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Productivity: Prepress Productivity

Aug 1, 1997 12:00 AM

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Productivity may be the single most important factor for achieving financial success in prepress operations. But what is productivity? How do you measure it? How is it achieved? And how does productivity relate to turnaround?

In simple terms, productivity can be expressed as the ability to produce the maximum number of jobs in the minimum amount of time at minimal operational expense. Just as important as productivity, turnaround is the key to satisfying customer demands. Turnaround, however, is a measure of how fast one specific job can be produced. Turnaround is what the customer needs; productivity is what the printer needs to be profitable in a world of quick turnaround.

Prepress productivity is a concept applied to an entire department. It is not solely dependent on equipment. Nevertheless, highly productive equipment contributes significantly to the overall productivity of the department.

Productivity cannot be measured by canned demos or even with customer-specific jobs. Nor is it possible to measure productivity accurately with customer-specific benchmarks. Successful benchmarks, however, are one of the prerequisites for the qualification of a prepress system.

Real-world productivity only can be measured in terms of departmental output because in live operations many activities interfere with the execution of a single job. A truly productive prepress system will coordinate and orchestrate a large number of concurrent activities efficiently, thereby providing a basis for overall productivity in the operation.

Of course, "financial" productivity also will depend on operational costs. Labor costs and consumable costs must be part of any ROI calculation. Achieving high production volumes with high labor and consumable costs does not make economic sense.

Finally, you should look at the productivity of the entire printing operation--not just prepress. Delivering high-quality, accurate films and plates to the pressroom contributes substantially to the overall productivity of an enterprise by reducing the amount of press downtime or re-runs. This very important consideration often is underestimated.

Before we look at the attributes of a productive prepress system, let's consider the bigger picture. What exactly is a "system?" In Greek it literally means "put together." And how a system is put together often affects its productivity overall. After all, in this case the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

Much as been said about the "plug-and-play" approach. It has its merits in that all components can be designed independently and will work when plugged together (at least most of the time). But plug-and-play is not the only approach that printers can take.

If you are interested in maximum productivity, it may only be achieved when all of the components are designed not only to work together but work together efficiently.

When components (workstations, RIPs, servers) are designed as part of a "family," they share fundamental underlying concepts. No compromise needs to be made in defining interfaces. The system developer, although concerned about the efficiency of individual pieces, emphasizes global optimization. And that gets us back to the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

But how do you achieve productivity? What are the "magic" ingredients of a productive prepress department? A well-designed, well-adapted prepress system is one of the necessary components. But what are the attributes of such a system?

First, an efficient prepress system should manage graphics data efficiently. The amount of digital data in a high-volume prepress department is impressive, along with the number of individual operations required. This is why data traffic and operation sequencing must be efficiently controlled.

The best architecture to achieve this goal is the client/ server configuration. You will need a powerful server coordinating the distribution of many types of data (not just job data files), synchronizing often complex prepress functions and distributing the processing efficiently.

A productive prepress system must provide extensive PostScript input and processing capabilities. This goes well beyond simple preflight or rasterization functions. PostScript files often are large and complicated. Their integrity, however, must be preserved.

Moreover, the need for making changes--either small or large--is the rule not the exception. For example, many printers put great value on the ability to change impositions at the last minute. After all, printers can follow the money by tracking the amount of time their presses run. To accommodate faster and faster turnaround times and keep productivity at the highest possible levels, the ability to change impositions quickly, easily and at the last minute becomes a key factor to success.

Other industry data standards must be extensively supported. After all, the ability to handle a range of inputs, without having to resort to multi-step conversions, also is a productivity factor.

Keeping files editable as long as possible is a must in order to accommodate last-minute corrections and additions. Consider, for example, the inclusion of printers marks such as slit, fold, cut, etc. on the imposition. Nevertheless, full editability can present some dangers. This is why a prepress configuration also should provide mechanisms to control editability and guarantee job integrity.

Productivity goes hand-in-hand with process automation. Automation, of course, plays a major role in reducing labor costs, especially in highly repetitive production environments. And here again, client/server systems with rich functionality to perform unattended functions on the server will enhance productivity.

Automation also is needed in highly variable production environments. It can reduce error rates that would otherwise be higher as a consequence of the diverse job mix. Obviously, remakes reduce productivity.

Finally, quality control tools are a must in a productive environment. Traditional "proofing" methods are indispensable, but they are not the only quality control tools in modern prepress systems. QC tools aimed at increasing the quality of print also will contribute to productivity.