Hybrid develops cloud-based RIP Farm

Hybrid Software has launched a new online RIP offering – the Cloudflow RIP Farm – essentially a centralised RIP management for label and packaging printers running several different types of platesetter. 

Hybrid Software’s Cloudflow RIP Farm offers centralised management of RIP’ed files for label and packaging platemaking.

Hybrid already sells a RIP module as part of its Cloudflow packaging workflow and this has mostly been used by packaging printers and trade shops who make flexo and offset plates. It’s used in a variety of wide web and narrow web applications, and even for corrugated (liquid or sheet photopolymer plates that are mounted in register to carrier sheets). That said, the largest installed base of on-premise Cloudflow RIPs is in the narrow web label segment, simply because there are a lot of label printers and most of them make their own plates. 

Naturally, since Hybrid is now part of the Global Graphics group, the Cloudflow RIP is based on Global Graphic’s proven Harlequin Host Renderer. Mike Rottenborn, formerly CEO of Hybrid Software and currently CEO of Global Graphics, points out: “Since its introduction in 2014, Cloudflow has been available in Amazon Web Services and other public cloud environments, and centralized RIP’ing is the perfect application for the combined technology of Hybrid Software and Global Graphics.”

The new RIP Farm is really aimed at larger companies with multiple production sites, including trade shops, wide web flexible packaging printers, and larger label printers. It offers a central point to manage multiple CTP devices, where jobs can be RIP’ed and stored in the cloud, then transferred to the printing location for platemaking the day before the job is scheduled to run on press. This allows for more efficient load balancing across platesetters and printing plants if production schedules change, or to remake plates from a central archive. 

Customers with perpetual licenses can install the RIP Farm in the hosting environment of their choice.  Subscription customers utilize the newly-developed multi-tenant MyCloudflow Gigacluster, which is hosted in AWS and managed by Hybrid Software. The files from Cloudflow RIP Farm will be downloaded to a local PC running a TIFF spooler that can feed the RIP’ed and screened files to the platesetter.  

The Cloudflow RIP Farm is already in use, as Nick De Roeck, CTO of Hybrid Software, explains: “A large enterprise prepress provider needed to migrate their multitude of legacy RIPs installed at each site, and Hybrid’s Cloudflow RIP Farm suited their needs perfectly, running 24/7 to RIP jobs for their worldwide production. This has delivered massive gains to the customer, as they can simplify and downscale their hardware footprint, and at the same time pool the RIP licenses centrally to drastically reduce the amount of software they need.  This customer was able to reduce their footprint from more than 50 dedicated RIPs installed across the world in different locations, to a centralized Cloudflow RIP Farm of 16 RIP engines running in Amazon Web Services (AWS)”.

Mike Rottenborn, CEO of Global Graphics.

So the obvious question is whether or not there’s an option coming for digital printers? Rottenborn says that the company has considered this, noting: “On the surface, a centralized RIP farm could certainly be used to support digital printing.”

However, he explains that there are some issues in mixing analogue and digital files: “When pre-RIP’ing jobs for analog platemaking, most jobs are colour separated and each separation is RIP’ed to 1-bit TIFF files. Flexo platemaking commonly supports the imposition of these 1-bit TIFF files to maximize the utilization of the expensive photopolymer plates; multiple separations from one job, and even from different jobs, are mixed on a single plate prior to exposure. But 1-bit files are locked with respect to resolution, calibration, and screening so they’re not easy to repurpose from flexo to digital, or even from one digital press to another. Furthermore, most digital presses incorporate some form of screening or dithering of their own, which is required because they’re inherently lower resolution than most CTP devices, so 1-bit TIFF files aren’t the best input to a digital press; normally they prefer a multi-bit contone input at a lower resolution.”

Another issue is the time that it takes to download the large output-ready files from the cloud, which even with a fast internet connection can take minutes, rather than seconds. As Rottenborn says: “In the overall platemaking workflow this isn’t very long: plates take minutes to expose and hours to process, at least for flexo, so the transfer time is negligible and simply overlaps with the exposure of the previous job. But in digital printing, there is no platemaking process so the download time could slow the press throughput unless carefully scheduled in advance.”

Rottenborn also points out that digital presses still have the RIP closely coupled to the press through the DFE, noting: “And the RIP speed is normally quite fast due to robust hardware, so pre-RIP’ing files, either locally or in the cloud, offers little benefit in the total production speed.  This is not true for other processes such as imposition or expansion of variable data; they can take quite a bit of time, so doing this processing in advance of the press run makes a lot of sense. But the RIP time itself needs to be comparable to the press speed; our Harlequin Direct technology doesn’t even buffer the RIP output to disk but instead sends it directly to the printhead electronics.”

He concludes that in the future we will see centralized RIPs driving multiple output devices, including digital presses, adding: “But this will be further down the road for most customers.”

You can find more details on Cloudflow and the RIP Farm from hybridsoftware.com.

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