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Keep it CIMple

Aug 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) can be defined as the integrated use of computers in manufacturing and other business processes, such as sales, finance, management and distribution. The primary theme of CIM is to deploy systems that can be accessed by employees across the company, from design and development to manufacturing, distribution, billing and post-sale relationship support.

Making a case for CIM
Although CIM has been around for more than 30 years, it has been seriously considered as a method for improvement in the printing industry only recently. Early adopters have discovered benefits such as improved productivity, reduced waste and overruns, and streamlined internal and external communications. These savings prove CIM isn’t just hype—there’s a compelling business case for implementing it.

CIM is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It can be implemented in stages as budget and time allow. But it’s important to identify areas where CIM can benefit your operation today and where it can take your company in the future. Implementing certain aspects of CIM might require some changes in business practices. Automating pressroom instructions, for example, might require more detailed production-planning knowledge from personnel and front office systems.

Implementing CIM in an organization that hasn’t employed these processes and methodologies previously can be challenging. Misconceptions include the following:

Myth 1: CIM for print is impossible.
Many printers already have implemented CIM. It is easy to find printing companies that have implemented software for:

  • ISO 9000 documentation using an Intranet.
  • Production planning.
  • Print MIS for estimating and costing.
  • Digital workflow (especially PDF).
  • Color management.
  • Automated ink key presets.
  • Shop-floor data collection.
  • Computerized bindery setups.
Contrary to popular belief, employing computers and software to accomplish these tasks is CIM, and almost all of these things are possible with existing presses (i.e., without replacing major capital investments). Although this is not the pinnacle for your operation in terms of CIM, if you have these things, it’s a step in the right direction. Even if you have only one or two of them, you are well on your way.

The relative hype about JDF, as well as the general misunderstanding of exactly what CIM is, are two reasons why some people overlook CIM’s building blocks.

Myth 2: CIM makes every company the same.
It has been said that in the printing industry, improvements in productivity and operating efficiency do not produce sustainable competitive advantages, in part because productivity and operating efficiencies are relatively easy to duplicate. But process improvements can’t be implemented with the flip of a switch—it’s impossible to reap CIM’s benefits simply by buying a certain machine. Not every company in the printing industry will have the leadership and motivation to implement CIM.

But it’s important to understand what’s at stake. If you don’t implement CIM, you won’t be able to produce the quality that customers demand at the cost required to be profitable.

Myth 3: You can’t implement CIM without JDF.
Although many new CIM solutions are enabled by CIP4’s Job Definition Format (JDF), most CIM concepts and technologies don’t require JDF for the user to see major improvements.

JDF is emerging as an important way to allow equipment and software to share information for a more streamlined production process. JDF is important today and will certainly be important tomorrow, but without taking a hard look at your current process and identifying CIM implementation benefits, you won’t be able to take advantage of the interoperability and automation that JDF will provide.

Myth 4: CIM only addresses the shop floor.
CIM is a broader concept than just shop-floor productivity. The concepts of CIM represent an enterprise improvement thought process, which will help your entire operation become more efficient and profitable.

Myth 5: Printers won’t change to embrace CIM.
Successful printers have embraced change from the very beginning, with Gutenberg, and continuing through Linotype, offset lithography, optical and computer typesetting, digital workstations and desktop publishing advances such as the Macintosh, PostScript and PDF. With every new technology, the adoption is quicker. PDF took almost 12 years to become a ubiquitous standard. JDF has been clearly defined only since 2004, and it is taking hold much more quickly.

Myth 6: Printers don’t have the skill sets or motivation to implement CIM.
In every industry, some companies are adverse to change on the grounds that existing methodologies work "just fine" for their business goals. If you want your company to grow and thrive, however, you certainly don’t lack the motivation to be successful with CIM. Training and a lot of reading will almost certainly be necessary to get everyone up to speed. If leadership is present, and there is buy-in from key managers and operational personnel, printers can be successful with CIM.

Myth 7: You have to replace existing equipment to implement CIM.
Many CIM concepts require little more than a computer with a spreadsheet application. While users can maximize their productivity by using new equipment with JDF-enabled software to achieve the highest level of automation, older equipment can be retrofitted to reap some of these benefits. MAN Roland, for example, has stated that all of the company’s sheetfed presses manufactured after 1995 can be upgraded with its PECOM system, which provides JDF connectivity.

Older equipment also can be "connected" using technologies such as EFI’s Auto-Count system, which provides a direct machine interface (DMI) to the presses, allowing press productivity and waste to be monitored and controlled. Using this technology, managers don’t have to rely on press operators—whose first priority is to run a press—to do paperwork and fill out time sheets when they get a chance. The data integrity provided by DMI makes sure the numbers are right and lets the operators focus on more important qualitative issues, such as achieving color. Although DMI technologies only address one part of the overall shop-floor CIM equation, they can provide a substantial profitablity enhancement. It is not unusual for paper costs to be reduced five to 10 percent almost immediately by implementing this type of technology, resulting in an immediate ROI.

Although some CIM components don’t require additional investments, other parts of the CIM puzzle include tools such as print-management information systems (MIS) and accompanying databases, dynamic scheduling, automated prepress workflows, automatic download of press settings, networked interoperability between machines, and customer-facing systems, such as job submission and soft proofing.

Nonetheless, equipment isn’t always the first place to look for improvement. Although it is compelling to look at big capital expenditures first, there are other ways to improve efficiency, profitability and differentiation. Once you start streamlining your own (and your customers’) activities, solutions will become more apparent.

JDF & CIM: What’s the difference?
JDF is an XML-based specification. It provides a common framework for systems to communicate with one another and describe work processes. JDF enables CIM solutions because it allows different equipment and software programs to share information for more streamlined production. Without examining your current process and taking advantage of process improvements going into a CIM implementation, you won’t be able to reap the benefits of the interoperability and automation JDF will provide.

We’re going to see more applications emerging that employ JDF in ways that help users—in both print buying and printing companies—expand their capabilities to become more efficient and profitable by producing more work faster with the same or less labor.

M&Ms, the Internet and mass customization
By Katherine O’Brien

At first glance, CIM seems incompatible with the printing industry. Print is a custom manufacturing environment—every job is different. CIM is built on rigorous process controls—it involves continous quality and productivity improvement, decreasing waste and extensive data measurement, reporting and analysis. Nonetheless, it is possible to computerize print’s highly customizable process. "Tradtionally, low cost and customization have been mutually exclusive," explains EFI’s Chuck Gehman. "Mass production provided low cost, but at the expense of uniformity. Today, technologies like the Internet allow customers to interact with companies to specify unique requirements which are then manufactured by automated systems."

To underscore this point at EFI’s recent Connect Users’ Conference, Gehman distributed small bags of customized M&Ms. A website,, facilitates mass customization, even for small quantities. Buyers simply click a button to choose their candies’ color and enter the desired personalization. Similarly, Web-to-print solutions ensure that printers are no longer spending $45 of time to enter a $100 job in their MIS. EFI’s Web-enabled solutions—including Printchannel, EFI PrinterSite Exchange and PrinterSite Fulfillment—bring CIM’s benefits to job submission, production and business management. These tools provide simple interfaces that allow print customers to log on to branded print-ordering interfaces, view PDF proofs of their documents for immediate review and approval and enter job specifications for production and finishing. E-commerce capabilities let customers actually buy their jobs online.

EFI PrinterSite Exchange lets printers deploy branded storefront Web sites—Version 2.5 includes new Remote Print Center worfkflow integration, JDF-based job tickets and visual job tickets, variable-data capabilities and enhanced PrintMessenger PDF-generating drivers. Benefits reportedly include streamlined estimating and order input as well as cost savings due to reduced or eliminated prepress labor.

Printchannel—an EFI Web-based ordering solution for variable-data printers—now packs a powerful mailing-list ordering module. Working with USADATA (New York), EFI now provides direct list integration, enabling users to order an entire direct-mail campaign using corporate-approved mailers and lists in minutes. For more information, see

Katherine O’Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

Get the rest of story
Portions of this article are based on material from Chuck Gehman’s "Computer Integrated Manufacturing: Realizing the Benefits." The book is the first of a two-volume series intended to help printers achieve new levels of operational efficiency, flexibility and profitability. In addition to "Overcoming the Myths of CIM for Print," topics include:

  • Quality Systems: ISO 9000, Six Sigma and total quality management.
  • Manufacturing systems: lean manufacturing, just-in-time and lean Six Sigma.
  • CIM Gurus: Deming, Goldratt and Arielli.
  • Managing costs: budgeted hourly rates, activity-based costing and balanced scorecard.
  • CIM and print MIS systems.
  • JDF: standards-based CIM for print.
For ordering information, see

Chuck Gehman is director of product marketing for EFI. He is active in industry associations and standards groups, serving as chairman of the Digital Smart Factory Committee of the R&E Council of NAPL and on the board of TAGA, the Technical Assn. of the Graphic Arts. Contact him at