Completing the Circle: Quality Assurance for the New Digital Workflow

Rock-Tenn supplies printing services to some of the world's most notable brands. Quality control is the No. 1 manufacturing concern, particularly since the company has taken its workflow to the next level, with CTP implementation and the design of its complete (from content creation to output) digital workflow.

Greg Vaughn is one of six designers based out of the Norcross, GA, headquarters. The Design Services Dept. is responsible for packaging design and creates pieces used in “sales support” — meaning new ways for customers to see possible variations on their current design — and often becomes involved in product enhancement conceptions.

“If it's a new product we're working on, we may make some recommendations on how to set the package apart, such as integrating foil, lamination, or new die-cuts. For an existing customer, we may also make recommendations on how to update a previous package, how to make it more current, and add even more impact,” Vaughn explains.

Rock-Tenn's design team works in a Mac-platform environment and deploys most of Adobe Systems' popular design tools. While many of the design team's jobs are created internally, many also are created out of supplied content from customers. The digital files Rock-Tenn receives include everything from EPS to PDF to Quark to Word files. The manufacturer has to be ready and able to work with whatever kind of digital content the customer sends in. “We try to make it work, no matter what type of file or what type of problem we may run into with it,” Vaughn asserts.

In an average month, Vaughn estimates approximately 50% of the customer-supplied files they receive are problematic in some way. “We often have to take the files and break them down into their elements, to see what we're working with and how it was created,” he says. “My biggest pet peeves are when someone's created a mask inside of a mask, inside of a mask, etc. Or they haven't used any layers or have used 50,000 layers in a single document.”

Rock-Tenn has two primary quality-control tools at its disposal to ensure digital files are accurately prepared for its prepress workflow — a native postflight tool in Adobe Acrobat for verifying compliance of the PDFs created by the designers; and Markzware's FlightCheck Professional, which is used to both preflight (checking native application files submitted by customers) and postflight (checking of PDF files either supplied by customers or created internally).

Vaughn admits the ideal digital workflow involves a customer willing to take the responsibility of learning how to prepare digital files appropriately. This, however, is difficult to ensure. After all, there is no one method of creating digital files. A long list of available desktop publishing tools and a varying degree of print knowledge among the customer base are partly to blame.

Often, the designers offer a helping hand to customers, but sometimes this type of hand-holding simply isn't possible. “If we have time, we definitely try to help them, but with turnaround times getting shorter, it's become a luxury,” Vaughn confides. In the interest of time, efficiency, and customer satisfaction, Rock-Tenn has to be equipped to navigate through any digital file barrier quickly and effectively — and that's where preflighting and postflighting solutions guarantee these goals are met.

Gretchen Peck is an author and consultant to the graphic arts and printing industries. She welcomes comments at gpeck1225@msn.com.


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