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Calsonic's booming with CTP

May 1, 1996 12:00 AM

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Few industries are as competitive as is commercial printing in the United States. No matter where your company is located or which market niches it serves, there's always somebody trying to eat your lunch.

Given that, the folks at Calsonic Miura Graphics must be pretty hungry. Just barely five years old, this Irvine, CA-based printer already has crested the $17-million mark and is projecting $21 million in sales for 1996. From an initial staff of 30, Calsonic now has 115 employees working three shifts, seven days a week.

Specializing in automobile brochures, advertising collateral and annual reports, Calsonic Miura has quickly established itself as a player in the high-quality sheetfed printing arena. Among its clients are Nissan, Nintendo and Allergan, and 85 percent of its work is six- or seven-color jobs.

"From the start, our mission has been to go after the high end," explains Bob Butkins, vice president of manufacturing. "Quality is a key issue in terms of contribution and margins. There are higher margins serving this market segment."

Besides focusing on a niche market, managers at Calsonic Miura knew they had to offer something different than other high-end printers in the region. Interestingly, open systems and computer-to-plate (CTP) are part of its differentiation strategy.

"One reason why we're investing in the Creo Trendsetter is because the other big shops use proprietary workflows such as Scitex and Crosfield," Butkins notes. "We're concentrating on the Mac/PostScript environment by offering an open platform."

The approach seems to be working. With its sales growing by an average of 15 percent annually, Calsonic Miura has had to add capacity in all departments to stay on top of production. In the press-room, it is installing its second six-color 40-inch Mitsubishi 3F sheetfed press, complementing a seven-color 3F, a six-color 20 x 26-inch Komori Lithrone, as well as a two-color 19 x 25-inch Heidelberg MOZ-P perfector press. Further, Calsonic is about to take the leap into web printing with the installation of a six-color 38-inch Heidelberg Harris M-600 web at the end of the year.

To keep the cylinders spinning, Calsonic Miura managers knew they had to increase their platemaking capacity. And while the firm's existing DS PC 534 step-and-repeat system does a fine job, "it would have been foolish to buy another stepper," concedes Butkins.

With a reputation for being a technological innovator, investing in CTP reinforces Calsonic Miura's marketing strategy. "Customers see us as proactive," the vp of manufacturing relates. "There's no perceived value to our customers nor to us in adding more traditional platemaking capacity."

CTP also provides the means with which to prepare for future developments in printing technology. "The hardware you buy today should be based on the vision of where you want to be in five years. We're trying to set ourselves up for the next wave - direct to press - and computer to plate definitely is the way to go," Butkins asserts. "You'll only delay the learning curve if you wait for direct to press. There are so many workflow issues that are the same - such as imposition and digital proofing - that we will have addressed by moving to CTP now."

Not surprisingly, the company began investigating computer to plate some time ago. "We've been looking at CTP and digital proofing for about a year and a half now," Butkins points out. "It's a risk, but to contend as a market leader, you've got to take risks. We're getting into CTP at the proper time."

Butkins went to DRUPA and evaluated many of the digital platesetters. In addition, he surveyed the installed base of platesetters, noting that "the biggest and best publication printers" were using Creo systems.

Although the first generation of platesetters were geared toward large publication printers, Creo introduced the Trendsetter to serve the needs of the medium-size commercial printer. The Trendsetter makes plates ranging in any size from 15.5 x 20 inches to 32 x 44 inches in just four minutes at 2,400 dpi. This versatility enables it to produce plates for Calsonic's smaller sheetfed presses, as well as its 40-inch models and the 38-inch web that will soon be installed.

With resolutions up to 3,200 dpi and an optical registration system accurate to within 20 microns, the Trendsetter can easily meet Calsonic Miura's need for 240-line-screen plates.

In addition, Creo's infrared imaging technology and Kodak thermal plates boast superior quality, sharpness and day-to-day consistency than photopolymer and hybrid plates. Thermal plates require the laser to reach a threshold temperature before the spot images and, therefore, stray beams have no effect. As a result, thermally imaged plates provide crisper halftones with none of the fogging or soft edges from which conventional plates suffer.

Thermal imaging will also help Calsonic Miura improve productivity because the Trendsetter can be operated under daylight conditions - eliminating the need for a darkroom and special plate handling. Combined with semi-automatic plate loading and fully automatic unloading, Calsonic hopes to save 20 minutes per form during press make-ready and reduce its turnaround time (from approved proof to six imaged plates) to two hours from the current four to five hours.

Two other factors helped Calsonic Miura's managers make the decision: Creo's PostScript-based workflow and its people. Having been a Scitex shop since 1991, Calsonic Miura made a conscious decision to migrate to open systems based on PostScript (see sidebar p.76). "We're trying to wean ourselves from Scitex now to be able to compete in the future," Butkins explains.

The printer is making significant progress on that front, with 40 percent of its prepress job mix now totally PostScript. However, with the remaining 60 percent still in Scitex's CT and LW formats, Calsonic needed assistance in converting files to PostScript. Toward that end, Creo developed a seamless CEPS interface to its TrendServer, called CEPSLink.

Equally important to Butkins, however, was the company behind the product. And in Creo he recognized an organization similar to his own - young, smart and eager to please its clients. "From an engineering point of view, we've been very impressed by Creo's staff. You don't have to wait a week to get an answer; the tech support person starts writing code that day. As a company, Creo is structured to deliver service - you can smell it."

Given that this is Creo's first thermal TrendSetter installation, Butkins knows that support will be a key issue in making it perform optimally. "I knew there would be challenges because this is new technology and, therefore, I had to be sure that Creo would work with us to solve them," he confides. "I've been pretty pleased so far."

The platesetter is just one part of the puzzle, however, and Calsonic Miura wanted to make sure that the digital infrastructure for CTP would also position them for direct-to-press imaging. Thus, the TrendServer and Creo's software were equally important parts of the solution.

Connected to an image server via FDDI, the TrendServer performs OPI automatically and features the Overture software suite to help Calsonic's staff manage print queues and proofing. Further, its Allegro RIP is configured for both proofing and platesetting from either the Scitex or PostScript workflows using Overture and "hot folders" for Macs on the network.

With digital proofing being one of the reasons why CTP has met resistance from many print buyers, Calsonic Miura's team knows it must match the proof to the press sheet. To increase the fidelity of the proofing process, Allegro uses the same RIP for both proofing and platesetting. Creo also supplied Calsonic with a prototype of its Harmony calibration utility, enabling the printer to match the dot gain curves of its proofing devices to each of its presses' dot gain curves.

Beyond providing Calsonic Miura with a myriad of hardware and software, Creo has spent considerable time training its employees in the new workflow. Applications engineer Becky Henderson spent two weeks with members of Calsonic's prepress department and, working with Prepress Systems Manager Luis Vellanoweth, designed new workflows to take advantage of the new system.

For example, many signatures contain not only different application files but also different trim sizes. As a result, CMG employees were using QuarkX-Press to build custom forms for virtually every job. Adding to the complexity, customers like to see proofs in reader's spreads. The result was that 80 percent of the imposition work ended up being done on the light table.

Now, using ScenicSoft's Preps imposition utility, all stripping can be done electronically, thus saving time and money. For final verification, operators rely on Overture's Virtual Proofing System that displays a bitmap of each plate or signature - including backup - on any Mac monitor on the network.

While all of these tools are designed to improve both quality and productivity inside the plant, they should also bolster Calsonic's sales efforts. According to Victor Roth, vice president of sales, "We look at production and sales as joined at the hip," he informs. "Reducing material and labor costs, staying on time with press okays and improving production efficiency can only benefit our salesforce."

Roth is counting on qualitative benefits as well. Among them are no dust or optical dot gain that result from traditional platemaking, along with improved registration and fewer plate remakes. "CTP will produce better quality and enable us to provide faster turnaround, and that will make us more competitive," he declares.

With capabilities like this, it's beginning to look like lunch time at Calsonic Miura Graphics.

When Calsonic Miura Graphics opened its doors in 1991, Mac-based prepress equipment lacked the throughput to keep the presses running. Thus it invested in a high-end Screen/Scitex CEPS for its prepress production needs.

But times change and the advent of the PCI bus on the Power Macintosh has made the desktop almost as productive as a Scitex workstation - at a fraction of the cost. In addition, customers have invested in their own front-end systems and want to play a more integral role in the production process. Whether it's high-res retouching or taking final files back for other applications, clients are demanding compatibility via open systems.

Sensing this opportunity, Calsonic Miura's management opted to migrate to a PostScript-based workflow. On the input side, the firm's Screen SG-737 and SG-757 drum scanners present no problems, as they can generate TIFFs. And its Harlequin RIP and Screen MT-R1120 imagesetter are at home with PostScript files.

The Scitex workstations are a different story. And since Calsonic Miura plans to continue using its Scitex Pris-magic and micro Assembler workstations for image retouching and page assembly, it needed a way to integrate the CT/LW files with PostScript and develop workflows to maximize the productivity of each.

To solve this problem, Creo's software engineers developed the CEPS-Link interface so that it would work seamlessly with Creo's TrendServer for proofing as well as platesetting. Since both the Trendsetter and Kodak Approval proofer use the same RIP, customers are assured of getting the same results on plate as they do on the color proof.

To generate proofs, separated files are sent to a hot folder that automatically creates reader's spreads (two-up) for output on the Approval PS. For platesetting, all high-resolution files go into a designated folder on the TrendServer, while the low-res proxies go into an imposition folder with aliases on the Mac network so that operators can build signatures using Preps imposition software.

For PostScript files, the workflow is less complicated. Here pages are assembled in Quark, trapped in Trap-Wise and saved as PostScript. For contract proofs, operators create reader's spreads and send the separated file to the Approval. As with the Scitex workflow, proxies go into an imposition folder for final assembly.

From contract proofing onward, the workflows are the same. Once the client gives the okay, operators build fiats in Preps and save the PostScript files to a folder on TrendServer, which then performs OPI, RIPs the file and sends the bitmaps to the Trendsetter for imaging onto the plates.