I look at my 2000 Toyota Rav 4 with admiration. And, yes, I now drive and have owned the exotic cars that make men behave like little boys. But when you cut to the chase, an automobile's job is to efficiently take you where you want to go without you having to take it where it needs to go.
More than five years after I drove my Rav 4 out of the dealer's showroom, other than the usual oil changes, it has never needed a single repair. So my Boxter may be more fun and far more appealing, but it's my dependable Rav 4 that does the job day in and day out.
Look back over your years in the printing business and ask yourself—in our equipment-heavy business—how many machines, devices or solutions have or still perform faithfully like my Rav 4? As I look back over too many years to bring to your attention I can think of one piece of equipment that did just that.
Yes, I had some presses that were very dependable, but no performance through the years matched the DS scanner manufactured by the company we now simply call Screen. I may have referred to the DS scanner in a previous column, but I have such a high respect for quality and reliability in both equipment and people that this machine is at the top of my honor roll.
For those of you who might not have been in the business during the hay-day of drum scanners, it was a time when you spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for a piece of equipment that slowly did what today's affordable flatbed scanners do. (And I am not going to get into the argument with the old-time scanner operators about superior range, quarter tones, etc., because that's all past history.)
But going back to the '80s, when color separations were solely in the domain of our industry, my company had an usually large scanning department running three shifts. We had Hell scanners, like many in those days. Unfortunately they were true to their name; they broke down frequently. We finally looked elsewhere and bought a DS scanner. It ran day in, day out with no problems. In fact, whereas the Hell scanners seemed to need a live-in repair man, our service contract on the DS scanner was dropped for lack of need.
It just performed its job efficiently in producing high-quality scans. All of these memories came flooding back to me as I talked to Jeff Paquette, prepress manager at Cummings Printing. Three years ago, Cummings installed two Screen PTR 8000 CTP devices. As Paquette touted their quality and reliability, I had to smile because it was good to know that some things hadn't changed. Screen was still producing solid equipment. But, as Jeff continued, I really became intrigued.
Time is Now to Automate
Anyone who reads my column knows about my strong belief that our industry must automate in order to grow and prosper. In fact, my column that received the most e-mails and calls was November's "Don't Touch Those Ink Fountain Keys," which featured Motheral Printing's amazing success in its efforts to automate. So I was fascinated as Jeff began to talk about how Cummings Printing is approaching this very challenge.
Cummings Printing is located in Hooksett, NH, and has a well-equipped pressroom that features a four-color, 22.75x38" MAN Roland Rotoman full web; a five-color, 22.75x38" Toshiba OA-800 full web; a five-color, 28 3/8 x 40 1/8" Heidelberg Speedmaster SM102 sheetfed perfector; and a two-color, 25 5/8 x 37" Miller TP-95 perfector.
Ninety percent of Cummings' work consists of short-run publications, which produce a massive amount of prepress. In fact, Paquette revealed that their customers nationwide generate 10,000 to 12,000 electronic pages per month. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that receiving all these files in native file format was not going to lead them to automation's promised land.
This is also by no means a unique revelation since surveys show that most printers seek a PDF workflow that starts with their clients. The problem has always been that customers simply can't be depended on to make proper PDFs that fit with a printer's workflow. Cummings Printing, however, decided to take action to make it work.
Its first effort was to launch an education campaign to teach customers how to make proper PDFs that would blend with Cumming's workflow. The result was that customers did send well-made PDFs, but all too often there were breakdowns that created the need for a re-education effort. A better solution was needed that would give customers the ability to properly produce PDFs time after time.
Creating the Right PDF
About a year ago Cummings purchased Screen's Riteportal. Similar to Adobe's PDF JobReady, Riteportal enables the printer's customer to create and send a PDF that can be custom-tailored to the printer's workflow. The PDF that Riteportal creates is also certified, preflighted and encrypted, allowing decryption only by the specific printer so competitors can't steal the show.
The printer's client doesn't even need a copy of Acrobat; they simply download a customized executable from the printer's Website. Once installed on their computer, the customer simply accesses the print dialog box in whatever application they used to create their print job. Cummings Printing, or whatever name the printer wants, appears in the dropdown menu.
A simple click produces a PDF that is tailored to the printer's specifications without client decision or intervention. The PDF can be viewed and preflighted by the client before another simple click sends it to the printer's server via the Web.
Paquette reveals that the hard part was experimenting with the exact configuration that would blend with their workflow and their many clients. Cummings launched Riteportal about six months ago and Paquette reports that they now have 70 percent of all submitted files in PDF format—and that they're coming in right. But this is just the beginning.
Cummings also wants to start with the customer. They have enabled their customers to generate a proper PDF with Riteportal. But the next step is to have the client produce a JDF file containing the customer's job specifications. Riteportal is also JDF-enabled and makes this simple since the customer needs only to fill out a form that is tailored to the printer's desired format.
Cummings also has Screen's JDF-enabled Riteonline, which is a Web browser-based print ordering system that allows their customers to procure customized documents or reprints. These customer interfaces are linked to Screen's TrueFlow prepress system, enabling Cummings to move toward a total JDF environment.
There is much work to do, but Cummings Printing is well on the way toward realizing its goal of complete automation. Standardization isn't easy and changing age-old printing habits is really tough. But partnering with the right suppliers can help make all the difference.