In both conventional printing and package-printing environments, the term “workflow” denotes the steps in an end-to-end production process designed to yield a specified product. In commercial environments, these steps include trapping, screening, RIPing, imposition, color management, proofing, and platemaking, in addition to other labor-intensive front-end tasks. Package printing adds layers of complexity, due largely to combining graphical and structural information in a single, production-ready file, as well as to handle innumerable matched inks and varnishes, step-and-repeat, and a variety of packaging-specific production challenges.
Workflow integration is playing an increasingly important role in decision making for consumer product companies (CPCs) and retailers concerned with shorter delivery cycles, waste reduction, and total system costs. For printers working within the constraints of the packaging supply chain, the importance of investing in an integrated workflow that understands complex packaging requirements cannot be overstated.
Connecting the dots
Automation is a prerequisite for integration, and the evolution of digital prepress workflows has followed this course. Prepress workflows have seen multiple time- and labor-intensive manual steps replaced by automated tasks performed with little or no human intervention. In both commercial and packaging settings, an integrated workflow is one in which these individual automated steps combine to produce a seamless system. The overall goal of workflow integration is improving accuracy, eliminating duplication of effort and waste, increasing efficiency, shrinking delivery times, and providing printers with a decisive competitive advantage. The primary driver of workflow integration is the Job Definition Format (JDF) universal job ticket specification, which is designed to simplify the job specification process, ensure cross-vendor interoperability, and automate manual production processes to yield accurate, predictable, and repeatable end products.
From a production standpoint, a JDF workflow and its fully digital data transfer enable streamlined, efficient communication of production-critical data across the supply chain. By doing this, it makes manual processes and data transfers unnecessary by integrating all systems and machines required for the manufacturing process. Additional benefits arise from the transparency and traceability of the entire process, as well as the modularity of the software. The ability of JDF-driven systems to provide bi-directional data exchange with the user’s management information system (MIS) is also key. Prominent examples of packaging workflows include Agfa’s :ApogeeX for Packaging, -EskoArtworks’ Backstage automation server and -WebCenter project management and preproduction approval solution, Heidelberg’s Prinect for Packaging, and Kodak’s Prinergy Powerpack for Packaging.