Automation On the Road to Seamless
Automation in prepress can significantly improve time to market through workflow process integration.
THE AIM OF workflow automation is to be able to respond to customer requirements quickly. This is accomplished by minimizing or eliminating, as completely as possible, the manual steps that can lead to the costly waste of time, materials, and labor. While developments in workflow automation for packaging tend to mimic those in the commercial printing world, software and equipment vendors continue to develop and refine a variety of integrated tools designed to accommodate the special needs of packaging operations.
According to Jan De Roeck, marketing director for packaging software, Esko-Graphics, when print quality is more or less a given, differentiation becomes an issue as printers work to improve their operating margins. "One way to do this," says De Roeck, "is to integrate the supply chain—link your MIS with your customer's supply chain. This has been a very clear shift in the offset world."
The pressure to automate packaging workflows has tended to lag similar developments in the offset world, says De Roeck, "most likely because there is not yet quite enough pressure from the standpoint of the cost structures involved." In the packaging world, he notes, "especially flexography, putting ink on the substrate is still a differentiator—but there are signs that this is poised to change."
To determine what makes prepress automation for packaging different from prepress automation for other kinds of production is to acknowledge the industry's adoption of PDF (Portable Document Format) as the standard for digital file exchange and processing. Specifically, this refers to the creation and verification of the graphically complex packaging files prior to production.
Adobe PDF is a file format that may contain many different types of objects and constructs, not all of them equally suitable for print production. The activities of the Ghent PDF Workgroup (GWG), an international assembly of more than 30 industry companies and associations, are intended to establish and process specifications for best practices in graphic arts workflows. Given that more PDF exchange is happening in packaging prepress, the primary activity of the Packaging Subcommittee of the GWG is to build a set of guidelines for the creation, exchange, and quality control of PDF files between document creators and document receivers in the packaging market. Accordingly, the GWG "baseline format" contains guidelines for creation, exchange, and quality control of PDF files among brand owners, design agencies, and prepress houses. It covers flexo, offset, gravure, etc. based on the benefits of digital file transfer, easy storage and maintenance, and secure communication up and down the supply chain—among other advantages.