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Total automation arrives

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By Mark J. Miller

Total automation of the magazine production cycle has been the pipe dream of manufacturing executives for years?to be able to have ads flow into place as they come in from agencies and editorial files automatically transfer to the printer's servers, all without the need for countless printouts and phone calls with customer service representatives.

Reed Business Information is about to realize that dream through the addition of new book-mapping software that will automate the magazine layout process?the final step on the ladder to total automation. The company is about to start a pilot program of its book-mapping automation process, allowing it to lay out issues up to a year in advance.

The program allows RBI to create a book map and, at the same time, the templates necessary for an entire issue of a magazine, said John Blanchard, VP-manufacturing at RBI. "Based on known position and geometry in the bookmap, we can `autoplace' content, ads, images, etc., onto those templates," he said.

As the book map changes, due to late bookings or changes in editorial content, RBI can change the templates and the positioning of content on them automatically.

"It allows us a single point of control for the layout of magazine products," Blanchard said. "We intend to plan a year's worth of issues in advance from the stats we receive from finance, automate the creation of the issues in InDesign and InCopy, and autoplace all known booked content on to the pages."

CMP Technology has been using Impoze software to help lay out its books since 1992 and has no plans to change to anything newer. Marie Myers, senior VP-manufacturing, said CMP has the process down to a science now, with ad orders submitted in Oracle. After the ads are booked, the information is downloaded into Impoze. Then the issue is laid out and the page numbers are uploaded back into Oracle for billing. The binding instructions from Impoze are downloaded into an Excel spreadsheat that is sent to the printer along with a map of the issue.

Impoze is also used to produce a prebill of the issue. "We use this bill to compare it to the actual bill, when we receive it from the printer," Myers said. "It has helped to streamline our entire work flow."

Vance Publishing uses an older book-mapping software called Magpro. "It's never had much support," said Ron Brockman, director of production. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The map itself isn't automated. Each ad is placed individually. We do it issue by issue because our parameters change so widely."

Brockman warned that automating everything will lead to large errors eventually appearing in publications. He said each side of the printer/publisher relationship is trying to get the other to handle problems and that, when printer feedback disappears from the equation, there is trouble brewing.

"The more automated we get, the more likely the production people are going to give instructions that will make it to the printed product," Brockman said. "Printers are always saying, `Do you really mean this? Is this the right way to go?' and that helps guide us to things. Without that, it is far more likely for big mistakes to happen."

Most Lebhar-Friedman publications depend on the old pencil-and-paper method, though its New Jersey-based unit uses book-mapping software that it had in place before being acquired by Lebhar-Friedman. "We're still on the fence about using it companywide because it can seem like using technology for technology's sake," said Rich Zweiback, corporate director of manufacturing.

For her part, Myers sees book-mapping software?whether it automates the whole system or not?as a definite move in the right direction. "It is absolutely not technology for technology's sake," she said. "It has increased productivity in our department." M

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