A number of significant developments have accelerated the move to collaborative working models. These developments and their implications for the packaging supply chain will be explored in this article.
DEVELOPMENT OF NEW FILE FORMATS
The use of the Portable Document Format (PDF) and more recently Job Definition Format (JDF), has provided the printing industry with a predictable and flexible format, that has solved many of the limitations encountered with other file structures.
These new formats are transferable via the internet and can be easily viewed and manipulated, no matter what program has been used to create the file.
The introduction of the PDF and JDF file format has facilitated the development of new and radical supply chain models.
PORTABLE DOCUMENT FORMAT (PDF)
Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF) has provided the label and printing industry with a solution that enables networked communities to work together. The PDF format allows a document created on one computer to be viewed on any other computer or printed on any device without the receiver having the application that created the document. This offers a unique flexibility which has accelerated developments in digital workflow processes.
JOB DEFINITION FORMAT (JDF)
JDF (Job Definition Format) provides users with the means to describe their jobs electronically.
A JDF is an XML-based file format standard for information exchange, designed to aid communication and automate processes, particularly between designers and the converter.
JDF files can be added to, as job information is gathered throughout the printing supply chain. This level of flexibility is not afforded by a PDF.
EXTENSIBLE METADATA PLATFORM (XMP)
Adobe's Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP) is another file format that is helping in the development of workflow solutions. XMP is a labeling technology that allows data (known as metadata) to be embedded into the file and provides an easy way to deliver project information.
Add to the success of PDF/ JDF, the computerisation of other processes such as pre-flighting, trapping, imposition, digital proofing and digital-to-film, plate or press, and the route to completely digital workflow has now become a reality.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF COLLABORATIVE WORKING
Set against a background of expanding markets and ever more complex supply chains, keeping control of key elements in brand design can be a real headache.
There are however an increasing number of technical solutions that can assist the way product launches are controlled and managed.
The ultimate desire of any brand owner is to achieve the following objectives:
A harmonised brand where its image appears identical in every country in which it is sold, irrespective of the material it is printed on.
An increase in the speed of product introductions and brand campaigns whilst at the same time achieving significant cost reductions.
All too often a company’s supply chain is characterised by its fragmented and outdated nature, reduced visibility of where the money is being spent and a chronic lack of control, amongst other things. Collaborative digital workflows for visual communications are able to speed up the time to market and reduce the many communication problems and costs surrounding brand development.
Synchronising supply chains (ie integrating purchasing, distribution and marketing) so that brand designs are optimised and harmonised is an effective way to meet customer expectations, whilst at the same time delivering greater control.
COLOR MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
With advancements in monitor technology it is now possible for brand managers and printers to amend or approve designs instantly on-screen. Calibrated monitors can be located with all the key decision makers in the supply chain. The idea is to guarantee the design and colors they get on the final printed result will be the same as those they have seen and agreed to on-screen.
Waiting for proofs to arrive by post or courier slows down the entire approval process, so proofing on-screen is accelerating the communication across the supply chain and is radically reducing costs and the carbon footprint of organisations.
All members of a team are able to collaborate, to see the file simultaneously, to make comments on it and to approve jobs.
Using state of the art calibrated monitors effectively eliminates all the variables and controls the viewing environment.
The artwork is actually checked against the profile of the printing equipment and the material on which it is going to be printed, so that when the image is rendered on the screen it actually looks the same as it will on the final printed pack or label.
Today a new breed of color management devices and processes are being used to control and manage color throughout the supply chain.
These typically feature the following;
Customised, high-end monitors
Color measurement devices
Kiosk-controlled viewing conditions
New color science and proprietary methodologies to render RGB into CMYK
Real time proof suite of web-based, collaborative proofing tools.
BRAND ASSET CONTROL
As we have already seen most of a typical project’s costs and time are incurred before it enters production, namely creating, manipulating, approving, translating and finally proofing.
A digital asset library provides a central repository of images that the client can access. This makes it easy for supply chain partners to retrieve previous lines, cross reference brands and mix and match images into a new range, amongst other things.
A lot of time can be spent sending or waiting for images, documents or designs to be delivered by post, courier or email, and making sure that all parties conform to brand guidelines and quality standards.
The development of Open Pre-press Interface (OPI) has supported this activity.
OPI* is a graphics management system that is useful for reducing the time taken to send high resolution files on networks. With OPI systems high resolution images are stored on a central server whilst a low resolution version is supplied to users as a quick and easy way to visualise a job. A key benefit of the OPI system is that when a job is ready to print, the system can reinstate the high resolution files exactly as the user intended.
*Workflow protocol developed by Aldus Corporation.
The value of brand asset control increases as more and more companies move or expand production overseas.
A vital link in any supply chain is undoubtedly the retailer, many of whom experience problems as a result of poor communication with their suppliers and having to handle an increasingly complex web of relationships. This is why the concept of supply chain management now comes much higher up on the management agenda.
MIS - MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEMS
Initially the term digital work flow used to describe pre-press workflow, is now being extended to cover the entire process, from the moment a customer asks for a quote or places an order, right through to its delivery and invoicing.
Many software systems can already provide trapping, ripping and imposition tools, but not all are capable of linking such tools with MIS, digital asset management systems, accounting systems and desktop applications, into one comprehensive toolkit. Future workflow systems will increasingly create a synergy between all partners in the label industry supply chain – materials suppliers, converters, distributors, brand owners, etc – and have connectivity to other systems.
All elements of integrated workflow, from design and specification, through all production stages to final distribution and invoicing, working together, will significantly increase throughput and eliminate communication and operator errors in the total label industry supply chain.