deliberately designed with an attractive, user-friendly interface

“The main workflow itself covers all the required print processes—pre-flighting, imposition, and colour management. Within that we use a lot of Adobe technology, not only the Adobe pdf engine for the RIP engine, but pretty much the whole suite of technology that Adobe makes available to developers.”

The big drive towards digital print was that it could do shorter runs at a more affordable price. The consequence of that means that they are having to manage more jobs at once

Davies makes the point that, a lot of workflow development has been related to the rise of digital printing. As he says: “The big drive towards digital print was that it could do shorter runs at a more affordable price. The consequence of that means that they are having to manage more jobs at once.

“If you go back 15 years or so, print jobs would have been in the tens of thousands. A printer may have spent a day printing two or three jobs. Today it is not unusual for a printer to process 30 or 40 jobs a day. It’s just a con-sequence of the technology allowing for short run printing, which is what the market was asking for.

“One of the benefits of using such an online system is because of the growing trend of print companies printing many more jobs but in shorter runs, essentially ending up with a lot more jobs live at any one time. So unless you’ve really got a system to help you attack and manage, it’s going to be left to whoever has the poison chalice of scheduling.” Davies continues: “People who don’t have this system still rely on picking up files through servers or through attachments in email and all communication back and for is via regular email as well so it takes a lot of time to actually understand what files have come in for the printing job, what have been approved, and what is ready to print. It’s all manageable without workflow systems, it just takes a lot, lot longer.”

A lot of what puts these companies off, Davies explains, is that the perceived idea of workflow software is that it is desperately complicated, very technical, and could put off potential customers. Not so, he argues: “When you look at our production products, they are quite technical because they are aimed to be used in a production environment. A print company needs to have all the tools available, and that does the job.

“If you go back 15 years or so, print jobs would have been in the tens of thousands. A printer may have spent a day printing two or three jobs. Today it is not unusual for a printer to process 30 or 40 jobs a day. It’s just a consequence of the technology allowing for short run printing, which is what the market was asking for," says Fujifilm's John Davies

“But for the web, we had to take into account that it is going to get frequently used by print buyers. We developed it with a completely separate user interface, based on HTML 5, so it’s very intuitive to use. We knew if we added complexity to that stage, then printers would see that it wasn’t much better than the way they were doing it before.”

Fujifilm’s current version of XMF now has a remote express mode, a stripped-down version of the software that can be used quickly and easily by customers.

The logic is, says Davies, that people who want one-off print orders will have no time or plan to get familiar with the system, so the more simple it can be, the more appealing it can be for customers.

The right choice

As you would expect, Nic Chapman of Prepress UK is an equally huge supporter of workflow software in the smooth running of a printing company. He says that a workflow has different levels of functionality: “What work-flow is supposed to do is to take artwork files form inDesign or Quark express, and rather than the pre-press operator having to manually look at that and pull it apart, the workflow should interrogate that file in pre-flight. It will have its images checked that they are the right resolution, that the correct fonts are there, that keylines aren’t too thin to be printed, that certain colours are correct, or that there aren’t two names for the same colour.

“When you’re selling a workflow that’s what you’re selling: that a printer may be spending this amount of money, but it’s going to save you hours and hours of work. In the old days before workflows came along you would get an artwork in and you’d have to pull it apart, and look at every photograph in it to make sure they were correct.”

Chapman, however, argues that the workflows available from the larger press manufacturers, though great for the large printer, are not always the right option for the smaller printer.

He says: “The above vendors (the big five) apart from Screen want to use their products to make their customers enter into plate deals as the way of funding the workflow and often be-cause of the cost involved, this is the only way that the printing company can move forward. Printing companies often resent being forced down this route but have no option.

Prepress UK’s Studio RIP workflow software offering is made for the smaller printer in mind, as a more affordable, customisable option

“Their advantages are that they are mature, well thought out products, and JDF compliant so they can integrate with MIS Systems and JDF data bases.

“Their disadvantage is that they are expensive to buy at around £20,000 and upwards, with expensive on-going support—£2,000 plus a year—and have regular expensive upgrades to buy. On top of that they are modular. So if you want CIP3, for example, its an extra £6,000, or if you want to add an extra output device you need to by an extra licence.”

He continues: “There is feeling from the typical jobbing printer that these big high end workflows and the companies that sell them do not under-stand the needs of the typical printer or understand the financial pressure they are under.”

Prepress’s software, argues Chap-man, is designed with the smaller printer in mind. He says: “Prepress UK sells a programme called Studio RIP workflow which varies from £8,500 to £10,000 depending on what add-ons you want. Its base price might be as little as £6,000.

“Our philosophy is to try and give more affordable products to the market place because these days, £25,000 is a lot of money for a printer. When they first came out there was a lot more money about. We try to create affordable products with much more affordable ongoing costs, so the service costs are much lower. The Studio RIP workflow is a good basic workflow.

“Apogee, for example, is sold in slightly different guises to all different printers. There are different modules you can buy. So if you are a magazine printer, you would need interfacing with MIS. The more expensive systems can integrate with MIS, for creating job cards and so on. The more expensive workflows do have a greater ability to do more, but a normal B2 printer wouldn’t need all those features.”

Cloud workflow

Another kind of workflow software is in the web-to-print market, helping print businesses who have online e-commerce sites. Lewis Annis, production print manager at Altodigital, explains: “Altodigital’s web-to-print software, Altodrive, powered by Infigo, is adaptable to smartphone and tablet devices, as well as PC-based computing, meaning documents can be printed anywhere, making it easy to work remotely.

“Using Altodrive, Altodigital can offer an online web-to-print store, into which branded templates can be placed, edited, managed and sent to print. This allows customers to personalise their own products—every-thing from business stationery to documents for meetings or lectures—from the platform.

Altodigital’s print production manager, Lewis Annis, says its Altodrive cloud workflow is intended to automate as much of the production process as possible

“This web-to-print software removes many traditional pain points, making the production of items far more efficient. Altodrive takes away the long process of quoting and subsequent amendments to an order as it allows the end user to make the adjustments as required and to bring in branding to the editing suite, making the process far more efficient in time and cost.”

Annis goes on to argue that printers really cannot compete in the current market without the latest tools at their fingertips, and skimping on software is not really an option.

O Factoid: One of the earliest usages of the term 'work flow' was in a railway engineering journal from 1921. O

He says: “The marketplace for printing is hugely challenging and there is a lot of competition, therefore even companies who have always considered themselves traditional print firms are seeing a huge increase in their digital business.

“Many industries are now also trying to go ‘paperless’ and while many will need, ultimately, to print something, work often needs to go through several stages first. Software like web-to-print allows all editing to be done online, via files being shared by multiple users across various locations, thus being efficient and retaining branding.”

Profit through technology

Another company that shares this attitude of equipping printers for the right tools to compete, is Transeo Media. Managing director Neil Bather explains why workflow software is an imperative for printers who deal in all kinds of production: “Our ethos at Transeo is automation of the printer’s workflow, whether receiving jobs via the internet in a web-to-print environment (Taopix and Amazing Print), delivering highly personalised marketing campaigns (DirectSmile Cross Media) or imposing the final jobs for the press or finishing line (Ultimate). Our portfolio of products is designed to increase workflow efficiency and drive profit through technology. ”

Transeo’s attitude is that the software should make production processes as ‘hands-off’ for the printer as possible. Bather continues: “For example, with our Photobook workflow, Taopix, the end user can design, order, and pay for their product all from an online template. The printer then receives a secure print ready file in the production queue with job ticket. 

“Another example is DirectSmile Cross Media. From one screen, users can create, test and schedule the campaign for distribution. The rest is automated, including tracking campaign responses and data capture, so no further interaction is needed. Automation positively impacts the bottom line, by creating a more efficient and streamlined workflow process.”

Fine margins

This reference to efficiency being improved through the use of software is a vital consideration for many larger print companies, as their margins are so tight and competition so tough that they need every weapon at their disposal. This is the exact trend that Agfa Graphics has seized upon with the development of its software platforms.

“When the workflow is optimized, tasks are automated and operations are streamlined. The staff is then free to be more proactive with clients, ” says Andy Grant, Agfa Graphics’ global head of software, who adds: “This ability to innovate your work, interact easier, and optimise customer relationships results in higher quality, more creativity and eventually increased profits. Optimising the workflow is no longer an option; it’s a requirement for gaining the efficiencies needed to improve the bottom line.”

(Above) “When the workflow is optimized, tasks are automated and operations are streamlined. The staff is then free to be more proactive with clients,” says Agfa’s Andy Grant

The Apogee Suite provides automatic optimization tools, like the ability to manage a hybrid workflow that spans offset, digital print, digital sign, and display. With its dedicated user interface and tool box for sign and display print applications, Apogee claims to be the first and only work-flow solution to integrate directly with wide-format inkjet engines. It also acts as a direct link to the digital front ends of EFI and CreoPOD which drive a variety of digital presses. Apogee can even redirect pages from an offset job to one of the digital presses to generate a proof. 

The system also covers the full spectrum of software applications in this area and can be scaled up from a core offering to cater for a range of operational needs for everything from small regional printers to multinational groups. Apogee Color automates tasks such as generating certified proofs or making colour quality adjustments when switching from one application to another. Apogee PreFlight enables dynamic job validation and correction and lets they operator make changes or perform updates while the job is in progress. With the latest JDF support, it also automatically sends setup and production feedback, including error reporting to MIS.

Neil Bather from Transeo Media is adamant that workflow software is a necessary way to stay competitive in an increasingly aggressive market

Apogee Plate-Maker is a dedicated solution for the plate making department which guarantees continuous plate production as it digitally buffers plates. As it connects with any CtP device, it analyses the workload and distributes work to the appropriate devices for maximized productivity at all times. As a founder of CIP4, Agfa Graphics is also responsible for the development of JDF, and Apogee was one of the first workflow management systems to support this system.

As a printer we can’t just provide print. The print industry is constantly changing and in order to survive you need to adapt

Workflow software is then, in essence, a tool to keep on top of production, allow printers more freedom to concentrate on the more complex parts of business, and to remain competitive in an ever accelerating industry.

The last word from Bather is directly from one of Transeo’s customers investing in its DirectSmile Cross Media solution, which sums up just how fast printers need to develop to keep up: “As a printer we can’t just provide print. The print industry is constantly changing and in order to survive you need to adapt. By offering new services and added-value solutions—such as integrated personalised campaigns—and taking care of data, it keeps our customers happy and loyal.”

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