Midway to the Digital Age
The prep department in this plant (in Menasha, Wisc.) has been in operation almost 60 years, so a lot of history precedes us, and the transition from conventional to digital was not without its pain and discomfort—it did not happen overnight. We began the transition in the late '80s, but with the vast technological challenges we encountered in linking the old with the new, we couldn't take digital workflow seriously until the early '90s.
There were primarily two workflows at that time—supplied film and Opticopy camera imposition for converting laser pages into plate-ready imposed film. We were "tinkering" with single-page film (output on a Linotronic 330) from our customers. These were all native files fraught with issues regarding fonts, images, etc. That was about the time I came to the Banta Book Group in early 1993.
We had just installed a large-format Lino 930 filmsetter in '93, in an attempt to compete with the Opticopies; but the imposition software—Impostrip and Preps—wasn't sophisticated enough to deal with the intense postscript/RIP issues we were having spread across six to eight pages at a time. After a great deal of trial and error, we gained some success, and imposed film became fairly commonplace for all new work. However, even as late as '97, we were still 80 percent supplied film or reprint.
WAS CTP THE ANSWER?
In 1997, we installed our first CTP device, a Creo 4555 VLF, and we still have it. We had pretty much solidified an imposed-film workflow via postscript, but PDF was still a long way off from being a solution, and the process was slow, methodical and riddled with customer/Banta corrections and expensive proofing—not particularly profitable or efficient.
We quickly found that CTP, though heralded as the answer to all problems, was woefully inefficient in a short-run book plant like ours, where we produced hundreds of thousands of plates per year. We could still spread film across multiple frames, and knock out 20 to 30 plates per hour at each frame, while our new CTP device had to "RIP and image" each expensive thermal plate at roughly eight to 10 [plates] per hour. We added more platesetters, and upgraded, but still our plates per hour (PPH) in CTP remained well under the curve.