2 December 2013
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What Automation Solutions for your Production

Any company facing increasing production comes to this conclusion : how produce better, faster and more efficiently ? Of course, first step is rationalisation. The hunt for bad process is open : you set procedures and try to reach a production efficiency optimum. Hey it works…for now. Soon enough production is speeding again and the previous patchs only provided a temporary cure.

Now it’s really time to think over your production, start publishing differently i.e. to automate. Just to be clear, it’s nothing about putting people unemployed by replacing them by automates. It’s all about relieving them from the most tedious tasks. If some consultancy  is paying a highly creative designer a lot, is it in both interest to have him (her) to do boring contents copy/paste ? Is it more worth it for a company to invest in innovation and prospection or to repeat the same actions over and over ? Once that said, the question remains : What Automation Solutions for your Production ?

We are going to introduce a few one. It’s not exhaustive but they will cover most of the needs. We will present them increasingly from the cheapest to the more expensive, from scripts to InDesign Server via Enfocus SWITCH.

A) Scripts

Scripts are external code files, generally Javascript. Once ran in the host application, they will execute a bunch of instructions as they were designed to do. Most of the Adobe Desktop applications are scriptable such as InDesign. Scripts can have variable prices. Most of them are free, you will find a few samples in our downloads section or at Scriptopedia.org. Don’t forget that some scripts are installed by default such as the useful “FindChangeByList.jsx”. Find them back in the Applications folder of the Scripts palette within InDesign.

Default Scripts in scripts palette

Scripts that can be found in the scripts palette

Sometimes, they are paid for but the balance between cost and utility is not worth the hesitation. You can blindfully invest in some products such as IndexMatic, IndyFont from our fellow Marc Autret or the amazing MultiFindChange from our dear friend Martinho da Gloria.

One may see a problem with scripts as they require the user to be physically facing the computer to run them. So you cannot run script nightly, during meals or meetings. Of course, you may choose to run them just before you leave your seat. But if script fails, asks for confirmation, no one is there to handle it. And if you have several scripts to execute, you may not want to wait for every single script execution unless you are using BatchRunner.

But even then, it won’t solve all your possible issues. Smart guys are about to yell : “Hey he’s gonna talk about InDesign Server…” Yes, but not right now. Let’s have a look to a great alternative solution as intersting in terms of budget as in terms of performance and scalability.

B) Enfocus SWITCH

Enfocus SWITCH software, also known as PowerSwitch or LightSwitch according to its configuration, is a workflow design tool. So you can take a file from an entry point A and lead it towards an output point B. Hold down, what is this guy talking about ? Just imagine the following scenario :

  • You receive a lots of indesign files files by mail, ftp, colleagues putting them into specific folders. Then you have to open them all, run scripts, export to PDF
  • Now you need to check that PDF has correct output profiles, print areas, fonts embedded…
  • In case something is wrong, you have to either correct the files or get your interlocutor to modify its file and send it again. Also you might need to mail the client or your hierarchy that something went wrong.
  • etc, etc.

One may not see the problem here. After all, it’s just basic operations every single one can do. But keep in mind that these little steps put side by side can represent an exponential consumption of time. Plus nothing that should thrill your operators. What if I tell you that SWITCH can automate all these operations for you ? Icing on the cake, it can monitor your InDesign Client and restart it if it crashes or even the system!

A sample of a flow within Switch

A sample of a flow within Switch

A key advantage of Switch is that it’s a scalable product which price varies regarding to your needs. Do you want to run external applications such as InDesign ? Let’s add the configurator module. Do you wish to deal with metadata ? No problem a module has been designed for! For another one, communicating with databases is a the key. Switch can also do that…Webservices ? yes ! Every possible need is covered. Let us know what your needs are and we will tell you what it will cost.

If you are using Switch with an InDesign Client, you are restricted by the inherent InDesign capacity of doing only one task at the time ( i.e. file by file ). If this is a possible issue for you, remember that Swicth can also drive InDesign Server without any additional development. You don’t know a thing about InDesign Server ? Just keep on reading

C) InDesign Server

Ok, InDesign Server is not an automation tool by nature. It’s a product dedicated to automation through specific developments. InDesign Server is widely used for Web to Print solutions. It’s a lighter version of the InDesign client. Not in terms of performance nor capacities, it’s just InDesign without an interface run through a server. It’s an engine without a body. But what an engine !

The key feature of the Server version is to allow parallel processes. So an instance of InDesign Server can work with 8 files at the same time. It’s like 8 InDesign Clients were working simultaneously. And depending on your budget, you can raise this factor up. The following schema illustrates a typical use of InDesign Server.

Starting from a web interface, an user can request the production of made to print PDF files or JPGs, PNGs…Based on the SOAP protocol, it can run scripts with specific arguments. Eventually, you can drive InDesign Server as you would do with a regular InDesign client apart from a few peculiarities well known from InDesign Developers.

Schema InDesign Server

Un exemple type d’utilisation d’InDesign Server

The main drawbacks are price and complexity. Price first with a ticket up to 30k €. Complexity secondly as no interface means specific developments in order to drive InDesign Server. Unless of course you decide to invest into Switch 😉 InDesign Server is really great for Web to Print solutions.

Companies such as Tweak or MediaKeys, for whom we work, use it to generate customized PDFs files ready to print. They had to implement the web interface that will eventually communicate with the InDesign Server instance and run specific scripts. Involved technologies can be PHP, Java or even Flex. However the last one tends to ease in front of HTML5 web applications. If you are an IT team and think about possible approaches, I may recommend having a look at the InDesign Server SDK.

D) Conclusion

So there are solutions to automate your production. It’s up to you to feel the one that suit you best. New to automation ? Start using free scripts. Ok, you are now thrilled by scripts ? Why not invest in some paid for solutions that may make your day ! 50€ for a script that could save you dozens of hour work, is that really expensive ? By paying for these products, you are also helping developers to deliver even better utilities.

If you have issues not covered by any existing script, feel free to get in touch with us. We may offer custom developments. Many companies boost their productivity thanks to us.

You wish you could have a global solution that could deal with your files from reception to printing including preflight checks, modifications and certification with a maximum of automation ? We can help you. We recently improved the productivity of a custom label publishing company by 20 with a zero risk warranty and a 24 hours a day production!

You want to set an advanced web to print solution with InDesign Server as parallel threading is a key of your project ? Let’s talk about it !

Best regards,

Loic

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