by Piet De Pauw, Head of Marketing, Enfocus
The first reaction that comes from the prepress department when they hear the word, “automation” is one of dread for their job. Prepress is a hectic, relentless place to work. If prepress isn’t busy, somewhere something must be broken. All roads lead to prepress. So, anytime there are business changes or workflow changes, prepress is affected. Bringing up automation causes such a panic because it’s about reducing repetitive tasks, removing touchpoints, and standardizing processes. All of these things are what a prepress department does. It’s completely understandable to conclude that they are being replaced by software.
Who is prepress?
The folks in prepress have learned their skills by enduring years of poorly prepared files, badly planned projects, over-promising salespeople, and under-performing tools. Preflighting print job files is a talent that only comes with experience. Sure, there are checklists and standards, and that one person who knows what everything does. But, teaching a person to “prepress” has to be done with their heads in the game and their hands on the wheel. This makes the prepress department uniquely qualified to have all of the input when automation planning gets started. It also makes the concept of automating all of the variables in prepress overwhelming.
Automating prepress shouldn’t begin with the idea of replacing man-hours with software. Instead, it should start with making the prepress job easier. Ask what things are done over and over and over each day that prepress is frankly weary from dealing with. Retrieving files from FTP, renaming folders and files, and placing them on a file server might be a nice thing to relieve them from. Setting bleed boxes to 3 mm from trim and removing objects outside of the media box might be another. This is not even the beginning of the preflight process, but mundane file touching that doesn’t really need humans. Most prepress techs would appreciate not having to search in ten different places to find bits of a job, every time they pick up a job ticket.
Make prepress easier with automation. Give the staff more time to work on jobs that require extra attention. The term “low hanging fruit” is tossed around at the start of an automation project. Think of it more so as “rotten fruit” and let the software do the things that humans don’t want to do. Mitigate the fears by including prepress in the automation plan, thereby proving to both prepress and management that process knowledge is quite irreplaceable. No number of experts will know exactly how jobs get done in any one shop. Automation gets increasingly less valuable when it asks a business to work differently from its proven formula.
An effective investment in automation makes strides toward reducing human touches, but that doesn’t mean reducing headcount. Prepress talent will become more focused and more valuable when the monotony of their jobs goes away. Customers who require more attention and jobs that need extra handling, receive the attention needed to be successful. The prepress timer is ticking, but it’s signaling a change in responsibilities, not a change in employment status.