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Fujifilm XMF

The release last month of XMF puts Fuji in an unusual position. Historically, the firm has been in the rearguard of workflow development, but now as the first to market with an Adobe PDF Print Engine (APPE)-based workflow, it will be down to Fuji to convince punters of the benefits of both its and Adobe’s new technology.

Given the tendency of all major new software releases to go through initial teething periods, this may prove a difficult task. However, judging from the claims of Fuji and London-based Vertec Printing Services, a long-standing Fuji customer, which has been running XMF as part of its Partner Engage­ment Process (PEP), the benefits could well justify the risk.

This time last year, Adobe was taking the wraps off the first major upgrade to its core RIP software in nearly a decade. The Adobe PDF Print Engine (APPE), which had its first public show-and-tell at Ipex, was designed specifically to bridge what Adobe called the ‘creativity chasm’ – the gap between what can be achieved with the latest design software and what can be reproduced in print.

“In the past five years, desktop applications’ capabilities such as transparency have outstripped print production capabilities,” Adobe senior product manager Mathias Siegel explained at the time of the launch.

Supporting APPE
However, to take advantage of APPE, printers and repro houses needed a workflow that would support it. Enter Fuji who, thanks to a partnership deal, has been developing XMF in parallel with Adobe’s APPE for the past three years.

“In 2003, after discussions with Adobe around their future RIP technology it was decided to partner with them,” says Fuji workflow solutions manager Andy Walker.

Fuji was then faced with the choice of whether to opt for a rewrite of its existing software which, though JDF compatible, was not a true JDF workflow, or to start again from scratch.

“We decided that, in order to maximise the benefits of JDF and APPE, we needed to create a new workflow with a new JDF architecture instead of bolting APPE into our existing workflow,” says Walker.

A new development team was put together, and by 2004, work had begun in earnest. Key Fujifilm offices and their customers were involved in the product’s development and in 2006, following a Beta version preview at Ipex, Fuji went on to field evaluation.

Vertec Printing Services pre-press manager Colin Gilham loves getting his hands on new technology and, as a long-standing Fuji customer, for the past three months he has been using XMF as part of Fuji’s PEP testing process.

“From what we have seen so far, it’s well thought out, well written, well produced and it’s got the user in mind,” he says. “Key features are flexibility and speed. Where it was long runs it’s now short runs and needless to say, deadlines are becoming shorter and shorter, so we need to adapt and react very quickly and XMF will provide us the platform to do this.”

Fuji claims to have witnessed raw processing speed improvements of between three and 40 times with XMF, while Swedish printer Perssons Offset, another PEP site, is anticipating a productivity boost of up to 35% through its use of the software.

Processing PDFs
This boost in processing speed is down to the fact that XMF is based on APPE, which can process the same PDF files outputted by design software such as CS3, and not Adobe’s older CPSI RIP, which had to convert PDF files to PostScript (PS) to handle them. In addition, direct processing of PDFs has the benefit of avoiding the need to flatten transparencies.

While it is APPE that is enabling the improvement in raw processing speed, XMF users will arguably see greater benefits from its use of JDF. “The JDF compliance is the future of the industry,” says Gilham.

“Although we are a litho house now, we do not know what’s going to happen. The future could very well be digital and the plans for XMF are for it to service both sides of the industry.”

XMF supports both conventional and digital presses and has the ability to change job parameters, or swap from one press to another, right up to the last minute.

“Thanks to the JDF stripping feature, late changes can be implemented without major rework,” says Walker. “Plus, by using the press streaming feature, jobs can be redirected and streamed to an alternate press and all workflow differences such as proofing, imposition, colour management and so on, will be automatically changed and processed by XMF.”

“The client can make changes up to the last second and we can put those in with very little time penalty,” Gilham adds.

Once jobs are complete, they can be stored with the JDF workflow information, which allows for reprocessing using the original workflow settings. This allows for automated production of common job formats or repeat jobs.

The fact that XMF has been built around JDF from the ground up means that it will have the ability to be integrated either upstream, with printers’ or their clients’ management information systems, or downstream with subsequent production processes.

Gilham explains: “We can integrate it with anything else that we bring into the business, right through from administration all the way, in theory, to finishing and the bindery.”

Additions to come
However, typical of any new technology, XMF is missing various features that will be added in later versions. “It does not currently have a web-approval option. However, this will ship in a few months,” says Walker. “After the summer, there will be a ganging imposition added as a new feature which will allow you to gang jobs on a flat sheet.”

No matter how impressive the benefits of APPE and XMF, as new technologies, they are likely to be treated with scepticism by the marketplace. Fuji expects to sell 50 copies this year and it will do well to achieve that target given that the prevalent attitude among printers is one of caution.

But XMF will be available in three versions, offering varying degrees of functionality and thereby allowing
printers to make the switch step-by-step. XMF Prepare is for file preparation and tuning and is designed to sit in front of an existing workflow. XMF Producer also includes the imposition and proofing tools, so can sit in front of an existing RIP, while XMF Complete is the full workflow including the APPE RIP.
For now, Fuji is in the driving seat, with a new foundation in XMF on which to build for the future.

However, with Kodak recently adding APPE support to Prinergy 4 and others sure to follow, it remains to be seen what advantage Fuji will gain from its head start.


SPECIFICATIONS
Platform
• Windows server or XP
Clients
• Mac OS X and above or Windows XP and above
Price
• £10,000+ (Prepare)
• £20,000+ (Producer)
• £30,000+ (Complete)
Contact
• Fuji 01234 245245 www.futureofworkflow.com
THE ALTERNATIVES
Agfa ApogeeX 3.5
Originally launched in 2003, ApogeeX is now up to version 3.5. It offers a scalable solution covering a range of scenarios from a single proofer installation to a multiple VLF CTP site. The next release, ApogeeX 4.0, is due out later this year and will include APPE support.
Platform Windows server
Clients Mac or PC
Price £5,000 to £200,000
Contact Agfa 020 8231 4929 www.agfa.com

Screen Trueflow 4
Trueflow 4 was initially shown at last year’s Ipex and Screen expects to start migrating its 300 UK customers over from earlier versions towards the end of this year. With its latest release, Screen is aiming to extend the workflow upstream as well as downstream, enabling printers’ clients to interact within the workflow remotely.
Platform HP server
Clients Mac or PC
Price £10,000 (Trueflow DTC), £15,000 (Trueflow Rite), £30,000 (Trueflow)
Contact Screen 01908 848500 www.screeneurope.com

Heidelberg Printready 3
Heidelberg is currently in the process of rolling out version 3 of its Printready workflow, which has been fully JDF based from the get-go. Heidelberg is planning to make APPE available as an option within its own MetaDimension RIP within the next three to six months. Printready can run within Heidelberg’s JDF-compliant production workflow.
Platform Windows server
Clients Mac or PC
Price £20,000+ (including MetaDimension RIP)
Contact Heidelberg UK 020 8490 3500 www.uk.heidelberg.com

Kodak Prinergy 4
First released in 1999, Prinergy is a modular workflow that is scalable to meet specific market needs including small or large commercial, magazine, newspaper or packaging printing. Kodak has more than 2,000 customers worldwide for its entry-level Prinergy Evo system. Version 4, which was released last week, features support for transparencies, automating job routing and includes APPE.
Platform Windows server with Oracle database
Clients Mac or PC
Price £7,000 (€10,000) to £35,000 depending on configuration
Contact Kodak 01923 233366 www.graphics.kodak.com

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