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DIGITAL WORKFLOWS

Jul 1, 2000 12:00 AM


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Drupa's workflow offerings confirmed the industry's direction to all things digital and PDF-based.

The term "workflow" has lost much of its meaning over the past few years as marketing teams have begun applying it to even the simplest of tasks. Computers have allowed us to automate many of the production tasks that are a part of our daily lives, and it seems as if any form of process or task automation is now being marketed as a workflow.

Of course Drupa 2000, being the mother of all trade shows, featured an abundance of workflow solutions being touted as the answer to all of your problems. Granted, computer automation of tasks and processes can bring reliability and control to an otherwise variable nightmare. But the key determining factor in evaluating any workflow solution is how it fits into your total production process. That process includes you, as well as all of your process partners.

Three key marketing words were being used at Drupa: "workflow," "digital" and "PDF." While this should be no surprise (considering the state of the industry), it reinforced not only the direction but also the speed and vendors' commitment to these three components. And while much of what was being shown were extensions and upgrades to existing systems, there were some workflow solutions that could be considered highlights.

Because Drupa is billed as a print media show, some vendors from the creative side of the process were in attendance, including Quark and Adobe. These two process stalwarts didn't show anything that would have significant impact on the process as we currently know it. Quark gave peeks at Quark 5, Quark Wrapture and other data support technologies, such as Quark DMS, eStage and Mirim. Adobe showed Illustrator 9.0, along with some back-room views of things to come. Some of them-like the data/process management solution, code-named Stilton-will undoubtedly have an effect on the industry. But many of the products were too early in their developmental stages to accurately forecast potential acceptance levels or impact on production requirements.

Perhaps one of the more significant product previews was at the Apple booth, where the vendor showed OSX, its new operating system (OS). While we have been hearing of OSX's impending introduction for what seems like a lifetime, Apple presented some impressive feature demos at Drupa.

Now why, you might ask, should this new OS be so significant? It includes three key things that I believe will have a significant effect on the way print publishing is being done: multitasking, object-level support and native PDF image modeling. Yes, there are many other features that have been added or ported with additional development from the existing OS-but these three features will ultimately have the most impact.

STANDARDS MOVEMENT Drupa saw a number of seemingly more obscure announcements, too, that concerned the movement of information through the process. Interestingly enough, they could potentially have more impact on your workflows than any one piece of software or hardware.

One of those announcements was the Personalized Print Markup Language (PPML). This device-independent standard was developed under the coordination of the Print On Demand Initiative (PODi), a group of industry vendors involved with on-demand printtechnologies. PPML is one of many new standards based on eXtensible Markup Language (XML), which is rapidly becoming the basic language of the digital world.

Another technology announcement that has its roots in XML -and bears a potential workflow implication-came from CreoScitex with its proposed Content File Exchange (CFX) standard. According to the company, CFX specifies how to build file exchange packages-defining job pages, reader order and imposition plans-that can be import- ed directly into the CreoScitex prepress process.

Also, CreoScitex, through its printCafe familial involvement, introduced eProduction eCommerce eXchange (PCX) specification, which is also rooted in XML. According to printCafe, this specification enables information exchange between supply-chain partners, including e-commerce companies, graphic arts material suppliers, and third-party management and production systems.

One of the last of the Drupa technology announcements based on proposed standard specifications came from the CIP3 consortium. In addition to a reorganization of the organization itself, the consortium agreed to take on the task of developing the Job Definition Format (JDF). This specification draft was originally created by Adobe, Heidelberg, Agfa and MAN Roland to simplify information exchange between different applications and systems in the graphic arts industry. This will ultimately allow print shops to introduce individual workflow solutions much more easily than before.

WORKFLOW & THE INTERNET If you were paying attention to what you just read, you might have asked, "Doesn't there seem to be a lot of overlap among these proposed standards?" And you're right! It should eventually all work out, however... or so they say.

Moving from the exciting world of standards to the more mundane world of products, there were some other developments at Drupa that will undoubtedly affect your workflows. In many cases, these new product groupings arose from individual task systems that have now been integrated into more robust control solutions.

Heidelberg showed an interesting complement of software in Hall 5, outside of its main equipment displays in Halls 1 and 2. By taking some of its existing technology, like its server, data management and preprint production management solutions, and integrating it with Winkaar, a business management technology purchased from a European company, Heidelberg has been able to create a solution that allows what is almost complete end-to-end production and business process management.

The concept allows printers to produce quotes that can ultimately turn into orders. These orders, in turn, will-through the use of the quote data and additional input-control the actual prepress, press and finishing process production systems. Theoretically, this will give you a printed and finished job, with all of the job data handled. At its core, the system uses other baseline technology such as Portable Job Ticket Format (PJTF) and CIP3. More information on this technology will be available during the fall trade show season.

Agfa showed a production collaboration tool called Delano. This Web-based project management solution is said to streamline the coordination of printing and publishing projects. The package itself can be used for almost any type of creative publishing project (even if it doesn't require print), although it was developed jointly by Agfa, Quebecor World and Image Building (an Agfa development partner).

Through a graphically rich interface, you can manage an entire project by allowing participants targeted access. Delano is also meant to handle the increasing needs of a global economy by supporting up to 14 languages.

The key elements of the workspace include: vendor listing, scheduling, a forum for discussion, a repository for handling production elements and a project space where you can monitor all of the project phases. While this package was just introduced at Drupa, it seems far enough along to become a working tool in the very near future.

COLLABORATIVE PROCESSES CreoScitex displayed some enhancements and additions to its existing prepress systems, Brisque and Prinergy, that included tools that move in the same direction too. The products appear to incorporate more collaborative process tools that will bring all of the process partners closer together with their production systems.

Prinergy InSite is one of these enhancements. This Internet-based product lets users upload and download job data directly into a Prinergy system, proof remotely, submit annotations, approve or reject pages, manage information and access job-status reports over the Web. Timn@ web, a browser-based data and production management solution from the Scitex side of the family, was also shown.

One of the more interesting workflow solutions at Drupa came from Shira. The company has been a behind-the-scenes player for a long time, providing core technology to many of the largest prepress vendors. Most of its technology has been centered around raster-based workflows; however, at Drupa, Shira announced that it has licensed vector-based technology that will allow it to compete in the growing PDF workflow arena.

In addition-and more importantly-the vendor announced eP2 Online. EP2 Online is a suite of e-service applications for Internet-based prepress and PDF workflows. Its intent: to offer printers, content creators, publishers, prepress trade shops and ad agencies the ability to process complex files online without the need for expensive or support-intensive on-site equipment.

PROCESS MANAGEMENT The concept of offering document originators the tools to process pages for computer-to-plate (CTP) prior to sending them to the printer isn't new to Shira. The company had success doing just that with its Right-to product line, although that required local equipment for processing. While this offering may seem a little unique (and perhaps ahead of its time), it is actually just supporting the direction we are seeing from companies like WAM!NET, Vio and others on a quest to bring production collaboration and processing online.

DALiM seemed to be reborn at Drupa. In addition to enhancements to its strong line of production software solutions, the company introduced a Web-based product, FiCELLE. FiCELLE was developed for and with HAFIBA (magazine publisher Hachette Filipacchi), for the French version of Elle magazine. This new production management system allows process partners to collaborate using a concept similar to Agfa's Delano solution. The main differences between the two systems are that the DALiM solution offers less of a graphical interface and is directed more toward the magazine production process.

In keeping with the process management tasks of workflow, the major e-commerce providers, including Collabria, Impresse and Noosh, featured some upgraded software offerings. In addition, both printCafe and httprint had a significant presence. WAM!NET and Vio were also showing their latest efforts at broadening their bases of service.

While both firms started as providers of bandwidth at a time when good bandwidth was hard to come by, they have since started to expand into workflow support solutions. WAM!NET and Vio each started that expansion by adding data storage and management options, and have since added features such as remote proofing support, online image approval collaboration and what will soon be a significant array of other production tools. (For more on the evolution of WAM!NET and Vio, look for the upcoming telecommunications feature in our August issue.)

This trend of offering online process support is becoming an important part of the move to online process collaboration and the global virtual production team that will be spread out but work as if they were in the next room.

A new entry into this field comes from a position of strength. Fujifilm introduced myfujifilm. com, billed as a new site tailored to today's printing and publishing industries. Not yet ready for prime time, myfujifilm.com will offer three categories of Internet-based services: eProduction, eInformation, and eCommerce and Service. Fujifilm anticipates offering tools for database and content management, online proofing and more.

OUTPUT SOLUTIONS A number of output workflow solutions were being displayed by industry vendors. While most have been in the market prior to Drupa, new versions and alliances have made an impact on current or future product direction.

CreoScitex, now the largest prepress company-and, from what it said at its press conference, the second- or third-largest graphic arts company-did a remarkable job pulling together its latest offerings, considering it had only been a joint company for about seven weeks. Most of what it showed in output workflows were the latest releases of Prinergy and a new version of Brisque.

CreoScitex is offering two solutions related to Prinergy 2.0, Prinergy Connect and Prinergy Direct. Prinergy Connect is an end-to-end output workflow management solution. New enhancements in the 2.0 version include automated versioning, job import/ export with CFX format, Web growth compensation, CT/LW and PDF/X-1A direct input, PDF OPI, and PDF and vector PostScript level 2 output.

Prinergy Direct is an entry-level system. While it can be scaled to a full-blown Prinergy Connect system, the product offers customers moving toward a PDF-based workflow a less expensive solution that can also work with existing systems. Also introduced in the Prinergy line of products was Prinergy Powerpack, an integrated, automated PDF-based workflow for flexographic and offset packaging printers.

In the Brisque product line, Brisque Extreme 4.0 now supports a single DFE driving multiple output devices, while performing additional workflow tasks. It is targeted at existing Dolev users who can now easily migrate into CTP while minimizing the cost and complexity of multiple DFE systems.

CreoScitex also introduced Brisque Extreme Variable, an option that allows for streamlined versioning control and production. Finally, the vendor unveiled Brisque Extreme Pack, which brings all of the automation and production reliability of the Brisque to a packaging workflow. It offers two unique step-and-repeat workflow options, Packaging Control File (PCF) and Low Resolution Stepping (LRS). Using StepOne, the vendor's new Macintosh step-and-repeat software product, you can create the PCF that handles stepping in an easy, automated fashion. StepOne fully supports both CFF2 and DDES files to ensure an easy and accurate transition from die to stepped imposition.

While it isn't an output workflow (it's actually more of an input workflow), CreoScitex also introduced a new scanning application called EverSmart oXYgen. This application facilitates the capturing, saving and opening of images in pure 16 bit. Using a concept CreoScitex coined as SOOM (Scan Once Output Many), images can be edited using the supplied tools, and saved in 16 bit for resampling and reuse at a later time-while still maintaining all of the captured information for a higher quality output.

PDF PRODUCTION Heidelberg, for its part, demonstrated Prinergy 2.0 as its prepress output workflow. While the vendor has stated that it will continue to license and further develop the necessary Prinergy technology to create its own unique solution, it did not reveal any new additions to the existing Prinergy product at the show.

Much of Heidelberg's efforts have been directed toward a more complete integration with its other equipment product lines, as was previously discussed. As far as future directions, this graphic arts behemoth will undoubtedly continue to surprise us with new and better tools as time goes on.

Agfa displayed its Apogee Series2 system with the new PrintDrive system. The new enhancements to this system allow for much greater output flexibility. By handling its "Digital Film Files" (1-bit screened TIFFs) as individual pages, users now have greater flexibility to handle versioning, last-minute changes and even support external output workflows.

Agfa's latest product, Apogee Create, was also on display. This product takes the core Adobe Normalizer used in each of the Extreme-based output workflows, and combines it with a PDF Job Ticket editor and some powerful PitStop plug-ins from Enfocus to let users create a "bulletproof" PDF file that can ideally be sent to any Apogee or other system that takes PDF input.

Apogee Create has included the necessary technology to overcome many of the more troublesome aspects of PDF production, including spot colors, multi-tones, gradients, colorized TIFFs, trapping (if used with a system that supports Adobe In-RIP Trapping), and trim and bleed.

Screen showed some new enhancements to its Taiga product as well as its new PDF-based output workflow solution, Trueflow.

STREAMLINED OUTPUT This workflow product, which uses a browser interface, was designed to offer streamlined output to both imagesetters and platesetters. Using a very simple system of job tickets and hot folders, it can be customized to run any job. Trueflow includes functions such as preflight, trapping and imposition in addition to the RIPing and output control. It runs on Windows NT and can be configured with multiple CPUs if your load requires it.

As mentioned before, DALiM has enhanced many of its core software packages, including Litho, its illustration, retouching and page composition tool; TWiST, the digital workflow software that facilitates task automation; and Swing, its robust Linux-based workflow manager.

While most of the vendors of output workflows discussed here license their core RIP technology directly from Adobe and build it to their own solutions, many companies still license Adobe technology that is already somewhat customized. Many of them license it from Information Presentation Technologies (IPT) (San Luis Obispo, CA).

By licensing more complete solutions from IPT, these output vendors can get the benefits of Adobe technology without the extensive development resource requirements. IPT showed its new nAct workflow solution at Drupa. This system is based on the Adobe Extreme architecture and provides full support for PDF and Job Tickets. You should start to see this workflow option offered by many of the prepress equipment vendors shortly.

Harlequin is another company that licenses RIP technology, and has been a very active player in the past. After coming out of some difficult times, it has re-emerged a stronger and more flexible company. Harlequin recently aligned itself with Harris Publishing to share some of the two firms' technologies. While Harlequin brought its latest versions of ScriptWorks output production software to Drupa, Harris brought its MaxWorkFlow automated output management solution.

Calling their offerings ripFLOW, the two vendors have modularized many of their task technologies-such as RIPing, screening, color management, trapping and input/output connectivity-to enable their workflow solutions to fit a wider range of product needs.

EYE ON THE MARKET Many other workflow software solutions were shown at Drupa, including CromaNet from DuPont Color Proofing. CromaNet manages color management workflows, and while it is not quite ready for release, the software will be something to watch for in the future.

But, as a reminder: Considering there were 18 buildings and many, many, many booths in each (and each one showing some kind of "workflow"), this was only a brief taste of what I perceived to be the more memorable offerings. As mentioned previously, keep your eye on the market-any of these workflow solutions may have an impact on your production process.