Four years ago, following the IPEX 2006 event, the UK-based SP Group Ltd took a giant step in overhauling its workflow, purchasing DALIM SOFTWARE’s MISTRAL to automate the repetitive and labor intensive tasks associated with preparing files for printing.
“We were looking for a workflow that is open and not tied to a particular vendor, a centralized system that optimized PDF files for print processes, and that we could customize for different devices,” says Nick Stevens, technical director for SP Group.
MISTRAL–with a Twist backbone–has evolved into the prepress hub for the company, allowing the SP team to easily manage its various methods of output for its customers’ promotion requirements, while saving it considerable time and money. It sits smack in the middle of the company’s different RIPs and output devices.
“It is our essential repository for our POP and promotion work, and used very much as the center for all the print, color management processes and optimization processes,” says Stevens.
SP’s workflow follows a fairly straightforward route. Pages are supplied by customers as PDF or as native artwork and a PDF file is built, set to an ISO standard. The file is uploaded to MISTRAL for color management and optimized for the specific print process.
The optimized file is used internally for approvals within the MISTRAL workflow. Quality control is assured with a two-stage approval process. The uploaded file is first approved by a Macintosh operator, then by a CSR gatekeeper. Only after they both give the thumbs up is the job ready for print. The CSR’s approval automatically triggers an email to the department head of the specified print process. For example, for a job slated for sheetfed litho, the email will go the litho department head. He then transfers the file from MISTRAL to the RIP.
While MISTRAL’s capabilities include the ability to automatically transfer the file to the RIP, the company, in this case anyway, prefers a manual road. “We deliberately intervene, and don’t automatically transfer the file,” says Stevens. “We prefer that a human is able to do it. MISTRAL gives us the flexibility to automate when you need to and intervene when you don’t want to.”
The company takes full advantage of MISTRAL’s automation skills to optimize files for print, including applying standards for the different processes. Prior to MISTRAL’s implementation, files were created to a standard and optimized for the particular print process manually. “The challenge,” notes Stevens, “was that different people had different views of what ‘optimized’ means. Now, the standards are built into the workflow, and they are reliable, consistent, and applied automatically. For us, MISTRAL is really an optimization tool, creating files to a standard. We are quite dependent on the MISTRAL process.”
A common scenario is a similar piece of artwork—not necessarily the exact artwork but one relating to the same product or service—is printed on two different output devices in two different sizes. For instance, a card that sits on the store counter is printed on an Indigo digital press, while a B1 panel hung on the wall behind the counter is printed using screen print. SP color manages within MISTRAL to match colors as close as possible for the different pieces, while simultaneously moving the job through the shop faster.
“In the last 10 years, we’ve more than doubled our size, but the size of our prepress department has only increased in terms of head count by 30-40%,” says Stevens. “Some of it has come from other improvements in workflow and some of it because of MISTRAL.”
Looking forward, SP plans to continue to streamline its workflow, moving color management to GMG or Alwan technology, while expanding MISTRAL’s role in automating production tasks. But that is just the beginning. Explains Stevens, “We are looking to migrate into DIALOGUE ES, and bring in JDF and link the workflow to our management information system—to automate all the specs on the job from the MIS to the workflow.”