The Three Keys To On-Demand Printing

By Howie Fenton

In previous articles we discussed the first Donnelley print on demand site in Memphis, why they chose that that site, the target markets, the equipment and the three print production products which are catalogs, magazine reprints and books. In this article we discuss Donnelley's vision of the three key components required to achieve the dream of true customized publishing: the database, the digital press, and the high speed RIP.

The database, is based on a Oracle relational database. Named PowerBase it was developed by Donnelley's Database Technology Services division and has two information management methods. The first method stores customer product information in a structured format and is output in a SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) format.

SGML was introduced in the seventies as a solution to the different document formats of the proprietary typesetting systems. It comprises a single set of rules that specifies the structure of a document, independent of its format. Prices, SKU identification numbers and product descriptions are all examples of the kind of data that would occupy separate data fields.

The option of SGML tagging permits the rapid assembly of this data for print production projects. The same information could also find its way into an on-line system used by customer service or sales representatives, according to Ron Brumback, general manager of the Database Technical Services division.

Donnelley can offer up to 125 different catalog styles to manufacturing firms who typically create catalogs "if it's a reasonable structured catalog," Brumback says. These preformatted catalog styles permit the rapid assembly of both general purpose and target catalogs. CD-ROM catalogs can also be created.

The second PowerBase method stores and retrieves unstructured information, such as images, documents, and audio or video clips. Customers can retrieve text or graphics files for incorporation into their own Quark or PageMaker page layouts, Brumback says. With Powerbase's OPI capability, users can download low resolution, FPO (For position only) versions of scanned images that are replaced with the high resolution originals during output.

Donnelley's new Digital Division integrates this second PowerBase method into its rapid print services. The idea is that companies can store product information in a central location, from which they can generate catalogs, product literature, on-line customer service references, and other marketing-oriented material in print or electronic form. In most cases, the information is stored, maintained, and printed at a Donnelley location

Ultimately, customers will transmit their documents to the facility from their own locations. The PODs will be networked to R.R. Donnelley customers and other facilities with a high-speed, frame relay, network.

The RIPing Problem

Of the three keys the PowerBase database is in place and digital presses are commercially available. The one unresolved issue is the RIP. At services bureaus new RIPs are notorious for causing problems. That's because the horsepower required for RIPing is tremendous and RIPs are very complicated computer hardware and software. For example, there was a period of time when the Apple LaserWriter printer was the most powerful computer you could buy from Apple.

The capabilities of a RIP to incorporate changes to a page (i.e. customize) and have it printed at print engine speeds has been controversial since the first digital presses were shown at IPEX last fall. At different shows manufacturers would give different answers to the same questions about the area and complexity of the page that could be customized.

Today, it appears that the current RIP technology will allow either a small (4" x 5"), four color area or a letter size area of the black plate alone. At Seybold, Donnelley announced it is beta testing a new RIP from Barco that could allow 4 color customization of a full letter size page. Historically, RIPs are difficult and time consuming to debug. Therefore it could take 6 months before all the bugs are worked out of this one.

In summary, the new Donnelley PODs are not from another planet but for conventional printers it may seem quite alien. It is not traditional printing as we know it. Instead it is a combination of database management, fast turnaround, fulfillment and on-demand printing. On-demand printing, by definition allows customers to print the number needed it, when needed and targeted to what Donnelley refers to as "the audience of one."

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