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Nov 1, 1997 12:00 AM

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Attention vendors of digital proofing, networking and electronic archiving systems: 1998 could be a very good year. Participants in the National Assn. of Printers and Lithographers/International Prepress Assn. (NAPL/IPA) Prepress Market Watch plan to spend 4.9 percent of annual company sales, on average, for prepress capital equipment in 1998, up from 4.4 percent in 1997. Over 45 percent expect to spend more next year than they did this year, and 32.1 percent expect to spend as much. Just 22.6 percent expect to be spending less.

"Digital proofing is our next step toward CTP. So is a faster network and more storage," was the typical response heard from many survey participants. More good news: prepress sales are expected to be up 12 percent on average for all of 1997. Over 62 percent expect sales growth, 26.2 percent expect sales to hold at 1996 levels and just 11.5 expect sales to decline.

STANDARDS, PROTOCOLS AND FORMATS The printing industry was nudged a little closer to the practical implementation of computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) techniques as a result of the Research & Engineering Council's Symposium on Digital Network Production Systems held in Pittsburgh during September. Symposium discussions and presentations revealed the existence of a relatively large body of separate, sometimes overlapping but almost always uncoordinated approaches to the issue. Work-in-process standards, ad hoc standards, formats, protocols and specifications-all vital to implementation of CIM-abounded.

While each of the existing procedures has merit, overall print production coordination and the necessary interlacing of operations was found to be lacking by the 60 symposium attendees who probed the standards and CIM issues.

R&E's Digital Network Production Systems (DNPS) committee has taken on the task of bringing some coordinated order out of the discussions. The committee will work with and through existing organizations that have a stake in integrating the print production chain.

In the symposium wrap-up session, attendees attempted to distill information to act as a basis for future actions. Summarizing observations and comments made during the meeting, David McDowell of Eastman Kodak noted that there were three topical or functional areas involved-commerce (including business systems), production (including machine-to-machine interfaces) and content. All of these elements have to be funneled into an overall architecture. The R&E Council will take a proactive role in clarifying standards, protocols and formats to drive practical CIM implementation.

The DNPS group requested an upgrade in status to a permanent standing R&E Council committee. Approval of the request is expected in January of 1998. Steve Franzino, vice president of Courier Corp. (North Chelmsford, MA), was asked to serve as the DNPS chairman. The DNPS committee will be structured into four subcommittees to focus on commerce, production, content and overall architecture. Each subcommittee will have its own chair and will meet independently to study specific assigned areas and to recommend specific actions. Ron Mihills, R&E managing director, described the approach as "a three-legged stool, with each of the legs representing commerce, production or content and the seat representing overall architecture. It is R&E's intent to interact with CIP3, NPES, Printing Industries of America (PIA), Graphic Communications Assn. (GCA), National Assn. of Printers and Lithographers (NAPL), the Graphic Arts Technical Foundation (GATF) and NAGASA.


Speaking at Print 97, Martin Lange, a marketing board member of MAN Roland, reviewed recent technical developments and speculated on printers' future needs. "These days, many customers only supply data and the commercial printer must be able to process this. Plants, which less than 10 years ago shut down their prepress operations and outsourced their repro needs, now must have modern computer systems and data processing know-how to remain competitive," notes Lange. "Run lengths are decreasing, quality expectations are increasing. This demands short makeready time, maximum quality security and flexible organization. Automation is essential to ensure uncomplicated job changeover. This includes performing automatic sheet size setting at the push of a button and automatic plate changing that enables a six-color press to be changed over in less than 10 minutes.

"Also, the printer needs a press that can handle a wide variety of stocks, from the thinnest paper through board, as well as special materials such as foil. Infeed, sheet guiding and delivery are required to ensure reliable sheet travel with all substrates." Lange adds that although web printers are tak ing advantage of higher press speeds to win some long-run jobs from gravure competitors, shorter runs appear to be the wave of the future. Lange predicts "strong growth in 'very special interest' titles with runs up to 100,000 copies, as well as the increasing demand for catalogs for specific target groups."

As for packaging, Lange asserts that "the sheet-fed offset press is a system component that needs to be seamlessly integrated into industrial-scale standardized workflow. The ability to handle thick and rigid substrates is essential. Automated pile transport to and from the press is a prime consideration, as is integration of the press into the company's data processing system to maintain production control and record operating data."

Lange concludes that "offset printing is meeting the cost and performance challenge of modern information processing systems and remains, for the forseeable future, the most efficient process for high-circulation newspaper production, quality commercial printing and packaging. Multipurpose presses, however, linked to a digital workflow and custom-configured to specific customer needs, appear to be the trend."

INDIGO ANSWERS MERGER RUMOR Indigo (Maastritch, the Netherlands) released a statement addressing published reports of mergers talks between itself and Scitex. According to the statement, Indigo has "had discussions with companies, including Scitex, regarding various strategic alternatives . . . The company continues to explore various avenues, including strategic alliances, to further accelerate its market penetration. However, no such discussions have reached a negotiating stage, and there is no assurance that any transaction will result." Stay tuned.

LONDON LITHO DIAGNOSES QUALITY ILLS "Synclinal" may sound like a prescription hay fever remedy, but Lincolnwood, IL-based London Litho's new tool for analyzing the total production process certainly has the potential to cure some costly printing headaches.

Picture this. A graphic designer creates a job featuring a little blond girl wearing a red outfit standing in a green field. But when the piece come off the press, the girl's hair has a greenish tint, her red outfit has become pinkish and the field looks more gray than green. What went wrong?

Using the Synclinal (pronounced "sin-clin-al") Multilevel Application of Processes and Procedure (MAPP), printers can determine where things could go wrong before printing a piece. This mapping process helps the printer synchronize the steps of its printing process to avoid aberrations. The solution may be equipment adjustment or repair, the installation of new equipment, a change in raw materials or altering manual processes.

Synclinal is a three-step process: establishing the benchmark, building a digital profile and defining the color space. The key element is a "target," a four-color image containing a number of special graphic features that are most often found in four-color artwork. To evaluate film-to-plate prepress functions or pressroom activity, the target exists as a standing piece of film. To map electronic prepress systems, a digitized version resides on a computer disk. Synclinal mapping is offered as a separate service-it is notrestricted to London Litho equipment customers. For more information, contact Eric London at (847) 679-4600.