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Printing Impressions-September 2005 Column
Is Your Head in the Sand?

Survey numbers for Computer-integrated Manufacturing (CIM), released by TrendWatch Graphic Arts, show that perception of CIM as a sales opportunity and planned investment in CIM are lower today than six months ago.

The article reports that 1 percent of graphic arts firms see CIM as a sales opportunity—down from 4 percent one year ago.

Am I surprised? Not really; in many of the venues where I participate I can see the lack of interest among the general printing population. A good example was the JDF in Action Booth at the Graphics of the Americas show this February in Miami Beach, where three times a day I gave a talk on the basics of JDF. I spoke about what it is, what it means to printers and why they will either adopt it, be forced into it by their customers or possibly face extinction.

My most important message wasn't to run out and "JDF their businesses" immediately. It was to start to learn about it now and to make plans for moving towards standards, automation and CIM. After all, JDF is still an emerging technology with some of it here now and much more to come. Although my talk drew good crowds, I would be less than honest if I said that I created a mass movement toward JDF planning.

What did surprise me was that, despite all the PR, the audience really knew very little about CIM and JDF. This also seems to be a surprise to most industry suppliers of equipment and software. From their perspective, there is such a barrage of information on JDF that it seems highly unlikely printers are not fully aware of what it means, let alone what it is.

Events like PIA/GATF's workflow conference and most of the vendor-sponsored traveling seminars draw those that are already instituting automated workflows or are at least in the planning process. If there are more than 40,000 graphic arts firms and the 1 percent figure is correct, than a mere 200 printers see CIM as a sales opportunity. But the survey also gets a little complex with two statistics that seem to contradict the initial finding:

* 20 percent of these same firms see CIM as a business challenge, nearly triple six months earlier.

* 5 percent of graphic arts firms have taken steps to incorporate CIM into their workflows, rising to 23 percent of periodical printers.

Heidi Tolliver-Nigro, TrendWatch analyst and author of the report, notes, "While much of the data in the current report may be alarming, especially to technology vendors (printers may actually breathe a sigh of relief!), the outlook for CIM is not dire. In fact, we believe CIM to be an extremely important—and perhaps inevitable—technology for the long-term."

There are always the few progressive printers who have the vision to carefully plan for the future. If the 5 percent number above is correct, then they number about 1,000—I believe that there are more. However, the vast majority of printers are either so focused on their day-to-day activities or so blinded by the love of the craft that they will just wait until the future slams them in the face, which unfortunately may be a knockout punch.

As I have often said, this is just history repeating itself. A trip back to those thrilling days of mechanicals and typesetters would reveal that the majority of printers refused to believe that desktop publishing would have an impact. Unfortunately, all too many buried their heads in the sand until desktop publishing buried their business. Who made it happen? The customer.

The same will happen again. In the not-too-distant future customers will be able to automatically create JDF functionality within their desktop publishing applications. In fact, Adobe InDesign, in the recently released Creative Suite 2, can export a JDF when a PDF is exported. Open Acrobat 7, which has JDF functionality, and you can complete a JDF job ticket.

Customers Need Color
Customers will have no choice since the vast majority of color jobs are short-run, with projections showing this trend to continue. Color pages will grow five-fold by next year from 2001 (although much of this increase comes from office laser printers), with turnaround times also shortening dramatically.

Long runs, with their longer turns, may be able to absorb some of the costs of traditional printing. But long runs are going to become scarcer; although the growth of color pages will be staggering, it will largely be composed of the addition of a multitude of short-run projects. Unfortunately, short-run jobs don't have long-run budgets, with the room for prepress being particularly tight. Now add ultra-fast turns to this equation and there's no time or money to support anything but an automated workflow—and, in many cases, digital printing. But that's another story.

Perhaps that's why Tolliver-Nigro said TrendWatch believes CIM to be an extremely important technology for the long-term.

The handwriting is already on the wall: If you want to play the game in the near future you must automate your workflows. Prices will fall even further as the mad scramble begins for those jobs available for non-automated, craft-type printers. Non-progressive printers will be in trouble for several reasons.

For one, the scarcity of jobs tailored for their capabilities. Moreover, automated printers will become more price and turnaround attractive to even those customers with long runs. Plus, quality can actually increase with standards and automation. Don't believe it? Read my November 2004 column, "Don't Touch Those Ink Fountain Keys!"

I agree with Tolliver-Nigro, but I lean completely in the direction that JDF will become inevitable for printers in the future. Many of my future columns will focus on those shops that have actually begun the process of automating their workflow. I'm already aware of some, but please e-mail me with your own experiences—good and bad.

I don't know if it's 99 percent, but all too many of my fellow printers have their heads in the sand. The future is going to be harsh for those who aren't paying attention. For if you bury your head in the sand, you might find yourself stuck in quicksand.

Harry Waldman

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