American Printer's mission is to be the most reliable and authoritative source of information on integrating tomorrow's technology with today's management.

Innovative workflows

May 1, 2008 12:00 AM

         Subscribe in NewsGator Online   Subscribe in Bloglines

Ten years ago, with backing from his father-in-law, Bobby Smith, Steve Hagan launched ZebraGraphics (Paducah, KY). “I had no choice but to succeed,” he says. “Failure was not an option.”

After graduating from the Art Institute of Atlanta, a slow job market led Hagan to a printing career, first with Hartley Press (Jacksonville, FL) and then with Franklins, a quick printer in Atlanta.

Today, ZebraGraphics is a $1.8 million, 14-employee shop occupying 6,000 sq. ft. The company's core business is general commercial printing, but it also offers Web and design services, mailing and fulfillment, and sign and display printing.

“It's either be efficient or die,” says Steve Hagan, owner of ZebraGraphics.

Eliminating the blame game

A Heidelberg Prosetter and Speedmaster 74 with perfector and coater are powered by Heidelberg Prinect workflow solutions, including Prinance (MIS), SignaStation (imposition), Printready (workflow management), Meta Dimension (RIP) and Prepress Interface (ink zone presets). Digital and wide-format equipment include a Xerox DocuColor 250, an HP DesignJet 5500, an Epson Stylus Pro 9880 and a Mutoh Toucan solvent printer.

In 1997, the company made a modest start with an Accuset 1000 imagesetter and Ryobi 3302 duplicator. A few years later, the company added a Heidelberg Quickmaster DI press. “Our Heidelberg rep, Rob Robinson, said it would be perfect for us and he was right,” says Hagan. “Although that press wasn't really designed for runs of 15,000 to 20,000, [we put those runs on it] and we made a good profit with it.”

Having outgrown the DI, the company added the SM74 in 2005 and also bolstered its postpress capabilities with a Stahl folder and Polar cutter.

Before starting Zebra, Hagan attended an On Demand conference and learned about the Digital Smart Factory concept and the benefits of computer-integrated manufacturing. “We believe in automation and wanted a JDF [compliant] workflow,” he says.

A single-source supplier also was a priority. “A workflow is a complex system,” says Hagan. “In my experience as a printer, if there's a press problem, you have to deal with the plate, ink, paper and press vendors as well as the operator and ‘prove’ where the problem lies. If one machine doesn't talk to the system, I don't want to [deal with finger pointing].”

Other workflow considerations included flexibility and longevity: The system needed to grow and change with the company. “You don't want to change a workflow,” says Hagan. “People don't like change in general and retraining them is difficult.”

More efficient

MetaDimension can communicate with the Prinect MIS, a key differentiator, according to Hagan. “It talks back to Prinance via job messaging, for example, to report a set of plates has been made. Another Prinect module, Prepress Interface, offers quantifiable process improvements. “You can measure the time savings,” says Hagan. “It RIPs the file, analyzes the color on the sheet and presets the ink keys. You're 90 percent there, at that point.”


Keep those jobs moving

Neoprint's (Chelmsford, MA), sheetfed pressroom highlights include two 6-color presses with coaters: a Komori Lithrone S40 installed in May 2007, as well as an older Mitsubishi. There's also a Miller 4/2 perfector and small-format Heidelberg GTO and Ryobi presses. On the web side, a Goss Suburban non-heatset press churns out phone books, want ad catalogs, real estate guides and directories.

Print runs average 10,000 to 15,000 pieces for multicolor work, but jobs under 5,000 sheets aren't unusual. In a typical month, the printer might produce 1,500 plates.

“We will get jobs, especially for our web press, that need 150 plates the next day,” says Peter Holt, prepress manager. “We have to be able to output those plates and still accommodate other work.”

A Screen (Rolling Meadows, IL) PlateRite 8800 thermal platesetter teamed with no-bake thermal plates lets the printer produce 24 eight-up plates/hr. Small-format plates aren't a problem: The prepress department images GTO-size plates and trims them to the smaller size for the Ryobi.

Screen's TrueFlow PDF- and JDF-based workflow management system drives the platesetter. Holt says, “It can RIP any files our customers give us. The trapping and page imposition functions are exceptional and easy for operators to understand.”


Plates, platesetters and modular workflows

Agfa Graphics (Ridgefield, NJ) will introduce :Azura TS, a ThermoFuse-based, chemistry-free, thermal digital plate. For violet platesetters, the company will debut the :Azura V chemistry-free digital plate and :Aspire, a polymer plate.

:Avalon N thermal imaging platesetters are available in 8-up and VLF formats that accommodate a variety of plate sizes and speeds.

A new modular workflow solution, :Apogee Suite, integrates Publish for content management and page creation for print or online; Portal for communication between printers and their customers; Prepress for JDF-enabled prepress production; Color for color management; and as Media for content integration and management.


A flexible, hybrid workflow

Based on Adobe's PDF Print Engine, Fujifilm's (Valhalla, NY) XMF workflow is a cross-media workflow. Enhancements include collaborative online proofing and Web communication and more hybrid workflow options. XMF Remote provides a 3D mock-up of the actual imposed job. Dynamic Color Management and Appearance Matching Model take soft proofing one step further. Users can simulate a job's appearance, including the type of paper and ink used.

Using JDF, the vendor has created a hybrid workflow — the imposition and color management of a PDF job can automatically be reworked to suit multiple output devices.


Digital and offset output

New versions of Kodak's (Rochester, NY) InSite VDP system and Prinergy workflow are moving its Unified Workflow further upstream in the print planning process. The comprehensive Unified Workflow solutions automate and integrate business, data, color and production processes for both conventional and digital production.

New features and functions in the Kodak Prinergy Workflow System 5.0 allows users to process static and variable data printing (VDP) jobs through the same workflow, manage color on multiple devices, and automate complex routines in print production workflows. The Prinergy Workflow System 5.0 features a new digital print management tool to optimize productivity for digital applications, and for the first time delivers a comprehensive solution integrating both conventional and digital workflows. There's also a new color handling platform designed to simplify and automate color management tasks by integrating ICC profiles, calibration curves and color recipes into one single device-based print condition.


Affordable workflow solutions

Xitron (Ann Arbor, MI) Xitron recently announced an agreement with Lucid Dream Software (Hoffman Estates, IL) to incorporate Lucid Dream technology into its ExpressConnect online submission and proofing solutions.

Xitron will preview the product at Drupa, and customer shipments are slated for Q3 2008. ExpressConnect enables small and midsize printers to expand their prepress capabilities with an automated solution that accepts jobs 24/7. Integrated preflighting further enhances production. An optional PDF Creator module lets users submit PostScript files with the system's automatically created Certified PDFs. ExpressConnect will support Xitron's Navigator GPS and Xenith workflow solutions as well as most third-party workflows. Pricing starts at less than $10,000.