High-Volume, High-Speed, High-Color Workflows Just Got a Little Easier

By Elizabeth Gooding / Published:

This article was sponsored by HP

In the high definition world of graphic arts workflows, PDF is now the standard file format for most production operations. However, for companies supporting mass-volume batch processing of secure, data-driven documents, Advanced Function Printing (AFP) with Intelligent Printer Data Stream (IPDS)  has been the standard for decades. As financial, healthcare and other insurance companies strive for more consumer friendly and brand-compliant customer communications, these worlds have collided. AFP/IPDS and PDF can no longer live in their separate operational realms.

The impact of this collision has been magnified for the many print organizations that support customer communications intensive enterprises with the production of statements, bills, notices and other high volume work. As print providers invest in high-speed inkjet, they often expand the scope of the services they offer customers in order to keep their presses running and boost their profit margins. A 2019 survey by Inkjet Insight found that less than half (42%) of the 60 transaction printers surveyed attributed more than half of their revenue to their stated segment focus. As these companies seek new revenues in more graphically intensive segments like direct mail marketing, the ability to work efficiently with PDF files becomes a critical requirement.

Rather than pursue a complete and costly workflow overhaul to convert from AFP to PDF, most companies seek a solution that allows them to maintain the speed, data integrity and centralized resource management benefits of AFP while enabling the creative workflow benefits of PDF.

Introducing HP SmartStream Elite-DT Print Server

HP has introduced the HP SmartStream Elite-DT Print Server to provide native IPDS streaming and direct AFP (MO:DCA) workflows to the HP PageWide Web Press family. While often a single format is used, this print server is specifically tuned to allow AFP, IPDS, and PDF print streams to coexist productively, rather than collide, to support mixed transaction printing and direct mail environments. Complementing the flagship HP SmartStream Elite Print Server used for native PDF in a wide variety of graphic applications, the users now have more workflow choices. This allows them to adapt new press technology without redesigning their entire workflow infrastructure.

The solution was developed by HP in partnership with TagG Informatique leveraging the deep expertise of both companies. Installed on a scalable, multi-core HP server architecture and utilizing the &Stream RIP from TagG, the system can drive presses directly without the interim step of writing files to disk. This ensures that presses can run at full engine capacity in all modes – a critical profitability factor in high-speed inkjet environments and business segments with tightly regulated delivery windows. Avoiding the need to write to disk also serves IT security and data privacy requirements.

The RIP is available in two standard versions IPDS and AFP, both of which allow PDF objects to be processed natively within object containers. A spooler option allows multiple source connectivity to comingle combinations of AFP, IPDS, PDF, and PostScript inputs. A MICR option is also available.

A major factor in the speed and flexibility of the solution is the ability to submit jobs of any supported type in any order for direct processing without file conversions. Jobs can be color managed, ripped and even imposed on the fly for the target production press. Color management within the system can employ either HP or user provided color profiles. Profiles can be applied to each unique job and run back-to-back (on the same substrate) without stopping the press. This means that different types of jobs with different color quality requirements can employ different profiles on the same paper. Independent color profiles facilitate cost control through ink limiting without creating additional work for operators.

Because ink management is fundamental to both color and cost control, the new solution also has an ink estimator/job previewer server available. This print simulator allows ink estimating to be performed from the same interface where actual jobs are released.

  1. Controls to enable/disable the simulator features.
  2. Select the printer to be emulated by the printer simulator.
  3. Specify settings for the simulated printer (Paper, print mode, speed).

Note: Bonding Agent = Optimizer for T250HD presses with Brilliant Ink

By integrating estimation into the DFE, job submission is identical to production and accuracy is improved as the estimator engine RIPs jobs using actual press settings to calculate ink use. It has its own server that  allows the estimation without interfering with production work. Jobs are easy to submit and results can be viewed on the interface or delivered by email.

Ease of Use for Operators and the Enterprise

HP and TagG worked closely together on the development of HP SmartStream Elite DT. However, the interface for the new solution delivers an expansive ease of use that goes beyond anything offered previously by either company. The Graphical User Interface (GUI) is browser-based facilitating access, on press and throughout the enterprise, without individual software installations and maintenance. The Elite-DT Print Server allows users, with access permission, throughout the enterprise to monitor the status of jobs in process and make updates to cost estimates.

The flexible spooler allows simple configuration of complex workflows. Users can easily define production workflows, where tasks like color management and imposing on the fly can be uniquely specified for each product and format. For example, supported file formats of different types can be submitted for processing in any order. Jobs are directly processed without the need for file conversions.  From the operator’s perspective, all jobs are handled in the same manner and adjustments for different profiles, web widths or running conditions are all contained within the job definition with no need for intervention. Of course, if an operator does have a need to make changes on press – the interface supports that easily. Job definitions are simplified through the use of input templates that can be cloned and modified using the workflow editor.

Secure, Scalable Architecture

HP has consistently provided upgrade paths for their inkjet customers as new and faster inkjet systems are developed. This means that the server architecture must also provide a path for growth. The HP print servers rely on HPE Proliant multi-processor servers which use multiple core processors for speed and redundancy. Additional servers and cores can be added to drive higher volume or press speeds. It also incorporates HPE Silicon Root of Trust Technology to harden the infrastructure against threats to security.

When managing one or more high speed presses in a critical communications environment, the print server is the heart that keeps work pumping through the system. Redundancy and continuity are paramount. The distributed, multi-server design of the SmartStream Elite compute systems allow production to continue if a RIP server should fail, rather than a hard shutdown. Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) systems are also provided with all servers.

Playing Well Together

An enterprise view allows workers within the print operation to work more effectively together, while the secure redundant architecture makes IT’s job easier as well. The HP SmartStream Elite-DT plays well with an array of popular third-party tools from companies like Solimar, Compart, PrintSoft and Quadient, as well as other OEM solutions. Overall, by enabling PDF to run natively in an AFP environment, the print server helps maintain preferred creative workflows via Adobe in parallel with secure data processing workflows like AFP/IPDS. According to Jack Condon, President of the AFP Consortium, “Tens of billions of pages a month are produced using AFP workflows around the world. AFP users include major banks, credit card companies, brokerage houses, insurance companies, medical and utility companies, print service providers, and various government agencies. “ Helping these companies to take advantage of graphic arts quality inkjet systems without giving up their valuable AFP infrastructures is ideal for evolving transaction printing and direct mail organizations.

For more information on how customers are using the SmartStream Elite-DT Print Server, see my recent interview with Laurent Quere of Data One, the first company to use the product.

About the Author

Elizabeth Gooding


Elizabeth is the Editor and Co-founder of Inkjet Insight. She has a rare ability to see print related issues from many perspectives. She has managed creative teams on complex design projects, selected outsourcers for major brands and helped print organizations to retool operations, focus their market positioning and educate sales teams to accelerate growth. She works with a team of top analysts to translate experiences into tools, data and content to help print organizations evaluate the potential of inkjet, optimize their operations and grow pages profitably. She is a founding member of the Inkjet Summit advisory board, the co-author of an award-winning book on designing for inkjet and a curious consultant constantly seeking innovative ways to drive new pages onto inkjet presses.

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