Diversification of the Print Shop

At OnDemand Expo, print providers move toward a blended workflow.

The OnDemand Conference & Expo was held on new turf this year, moving to the Boston Convention and Exposition Center in Massachusetts after 2 years in Philadelphia. More than 200 exhibitors shared the OnDemand floor space with such regulars as Adobe, Kodak, Canon, Fuji, and others. The expo, devoted to the on-demand/high-speed print space, shares floor space with the AIIM show, devoted to enterprise content-management, and the co-joined event was the largest held so far at the facility, with more than 25,000 attendees from 77 countries, and 425 total exhibiting companies utilizing about 180,000 square feet of floor space.

One of the underlying themes at this year's OnDemand event: diversifying the print shop. Those shops in the commercial print segment are looking at inkjet-based digital solutions to supplement their existing production equipment, while digital print providers are seeing what other value-added services they can bring in-house. In addition, many shops-those in the digital arena as well as those outside of it-are very interested in increasing the efficiency of their binding and fulfillment operations, with a particularly noticeable interest in coating and laminating.

I have no doubt that this trend toward blended workflow will increase, with more and more companies integrating various digital technologies into their print output. Automation and production efficiency were important bywords at this year's OnDemand Expo, and manufacturers came through with numerous innovative approaches to help print-providers make that happen-from the front end to the printing device to binding and fulfillment. It’s a trend that's certain to continue.

OnDemand will return to Boston in 2008 (March 3-6) with a host of new announcements. Meanwhile, here are a few highlights from this year's show.

PAT Technology Systems (www.pattechnology.com), perhaps best known in the wide-format market for its CaptivAir products, showcased enhancements to its innovative VarstarTM sheet-fed digital UV Coater finishing system. The device uses the 1001 printhead developed by Xaar to create "the world’s first true commercial digital varnishing coater producing ‘on the fly’ flood and spot coating, textures and special effects in a single pass from just a digital graphics file." It is, the company reports, the first system to implement Xaar’s 1001 printhead, the initial offering from that company's hybrid side-shooter (HSS) inkjet platform.

The VarstarTM produces effects that were previously impossible or not cost-effective using traditional processes. The machine prints at very high speeds (7000 A4 sheets per hour) and offers a variety of coating finishes including flood, spot coating, textures, variable gloss levels with a single fluid and special effects without the need for plates or blankets. It can also apply multi-layer coating to create raised effects the company calls 'fluid embossing.'

The machine now comes in three models: the M-5 has a 13.8-in. imaging width, the M-6 a 16.6-in. imaging width, and the M8 a 22.2-in. imaging width. The machines will accept paper up to 24-in. wide and stock from 3-24 pt. The company says its coatings are specifically designed to work with digitally produced documents, alleviating many of the problems commonly associated with coating documents produced on toner-based print devices.

Quark (www.quark.com) announced enhanced XML support for QuarkXPress Server 7.2 which should now be shipping. QuarkXPress Server technology powers Web-based, data-driven applications that enable system integrators and software developers to deliver custom, dynamic content to end users.

"The new XML capability...embraces open standards to further extend the power of this technology, enabling customers to automatically construct design-rich QuarkXPress documents from industry-standard XML,' says Linda Chase, senior vice president of Quark's Enterprise Products.

Benefits of QuarkXPress Server 7.2’s enhanced XML capabilities include:

* True on-demand dynamic publishing: Customers can now use a more flexible interface to deliver richly designed content when and where customers want.

* Improved multi-channel output support: Customers can feed design-rich content created in QuarkXPress 7 via QuarkXPress Server to an e-mail server, Web server, or other content delivery environments.

* Easier integration with business systems, such as Web content, enterprise, and digital asset management systems.

Quark also shared its exhibit space at the show with several third party developers who are working on the new platform. Many of these third party software products provide significant automation and Web-based document creation capabilities to the basic Quark Server 7.2 product.

Xerox (www.xerox.com) demonstrated its new Xerox 8265 Wide Format Color Printer, which is currently only available in Europe but is expected to be available in North America later this year. Utilizing eco-solvent inks, the 8265 is geared toward indoor and outdoor point-of-purchase displays, presentation graphics, banners, vehicle graphics, floor graphics and wall murals. The 8265 prints 65-in.- wide images at up to 172 feet per hour; resolution tops out at 720 dpi. (Editor's note: The Xerox UK website also shows a mild-solvent wide-format printer as well, although there is no indication if that machine will be sold in the US.)

Other products shown at OnDemand include: The Xerox Nuvera 288 Digital Perfecting System; the Xerox 4595 Digital Copier/Printer, a 95 page-per-minute model; the Xerox 4110 Digital Copier/Printer with a FreeFlow DocuSP controller, providing customized output at 110 ppm; new finishing options for the Xerox DocuTech 128 and 155 Highlight Color Systems (and availability of custom-blended colors for use in critical spot-color applications); the DocuColor 260 Digital Color Printer/Copier; the new DocuColor 242 and 252 Digital Color Printer/Copiers; and two new workflow tools: the FreeFlow Print Server 6.0 and FreeFlow Process Manager MAX (Manifest Automation from Xerox).

XMPie (www.xmpie.com), now owned by Xerox, introduced a new release of its Web-to-print solution, UStore. Enhancements include:

* Job Aggregation - Multiple, individual print job orders can be merged into a single print stream and sorted by a data point.

* Database Recipient List - uStore can now connect directly to an SQL database.

* Plug-in Architecture - XMPie expanded uStore's plug-in architecture, which allows XMPie customers to create customized plug-ins that enhance the capabilities of uStore to improve workflow and customize the user interface.

* Advanced Drop-Down Lists - Users can now save and repurpose the data for drop-down lists that appear in the store interface; for example, a list of state abbreviations.

* Order ID and Product ID Variables: This capability allows users to print the Order ID and Product ID next to the document.

Meanwhile, Bitstream (www.bitstream.com) debuted an enhanced version of its Pageflex Storefront product, which will be available this summer. This release of Storefront includes several key features that enable customers to expand their product offering and tap into the profitable consumer market.

A key feature allows users to customize their store interface to a much greater level than before. Using these tools, users can change the appearance of all visible elements of the end-user site.

This release also fills requests for anonymous browsing, enabling users to come into the site and create products without having to register. Once the user reaches the checkout, they can register to make the purchase and complete the transaction.

'Our customers have a demonstrated history of utilizing the Web to open up new lines of business, and Pageflex has supported that innovation with technology that builds robust Web-to-print solutions,' says Anna Chagnon, president and CEO.

EFI (www.efi.com) introduced a new EFI Fiery platform, featuring a new industrial design as well as a unique Visual Workflow that optimizes productivity by providing job progress at-a-glance, plus built in 'how-to' guides to address a wide range of operator expertise. The platform features EFI Fiery ColorWise, the company's in-RIP color management system (with a Spot-On feature providing the ability to measure and manage spot colors) and supports variable data printing, including such VDP languages as PPML, Fiery FreeForm, and a host of legacy proprietary languages.

In addition, the company:

* Announced support of the new UGRA/Fogra (the Graphic Technology Research Associations of Switzerland, UGRA, and Germany, Fogra) Media Wedge CMYK v2.2 for the HP Designjet Z Photo Printer Series. The media wedge is intended for the monitoring of digital proofs and can also be used as a digital control aid to monitor the effect of imaging in CMYK mode and other prepress work. The Designjet Z Series comprises HP's first printers with an integrated spectrophotometer, offering an automated, intuitive experience in image reproduction. For contract proofing, it's essential that a media wedge is placed on a proof for measurement-based verification. The new UGRA/Fogra Media Wedge CMYK v2.2 layout is specifically designed to take advantage of the HP Designjet Z Series' embedded spectrophotometer. EFI Colorproof XF supports the new layout in a way that proofs can be automatically printed, measured, and verified.

* Debuted a re-engineered and re-designed version of its Web-to-print platform, EFI Digital StoreFront (DSF). Version 3.0 includes a completely redesigned and highly customizable user interface, easier and faster Web-based administration, new VDP choices, and new features across the entire system. With DSF, a shop's customers can easily navigate through a full suite of print products and services all in one place, including personalized print items and managed catalogs; print buyers can shop, specify, proof and buy print products. In addition, DSF acts as an 'on-ramp' to the digital production workflow and print-management systems.

It was announced earlier this year, but the sale of Artwork Systems' (www.artwork-systems.com) Neo product under the Enfocus (www.enfocus.com) name is news. A sophisticated stand-alone PDF editor, Neo bridges the gap between Enfocus’s very popular Adobe Acrobat plug-in PitStop and the high-end workflow tools sold under the Artwork Systems name. Neo was previously sold only under the Artwork Systems name and through their dealers. By using the much broader Enfocus distribution network, the company hopes to fill the gap between low-end and high-end users. It’s a niche that the $4500 ($7500 with trapping) Neo fits neatly into.

Neo certainly takes a much bigger bite out of a shop's pocketbook than does PitStop (about $699), but it is also a much more robust application. Among Neo’s capabilities are: viewing and measuring, separation handling, advanced text and paragraph editing, object transformations, image editing and re-linking, clip path handling and transparency handling, and more. Neo offers high-end tools in a stand-alone product for editing PDF in its native format, allowing a broad range of last minute changes to be made without going back to native applications.

VRS 4.1 Professional software (VRS stands for Virtual Rescan) from Kofax (www.kofax.com) essentially does just about any correction or image compensation you would normally do by re-scanning a document without actually re-scanning it. The software combines automatic page orientation and color detection and compensation with image enhancement that increases OCR accuracy by nearly 35%, reports the company. VRS can suppress noisy backgrounds, apply handwriting recognition, and even detect and delete blank pages. The software has drivers for a variety of scanning devices, including desktop, production, and workgroup scanner models from companies such as Canon, Epson, Kodak, and Visioneer.

On the finishing side of things, Oce (www.oceusa.com) and Muller Martini (www.mullermartini.com) partnered at the show to create a demonstration of digital book manufacturing featuring Muller Martini’s SigmaLine OnDemand technology coupled with Oce’s VarioStream continuous-feed printing system. The result of the partnership: a complete in-line book printing and finishing system. The Oce VarioStream 7000 series continuous-feed duplex printers were shown feeding an Ibis Smartbinder saddle stitcher as one option, and a Muller Martini SigmaBinder perfect binder via a Shuttleworth conveyor as another.

The in-line system shown can also be run in a near-line configuration. "For example, when saddle-stitched products are being produced in-line, you can simultaneously hand-feed the measuring station of the SigmaBinder with book blocks," says Andrew J. Fetherman, manager of Muller Martini's OnDemand Solutions Division. "This allows you to reap the benefits of in-line efficiencies when the complete line is running, while always having the added advantage of near-line capabilities when you need it."

Muller Martini’s SigmaBinder produces perfect-bound books at up to 1000 fully variable-sized copies per hour, with hotmelt utilized for separate spine and side gluing. SigmaTower ensures proper cooling of perfect-bound books and optimal curing of the adhesives. SigmaTrimmer utilizes a new, patented swing-cut principle with three independently driven knife elements, automatically trimming books of varying sizes and thickness.

In addition to perfect binding and trimming, these products also offer the capability for continuous-feed printing, folding, and collating.

Another example of the OnDemand show’s growing interest in finishing could be seen at the GBC (www.gbc.com) booth as well as its partner booths.

In the Ricoh Americas Corporation booth, for instance, GBC’s StreamPunch III was running with various Aficio devices. These solutions provide in-line printing, punching, and collating. The finished documents were then bound with GBC’s ProClick Pronto, which uses a spine that opens easily for removing and adding pages to bound documents.

In GBC’s own booth, meanwhile, the Professional Punch-A1 could be seen running on the Canon imageRunner 7105 multifunction monochrome printer. This system punches at speeds up to 105 ppm. Jobs are submitted from the desktop or graphical user interface to create ready-to-bind documents.

And GBC’s SmartPunch was shown in the Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America booth. This on-line punch accessory works with the Sharp MX-M850, MX-M950, and MX-M1100 and features job submission from desktop or MFP, job recovery, and punching at the rated speed of the printer, up to 110 pages per minute.

GBC, CP Bourg, and Xerox Corporation teamed up to create an end-to-end workflow for finished perfect-bound books on-demand in the CP Bourg booth. The color book covers were printed on a Xerox DocuColor 8000 Digital Press, then laminated on the GBC Delta laminator with GBC Digital Lay-Flat Film. Laminated covers were fed through a CP Bourg BBF 2005 Perfect Binder and married to the book block output from the Xerox DocuTech 180 Highlight Color printer. The inline Xerox Manual & Book Factory with a Challenge CMT330 Digital 3-Knife Trimmer created finished and trimmed perfect bound books ready to be packed and shipped.

HP (www.hp.com) had everything from wide-format inkjet devices to Indigo Digital presses and workflow demonstrations going on in its booth. Demo stations in the prepress section include HP Indigo production manager and HP Indigo Production Stream Server powered by Creo Print on Demand solutions.

HP Indigo partners demonstrated live solutions for Press-sense, Ultimate, Agfa, ApogeeX, Heidelberg, Mindfire, Prinect, Printable, Pageflex, and GMC, as well as HP’s Yours Truly Designer. Duplo, Olec, and Morgana were also present demonstrating firsthand their finishing capabilities in conjunction with the Indigo output.

SeeFile (www.seefile.com), the software developer concentrating on digital asset management, file delivery, and collaboration through Web-based tools released version 3.0 of SeeFile, which was reported on in our June issue (see pg. 14). Enhancements include: integrated workflow combining Web uploads, hotfolder PDF processing, Web PDF proofs; compatibility with EnFocus PitStop Server 4.0 and PitStop Automate 1.0; a range of advanced functions including side-by-side image comparisons, onscreen annotations, and color-coded collections for each user; and more.