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CASE STUDY: Smooth Moves

Oct 1, 2012 12:00 AM


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CGX USES SWITCH TO LEVERAGE ITS ECONOMIC, GEOGRAPHIC AND TECHNICAL STRENGTHS

Cory Sawatzki is on a mission. As the Director of Operations Tech­nology for Consolidated Graphics (CGX), he wants to streamline the production process as much as possible across the company’s 72 locations. One key tool in this quest is Enfocus’ Switch, a modular software solution that integrates with existing systems and drives third-party applications to speed up job processing, reduce errors and automate repetitive tasks.

“A lot of work prepress opera­tors do is very repeatable,” Sawatzki says. “Switch [essentially simulates] the mind of an operator when he or she gets a job and analyzes the data, fonts, image resolution, bleeds, layouts and so on.”

AUTOMATING REPETITIVE TASKS

Sawatzki, who joined CGX in 2008, says Switch dramatically reduces the manual intervention that prevailed during his days as a prepress operator. “It was frustrating working on these miniscule [details], trying to get the files to the point where I could apply my image manipulation, advanced trapping and other skills,” he recalls. “Switch helps us pull all of those items together.”

In the old days, a prepress operation’s efficiency hinged on an individual operator’s performance. If an operator was fatigued or distracted, costly mistakes could potentially be passed along, ultimately derailing the production process or resulting in expensive make goods. Also, as Sawatzki notes, highly skilled operators spent a lot of time performing basic tasks.

With Switch, under- or over-caffeinated operators no longer pose quality control issues. Instead, prepress processing uses the classic if-then computer programming construct—Switch performs different actions based on different conditions. In one potential application or flow for example, Switch checks incoming jobs, separates them according to file type, splits PDFs into pages, and then directs all files for further processing.

PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS

“It plugs in and plays nice with most other tools,” says Sawatzki. Switch workflows can link to third-party software such as Adobe Acrobat Distiller, Enfocus PitStop Server, Quark XPress, Microsoft Word and other publishing applications within a user’s existing workflow. The resulting integration yields significant efficiencies: Switch can automatically create PDF files, preflight documents, correct or proof colors and more.

Additional modules let users do the following:

  • Connect Switch to an MIS to receive job intent information or send processing information back into a job record.
  • Use metadata (including JDF) to route jobs intelligently based on more detailed job information.
  • Submit jobs to a Digital Asset Management system along with job data to automatically check in new assets.
  • Link an order submission web site directly to Switch workflows.

“Switch is an excellent middleware that ties everything together,” says Sawatzki. It’s very open ended. Because it’s hot folder–based, we can trigger it off almost any other application.”

Unlike proprietary workflow automation solutions that trace their roots to a particular RIP, Switch is vendor neutral. “Switch doesn’t care [what system] you are dealing with,” says Sawatzki. “It’s the centerpiece that talks to them all.”

CGX has 72 operating companies in 27 states as well as some international initiatives. Switch makes it easier for the company as a whole to leverage its combined capabilities. A metadata module enhances workflow intelligence by using existing information stored in XML or JDF job tickets, or embedded within files as XMP data. It also includes tools to export metadata and convert XML information, preflight logs and reports into other XML formats, HTML or human-readable information.

MORE JOBS, BUT FEWER PAGES 

CGX is finding that digital jobs are tailor made for Switch. As many U.S. printers can attest, in general, people are ordering more jobs but in smaller quantities. “It’s a tough environment in a tough economy,” Sawatzki says. “If we’re going to make money on these on-demand jobs, we have to produce them with the fewest [human] touches.”

Unlike offset, digital print jobs typically have fewer variables, such as sheet size, spot colors or complex trapping. Built-in intelligence allows Switch to “see” within files, software and workflows for maximum productivity.

A typical Switch digital print flow can do the following: 

  • Receive a file (via hot folder or other method).
  • Preflight a file (via Enfocus PitStop or other method).
  • Fix a file (via PitStop or other method).
  • Communicate status (via email or client).
  • Route the file (using result or metadata).
  • Send the file to a destination, such as a printer.
  • Archive the job.

Web-to-print (W2P), another highly repeatable process generally built on preset templates, is another natural Switch candidate. “We’ve had jobs with thousands of orders a day that we couldn’t do without some sort of automation,” Sawatzki says.

Using Switch lets CGX maxi­mize its capabilities for a large W2P customer. “With Switch, we can look into the order data and relocate where the job is going to be printed, based on the geographic region. So let’s say we separate the job into eight sections and we base those sections on states simply by using the shipping infor­mation. Switch will actually push the job out to an operating company based on its region.”

Switch helps CGX maintain qual­ity control across the different operat­ing companies. “We can take the process workflows from those jobs, export them out of Switch and send them to the regional companies that will be doing that printing,” explains Sawatzki. “We can ensure good, solid repeatability out of each one of those locations.”

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE

Handy flows, such as automatically generating a coversheet for digital jobs, can be shared company-wide. The Switch-generated coversheet includes the delivery time, date and address, is color coded for the day of the week, and includes a bar code with the job number. “It travels with the job,” says Sawatzki. “We really wanted to build that into the workflows that we offered. Because so many of our companies found it useful, we could split the cost among the companies.”

Converting documents from their native formats to print-ready PDFs is another Switch specialty. “We have one corpo­rate customer where many different people are submitting documents to be printed region­ally,” Sawatzki says. “When you have multiple people who aren’t print profession­als creating jobs, you can get font issues and other funny things.

For example, on a toner-based press, unless the RGB black from Word is correctly converted into CMYK black the multicolor black will print as a muddy brown-black. With a combi­nation of Switch and PitStop, you can automatically look for build-to-black and convert it to one-color 100 % black on the fly—you don’t have to worry about that on the other end.”

WHAT'S NEXT?

Noting that the most recent version of Switch includes three HP Indigo “configurators,” Sawatzki envisions a day when Switch will support a hands-off workflow from order entry to final output on digital presses. The Switch 11 integration allows the setup, control and automation of imposition and VDP jobs, as well as automated job submission to HP Indigo presses.

“If Enfocus were to work with the leading cut sheet and roll to roll digi­tal press vendors and pass through some very simple information, you could integrate with MIS on the front end and pass those files down to Switch,” says Sawatzki. “A little interface that indicates the number of copies would go a long way toward closing the loop on the back end.”

JUMPING ONBOARD

Overall, Sawatzki says he’s pleased. “Enfocus is doing an excellent job developing Switch. They’re asking the right questions. More companies will be knocking on [Enfocus’] door to build configurators for their prod­ucts to work with Switch.”