Automation with Switch: Changing the Way We Work

By Ron Ellis

The Need for Automation

There has never been a time when printing facilities have been asked to do more with less. After the staff reductions of the last several years staff is already thin. Given the uncertain business climate most management is hesitant to add new staff, and seldom do so unless absolutely necessary. Because of these factors, now more than ever is a time for automation.

There are a number of tools that can be applied to automate the process. One of these tools is Enfocus Switch. Enfocus is mostly known as the maker of Pitstop, the handy swiss army knife tool for working with PDF files. They have a suite of products that are mostly aimed at working with PDF files. However Switch is more than a PDF utility. Switch can work with almost any type of file. More importantly Switch is good at automation. Really good.

Automation Scenarios

Switch can be used in a number of automation scenarios. You may be tempted to think that everything Switch is good at is centered around PDF files, but that is not the case. Switch is very good at working with native files. In addition to working with many types of files Switch is good at working with the guts of these files, and can find things put in by your accounting system or print front end – more on this later. While you may be able to script everything on your own using VB and Applescript, making these apps talk to each other can be incredibly complicated. Switch is essentially an automation platform, almost like a pegboard for electronic file operations. Switch is like the glue that holds it all together. Oh yes – if you don’t know how to script that’s ok as well. You can do   a great deal with Switch without the knowledge of Java, VB or Applescript, the languages that Switch supports.

Some of the other products in the market such as Dalim and Prinergy do automation, but are limited to print related tasks, and tend to work only with their own proprietary software. Unlike these programs Switch is wide open, supporting competitive products, and a wide range of supporting programs with both supplied and custom developed ‘configurators’.  Switch represents an economical alternative to these systems, and provides a more integrated solution to workflow than do it yourself scripting can provide.

Switch is hard to pin down sometimes because it can be so open ended. In fact if you add the use of scripting support you can automate almost anything with Switch. (But most users are not scripting, or using external scripts). Some typical scenarios with Switch are as follows:

-       Preflight source files, create PDFs, impose, and route files to destinations. Many users of Switch are using it to preflight and prep files. The logic is that if you could move even half of the files right into production without having to touch them it would help the already overextended prepress department. In sites where there is a direct-to-print storefront this becomes even more important. In this scenario Switch takes the incoming file, determines what file it is, preflights it and if ok opens it in the original app and makes a PDF or Postscript file. If the file fails the preflight it is routed back to a CSR or preflight for old fashioned file correction and troubleshooting. Correct files may also be routed directly to imposition software for automatic imposition, and creation of an automatic proof.

-       Automatic imposition for 2nd and 3rd shifts. Switch is used by some facilities to catch a job that is coming in on the 2nd or 3rd shift, and to automatically impose and make plates and proofs. For example if the same 48-page grocery flyer comes in every Tuesday night at 2 am, Switch can retrieve the files from the customer site, import, preflight, create a proof, send email notification and automatically make plates.

-       File routing is another valuable thing that Switch can do. There is even a “mini” flavor of Switch just for this. Switch is very good at taking files, interrogating them, and sending them on their way. For example Switch may go get a file, read internal info from the file, and then route the file to the proper printing plant.

-       Automated file replacement can also be performed. If you have a file that always need to have specific elements replaced, Switch can do that based on a database or look up table that you create. If a job always comes in without a cover Switch can look up the customer and add the spread or even graphics.

-       Other uses of Switch are color conversion and ink  optimization.

-       Switch has over 30 APIs, called configurators. These configurators allow direct access to the applications Switch will be working with. While you would expect configurators for Pitstop and other Enfocus products, you will be interested to see that there are configurators for products that directly compete with Pitstop. More important there are configurators for Quark, Adobe CS applications and many other applications and rips that many of us commonly work with.

Metadata and Scripting

The biggest and more important feature of Switch is is related to Metadata and Scripting. Metadata is information stored inside a file that can be used by other applications. Switch can use metadata embedded in files such as IPTC fields in digital photos. It can also use accompanying .xml, jdf, or .xmp files as metadata and can import them into a file or extract them from the file. Metadata can be embedded by other applications, or can be added in Switch using the Switch client or configurators.

An example of metadata use would be as follows: A file comes in from an outside app (or perhaps job data is added by an operator with the switch client). Switch looks at the metadata, makes a job folder based on customer name and job number, places customer files, preflights opens, and makes a print-ready pdf, naming it with the job number and storing customer info in the file. Switch then notifies staff via email and moves the file along to automatically impose the file based on the customer and job type. Once imposed Switch waits for an ok and then sends the file to proof and plate. After the job is complete Switch uses metadata to archive the job. This is just one example Switch is about choices, and metadata provides many options for routing and performing operations on a file.

Scripting is equally important. In the future world where much data is contained in xml the ability to parse, interpret and rewrite text is important. The scripting engine in Switch allows people to do virtually anything. If there is not a configurator already written, or if there is a part of your process that can’t directly be automated it can be done with scripting. Typical example – read the xml data on a file that has been converted, and rewrite the code to reflect the new state. Other examples would be opening and writing data to or from an external database. With the scripting capabilities of Switch which includes javascript, Applescript and VisualBasic you can tackle almost anything.

Automation is more important than ever, and if you are thinking about ways to make your operation more efficient, and to help your operators get more done Enfocus Switch is a product you should consider.

For more information go to: www.freeprocesscontrol.com/switch.html


 Ron Ellis is a Boston-based consultant specializing in color management, worflow integration, and press calibration. He has provided installation and training services to dealers, manufacturers, and content creators since 1986. An IDEAlliance G7 Expert and chair of the GRACoL Committee, Ron has performed over 100 G7 calibrations. In addition to calibrating pressrooms for customers such as Pantone, Ron also specializes in creating internal working spaces for brands and agencies that allow them to work more efficiently with vendors, saving both time and money. Ron is published frequently in industry magazines, and has produced training materials for numerous printing industry vendors and publishers. He can be contacted at 603-498-4553 or through his web site at www.ronellisconsulting.com.

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