Automating the Human Equation
The concept of workflow is probably easier to understand than it is to define. Workflow incorporates the many step-by-step decisions and deliverables that are required from the original concept stage through production—in the case of printing, the printed product.
Workflow automation is somewhat easier to define. It incorporates a variety of tools—within each workflow segment—that are available to help users maximize efficiencies, drive down costs, and reduce the impact of human error, leading to faster time to market.
Most commercial prepress workflows account for basic production steps that include trapping, screening, and imposition, along with color management, proofing, and platemaking. Packaging workflows differ from commercial workflows in that they reflect the variety and complexity of the end product: corrugated boxes, folding cartons, bags, labels, shrink sleeve foils, POP displays, and metal cans—and the print disciplines used to produce them. They also reflect the vast array of inks, substrates, shapes, and finishes intended to increase shelf appeal. This is why automation is key.
Pre-production systems for packaging refine the highly automated prepress workflows of commercial printing and adapt them for package production by emphasizing speed and supply chain collaboration. They also add tools to meet a variety of packaging-specific technical challenges, such as the handling of spot colors, step-and-repeat or trapping specifications, and other labor-intensive, front-end, and RIP-based tasks.
For consumer product companies (CPCs) that increasingly are among the users of these systems, a key challenge is to maintain consistent brand color and quality across substrates and markets anywhere in the world, regardless of the printing process. Requirements like these demand that all of the graphical, structural, and technical specifications of the final package be nailed down and approved by all stakeholders before the package begins actual production. The development of digital platemaking, PDF-based digital workflows, soft proofing, and other Internet-based collaborative tools play an essential role in helping CPCs—as well as printers, trade shops, and converters—get and maintain control of these complex processes.