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Noodling with Job Planning and Imposition Software

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  • Noodling with Job Planning and Imposition Software

    By Richard Romano, Industry Analyst

    I once bought a pasta maker. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I mean, I like pasta (it’s part of the heritage, after all!), and fresh, restaurant-quality pasta is one of life’s great delights. However, since I do not actually run a restaurant, the pasta maker ended up being more trouble than it was worth. From all the prep work it takes to make the dough to put into the thing, to the elaborate clean-up required, it turned out that just picking up a box of Ronzoni—or, better yet, going out to my favorite Italian restaurant—was a far more convenient option. So the pasta maker went into the kitchen cabinet and has pretty much stayed there ever since.

    Let’s face it: a lot of the hardware and software that a print business buys is like the pasta maker. It sounds like a good idea at the time and that it will make our lives easier, but just doesn’t live up to our expectations. Take imposition software. There is no shortage of job planning, layout, and imposition software on the market, but much of it falls far short of the automation we need, and ends up requiring a hands-on, manual approach to imposition, which defeats the purpose of having the software in the first place. So users end up getting frustrated with the software, and either use it begrudgingly, ignore it, or uninstall it.

    This is because, for imposition to be a truly automated process, it needs data. And in order to get that data, it needs to integrate with other systems in the enterprise—namely, the MIS.

    Let’s back up a second and talk about what imposition is. The term imposition is used to refer to setting up a multi-page document or publication for printing: determining what pages go on the front and back of a sheet and in what configuration so that when the sheet is folded, gathered with any other signatures, and cut, the pages appear in the proper order. Imposition can be about more than proper page placement; it also encompasses what is known as “job planning.” That is, ganging and grouping jobs in a strategic way. What jobs use the same paper and ink or share other specifications? How can they be combined on a sheet such that you are making the most efficient use of not only paper and other consumables, but also time?

    The hallmark of a good imposition and job planning system is the ability to identify jobs with similar specs so that they can be combined. This is especially important when it comes to short-run jobs; particularly on an offset press, short-run jobs can be cost-ineffective to run, as makeready can often take longer—and use more consumables—than the run itself. However, with effective planning, short-run jobs can be made more cost-effective. For that to happen, though, the system needs to have data. And not just data, but centralized data.

    It all starts with estimating. We all know those shops that treat estimating almost like a mystical art. The “estimator” is a kind of Delphic oracle-like figure who conjures up quotes via a process more akin to sorcery. That kind of approach dates from a time when printing was treated more as a craft or art than as a manufacturing process. Alas, that approach just won’t cut it today. Estimating now is best performed as an automated process derived from a database of costs and other information.

    The database that is used for estimating needs to be the same centralized database used for every other aspect of production. This ensures that errors are not introduced as data is transcribed or re-input when jobs move from one part of the production stream to the other. It also ensures that any changes made to a job’s specs are transferred instantly right down the line. So when the job planning and imposition system can tap into this same data stream, jobs can be grouped, ganged, and imposed with maximum efficiency, saving time and money, and reducing makeready spoilage.

    Now, there is the perception among a lot of folks that quality suffers when jobs are combined, that each job should be unique unto itself. (I am reminded of the Margaret Mead quote, “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”) However, there is no reason to think that quality will suffer simply because you are grouping jobs with similar specs. Granted, not all jobs can be combined, and some are in fact unique (although this will depend upon the product range the shop offers), but there is in all likelihood some percentage of jobs that can be combined and consolidated. How to identify these jobs?

    This is where an effective imposition and job planning system becomes a useful tool, and not like the pasta maker that has been relegated to the furthest depths of the kitchen cabinet.

    Take something like EFI’s Metrix. Metrix offers a centralized database approach to job planning, layout, and imposition. From estimating, through prepress, all the way to finishing, Metrix ensures that everyone in the production process is working from the same information, which minimizes errors and boosts productivity and efficiency. It also makes intelligent decisions about job grouping and combining. Return on investment (ROI) is always a tricky thing to measure—no two shops gauge it the same way—but industry analysts have determined that a solution like Metrix can pay for itself in less than a year, thanks to job combination and reduction of makeready waste.

    Truly automated imposition and job planning is what makes the difference between a solution that will pay for itself fairly quickly, and one that will become the software equivalent of the unused pasta maker.
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