05 June 2018 Digital Printing Technologies

Hands off the digital press

The workflow for digital printing is increasingly about enabling the press to run with minimal or no operator intervention, heading towards remote printing and lights out operation.

Digital printing is ideal for automation: short runs, perhaps with personalised elements, relative small formats and limited paper options all add up to a relative simplicity compared to the range of options available in offset litho print.

With a workflow that can take orders from a website and direct these to a printing press and beyond, a printer can make low value jobs profitable and eliminate the complexity of handling jobs one at a time. The sheer number of jobs that need to be processed requires automation, let alone that if a multi-page document, it will emerge from the press in collated order.

There is also the fact that the presses are today highly automated, designed to run with minimal or no intervention and by staff without a deep seated background in the industry.

Most prepress workflows will deliver print ready PDFs to the digital front end (DFE) on the press, often developed by EFI to suit that particular machine. In most instances there will be two versions of the Fiery DFE available for each press type, one for mostly static jobs, one with additional processing power, to handle variable data jobs.

Since last year, EFI has also been responsible for the Xerox Freeflow Core workflow developed over the years for its portfolio of presses. Ricoh offers TotalFlow, Canon PrismaSync, HP PrintOS, Konica Minolta Conductor and so on. Each is designed to run a press in as trouble-free way as possible. When four-colour SRA3 printing was the only option, this was not a problem. Now the workflow has to cope with a wider choice of substrates, additional colours, and banner length printing.

The workflow will automatically pick up on files that include problems to be sorted by the operators or returned to the client for correction according to the policy of the printer. Sending a file back may cause friction and will certainly result in delays and changes to a tight job schedule. It may be easier to add crop marks, adjust line thickness and make good what should have been picked up by the customer.

Handled correctly this results in a relieved client and a stronger relationship, and education to make sure the problem does not recur. Alternately the client, himself put upon, has to restart the job, miss his deadline and vows never to work with that print business ever again. Handled correctly the job can be on press with no waste of time, reach the customer on time and be invoiced almost immediately.

With Ricoh’s TotalFlow the BatchBuilder function, developed initially for its web presses, can help further improve efficiencies. It will identify jobs in the print queue and group them together. This is in the main to bring jobs that use the same substrate through in sequence to avoid the need to keep changing reels on the continuous feed inkjet press, but may also affect inline finishing equipment.

It aims to avoid unnecessary manual interventions, creating more time to run additional jobs. Once printed, the workflow will raise the invoice so taking away another manual step and speeding the process of collecting money. In a small business where invoicing is in the hands of a senior manager or salesman, the feature will free that member of staff to engage in more sales.

“If you are preparing files, you are not talking to customers. The technology knows how much the job has cost to produce so can quickly generate a new quote and it can track jobs through the process. It’s about returning time and bringing efficiencies to the customer.

“It takes the manual touch points out that slow down production and while it’s easy to process 10 or 50 jobs a day, the same is not true of 100 or more jobs a day.”

Enfocus Switch is frequently the tool of choice to link and automate different workflow steps, connecting prepress workflows to online order taking systems and delivering files to a press.

Ricoh has its own version, Ricoh Process Director, intended to bridge the gap between applications that a company has and to provide a single audit trail for every jobs, connecting the equipment and technology that is already in place.

When consulting on a job and building a tailored workflow for a printer and his unique mix of jobs and customers, Process Director will save development time and allow a workflow to be created around the most appropriate applications.

It leads into greater understanding of cost per item and per job, which in turn can be used to apply business logic across the different methods of production, in the case of Ricoh being the different cut sheet print engines and its CF inkjet presses, perhaps splitting a job between the technologies, a cover or colour section to he cut sheet machine and body of a book to the CF press.

Full integration of the digital workflow and conventional prepress workflow using a JDF implementation is also coming and is in place to varying degrees for the key workflows. Integration between TotalFlow and Prinergy 8.2 is completely seamless. The operator does not need to understand how to impose a job for digital printing, does not need to understand colour management and which profiles are to be used. This is all part of the automation.

Unsurprisingly Heidelberg has done this between its litho presses and the Versafire digital machines. A job can be directed to where production is either most cost effective or most timely, assuming that quality is equally seamless. TotalFlow has been able to link to Heidelberg’s Prinect workflow and also to Agfa’s Apogee. It does not integrate with Fuji’s XMF.

Konica Minolta’s Conductor workflow is designed as the means to run a production floor with more than one machine, not necessarily from its Accurio Press range of toner and inkjet machines. The workflow will direct jobs to the best printers for each job, based on the characteristics of the printer and the requirements of the job. There are tools to prioritise by delivery date, to batch jobs by substrate and connectivity through JDF/JMF to MIS.

The workflow will generate a barcode to print on a job to enable job tracking and identification on reaching the next step in the production process. It will use JMF to report a job’s production status back to the MIS. The less human intervention there is, the higher the possible productivity,” says CL. A large job can be split across a number of printers to reduce overall production time; mono jobs will be sent in most instances to the mono press rather than print mono on a colour press.

The use of barcodes to identify a job and to locate production settings is similar to SiteFlow, the single copy digital print workflow developed by Precision Colour’s OneFlow subsidiary and now available as part of HP’s PrintOS suite of workflow tools. The barcode printed on the top sheet of a job will be scanned to either automatically load the settings of a job or to call them to screen for an operator to key in.

Once finished, the job is scanned again to report that it is on its way to the next step in the production process. if the job is finished, its location for dispatch is equally important. If a parcel comprises multiple items, each is only released to the mail when all elements of the individual order are present.

Other web online print businesses have built similar workflows: orders need to be tracked, linked to the customer and delivery address and should be batched by delivery date, format, and so on. At Bluetree Enfocus Switch is used to pull much of this together.

Canon’s Prisma workflow was developed for its Océ web presses, being extended to run cutsheet mono, colour and the i300 inkjet press. It is deigned for ease of use, automating many job specific set up tasks to keep the print engine running as much as possible. Canon reckons that its multi job scheduler will cope with eight hours of production, using warning alerts to enable intervention to prevent stop pages.

As part of this operators can make last minute corrections rather than return the job to its creator for amendments which might delay production and delivery.

There is no full cross process workflow despite Canon having cut sheet, continuous feed and large format printing. The large format inkjet machines will use an Onyx Rip with files delivered from the Prisma Direct workflow. This will balance output across the different devices.

At the Sign & Display exhibition at the NEC, the company put together a possible campaign for Elemental, a fictitious beauty product, with colour managed across a carton, marketing brochures and leaflets produced on a cut sheet machine, though to Adshel posters, FSDU and point of sale printed on one of its large format printers.

The workflow should eliminate the problems of colour matching across the devices and materials so that the printer can satisfy what the client wants. For the most part customers do not consider the difficulties in using the technology to be relevant. A digital print workflow should ensure that this is indeed the case.

Gareth Ward

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The workflow should eliminate the problems of colour matching across the devices and materials so that the printer can satisfy what the client wants. The idea is to eliminate unnecessary interventions in the prepress studio.

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