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FLEXO Magazine : November 2012
and other foundation exercises can now be managed with the introduction of data. Lastly, but absolutely critical to success, is to make sure that the data captured by your MIS/ERP is going to work for your prepress workflow system. The golden rule is that data should be captured once and only once. Any time data is manually re-entered from one system to another, a red flag should go up. Luckily, we have tools such as XML and JDF to facilitate transferring data from these MIS/ERP systems to prepress software. Make sure that all data needed is being captured. Any information related to completing jobs in your prepress department, whether it is in someone’s mind, on handwritten notes or in spreadsheets that get updated periodically, should be transferred to a storage medium that will allow access by the workflow servers that need it. RE-ENGINEERING With process maps of current and ideal workflows created and a solid foundation of standardization, simplification and data management in place, the fun can begin! Correctly implementing automation is a process. The easiest way to get started with the re-engineering is to target small pieces of the workflow at a time. At this point, refer to problematic steps identified in the mapping process, which tend to fall in one of three categories: steps that cause error, steps that take excessive time, and steps that do not add value for the customer. In all likelihood, you are already tracking errors made in prepress, and at which step they occurred. This history, along with any tasks that require manual entry or selection of job parameters, provide the first targets for automation. Time- intensive and non-value-added tasks go hand-in-hand, since any prepress task not focused on quality or service to the customer should be considered a waste of time. Few customers have ever called their printer to express gratitude toward impeccable color trapping or expert appli- cation of press control marks. An automation system will perform best when it makes full use of available data. Once accurate data is being captured and made accessible, there are several ways in which to use it. The first use of data is to transfer information between systems by syncing prepress parameters—customer intent, scheduling, manufacturing information, etc.—between the MIS/ERP and the prepress system. Second, data can be used to control how a job flows through a workflow. This could mean determining if a particular job needs a soft proof or a hard proof, platemaking on the East Coast or the West Coast, or files sent by file transfer protocol (FTP) or by e-mail. Lastly, data can be used to populate task parameters, such as trapping distance, distortion based on re- peat and plate package, or color management to be applied. FUTURE DEVELOPMENT Few successful companies are doing the same thing today that they were five years ago. Creating an automated pre- press workflow that will adapt to changing business needs is essential for it’s ongoing success. By reviewing past changes in your business with your team, you should be able to predict what may happen in the future. Allowing your workflow to accommodate these changes is difficult, but not impossible, especially if you have built that solid foundation. If you are properly using data to control variables in the process, then future changes to these parameters should be able to be executed with a single change. For instance, if the compensation curve for a particular plate changes, an optimized workflow would reference the curve file once, and a change would take place at a single point, rather than across multiple workflows. More advanced technologies, such as JDF, rely heavily on having accessible data that has been formatted properly. Once the workflow is standardized and a shift has started toward data-driven management of prepress tasks, adopting JDF becomes an easier proposition. In summary, to maximize the benefits of an automated prepress workflow, start with mapping the current process, establish plans for an end goal, build a solid foundation, and then start automating piece by piece, starting with small tasks—those that are error-prone, time-intensive or non-value- added—but always keeping both the end goal and flexibility for the future in mind. n About the Author: Bobby Congdon is a research associate at The Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design & Graphics at Clemson University, Clemson, SC . He was a featured speaker at Flexographic Technical Association’s 2012 Fall Confer- ence. The above article is based on and expounds upon his remarks offered. Congdon’s packaging-related experience includes 10 years with International Paper. The Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design & Graphics is hosting a two-day seminar entitled “Prepress Workflow Auto- mation,” Nov. 27-28, 2012. Employing a mix of presentations from industry experts and hands-on work in the computer lab, attendees should expect to leave with a better sense of what is achievable in their own workflow with proper automation. More information and registration materials are available at: http://www.sonocoinstitute.com/ 36 FLEXO november 2012 www.flexography.org Call For EntriEs SubmiSSion deadline: January 11, 2013 www.flexography.org Show off a little Go Ahead... 2013 FTa excellence in Flexography awards Competition Now is the time to start thinking about which printed pieces you will enter into the industry’s most respected and prestigious awards competition. All flexographic printers/converters, print buyers, suppliers, students and designers are invited to participate.