Soon on a screen near you: robots rampant

“If you have to look at a job, you’re probably losing money,” is the stark summation by Kodak Enterprise Solution vice-president, Judi Hess, of the future approach to most forms of printing. Tomorrow’s workflow will simulate robotisation, she projects.

Characteristically, she is driving her division and Kodak’s Canadian operation in a multiplicity of directions to engender this connectivity philosophy within the Group’s distributor force and its customers.

Her Sydney conversation with ProPrint being anything but exclusive (taking the form of a taxi rank of trade publications – – as one moved out, the next one moved in), it was accordingly converted from what Ms Hess may have up her product sleeve to the broader horizon of what the industry is doing to satisfy the competitive aspirations of today’s print provider.

The experienced skier in Judi Hess (when not jetting between Kodak’s Rochester HQ, Creo’s bunker in Vancouver and Canadian Kodak’s Toronto head office, she can be found on the ski fields at Whistler) tells her that under every inviting slope there lurk potentially dangerous rocks.

Avoiding them and fine tuning her talents has been rewarded by a meteoric rise in a company not known for its uncompetitiveness. Influenced by Creo founders, Ken Spencer and the legendary Dan Gilbert, to take over workflow programming in the mid 1990s, she quickly rose to VP status and president before assuming her present tri-headed role of Graphics Communications Group (GCG) VP, managing director of Kodak Canada and parent company vice-president.

Beyond the conventional
Not surprisingly, her recent presentation at Kodak’s drupa preview, while dwelling on product technicalities, pointed more importantly to what they portend for the graphic arts industry between now and the next drupa in 2012.

The Hess “completely integrated platform” crusade brings her to the view that the industry is on the cusp of transcending what it has known so far as web to print – she contends that a lot of people think of it as a store front – and arriving at what she terms plan to print.

“If you want to deliver superior efficiency in a variable data plant environment you have to move beyond (the conventional) upstream to before the store front,” she explains. Going that one stage further to integrated campaign management, Hess maintains that it will soon be able to be done with new efficiency, completely downstream into web to print.

“Web to print is too late; it doesn’t give you all the efficiencies,” she outlined, adding that the need is to provide tools at the planning stage by starting at the order. “You can then convert that planning environment with web to print all the way through, even to the finishing area.”

Future pipedream or today’s reality? “You’ll see its first incarnation at drupa in May,” Hess confirmed.

Recent imperatives
Mention was made, during the far ranging and enthusiastic industry overview, of last month’s closure of a competitor’s computer-to-plate plant in the USA. Hess and her accompanying GCG regional business director, Singapore-based Jeffrey Protheroe, were adamant that this in no way reflected their outlook on prospects for plate production. Protheroe in particular emphasised the ongoing burgeoning demand in the Asian region, reflected by Kodak’s opening of a $50 million plate plant in China last year, which aims to supply all the requirements of the Chinese and Asia Pacific regions, including Australia and New Zealand, with a select range of conventional and digital printing plates.

While this may merely be a niche indication of forward thinking, it is reflected in broader perspectives by recently appointed Kodak CEO, Philip Faraci, who foreshadowed that for the first time the entire GCG portfolio will be featured at a drupa. Discussing recent imperatives, he described the current drive for integrated communications between customer and supplier as “delivering offset class solutions to help them grow their businesses and take advantage of new profit opportunities”.

An interesting aside to the Hess observation that the Australian industry’s reaction had been positive to her take on the needs of the future was made by GCG’s Australasian marketing manager, Ross Gilberthorpe, who pointed out that, contrary to the past, when inevitably the first was the “how much will it cost” question, today this has become “how much will it make for me?”

Environmental sustainability
Forward trends in Judi Hess’ sights are far ranging, bearing witness to her wide scope of responsibilities within the Kodak empire.

“I think you are going to see greater emphasis on ENS products gaining significance in the industry and by the time of the next drupa there will be many more serious printers taking a serious look at their MIS providing a completely integrated process for their business systems integrated into the whole production system,” she foresees.

Other Hess prognostications cover such areas as greater confidence in the handling of colour with increased ink optimisation, increased credence given to virtual proofing and personalisation taking a significant mindshare of a printer. Moreover, she suggests the industry will see a lot more offset class digital printing devices which need workflow all the way from the web to the finished printed product.

Adding that in the future, greater weight will be placed by customers on environmental sustainability, Judi Hess was too modest to point out that Eastman Kodak last year entered the Global 100, an accolade given to companies whose sustainability performance falls within the top five per cent of their sector. The gong goes to those who stand the best chance of being around in 100 years because of their demonstrated performance of making the most progress in cutting back on the damage they do.

With such forward-thinking execs as Judi Hess in its ranks, there’s little doubt we’ll be writing about Kodak in 2108.

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