We sat down with AFPC President Harry Lewis, Ricoh, to discuss the past, present and future of AFP, the AFP Consortium, and presentation architectures. Here’s what Harry had to say.
Q: What do you see as the single most important value AFP capabilities bring to an organization?
Harry: The interesting thing about AFP is that, although it’s been around for a long time, it’s still heavily relied upon by some of the largest and most mission-critical production facilities —medical paperwork, bills, invoices, that kind of thing. I think that’s largely due to the document integrity built into the architecture and what we find in AFP printing systems and solutions.
Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest value the AFPC brings to the print industry?
Harry: I see two main values: expanded vision and improved interoperability. When industry members collaborate, a broader set of customer requirements are exposed to a much more diverse group of experts, and that sparks vision. Also, the AFP process of getting more people involved in introducing new architecture and allowing it to mature assures that members are more likely to fully grasp the concepts prior to implementation, which really helps interoperability.
Q: How do you see the marketplace in ten years? How will AFP and PDF work together? Will there be more options for organizations to look to?
Harry: That depends on the type of organization. PDF is ubiquitous, and its content can be easily generated by the everyday user. AFP is typically generated by a more industrial-strength application. AFP and PDF already work together in the sense AFP can encapsulate and manage PDF content, so a large volume commercial print workflow with variable data is viable. The AFPC is working to make sure this synergy is fully leveraged within the architecture
Q: What is the most innovative application you’ve heard of that leverages AFP technology?
Harry: It’s kind of hard to answer that without talking about specific products or services. So without getting into customer specifics, I think overall, AFP’s increased relevance has been brought about thanks to types of precision marketing solutions such as TransPromo.
Precision marketing is so innovative in the way it relates to the direction of the marketplace. It relates to the real evolution of the use of a form of content. You can manifest a precision marketing solution using anything – PDF, PCL, whatever you want – but we’re getting into this convergence of transactional and commercial again, of highly graphic content with variable data, and this is where AFP’s production management really shines.
Q: What is the one thing about AFP that you think we should know that we likely don’t today?
Harry: I think we all know about this, but one of the most often overlooked features of AFP is the highly correlated bidirectional IPDS print protocol and the accompanying set of architected error reporting. I know that statement probably sounds really mundane, but it provides the end user with a great deal of confidence that a heterogeneous solution will function without the need for a lot of intermediate private format or message conversion. It’s rare and unique that all the error reporting is architected. So if it’s a Xerox, a Canon, or a Ricoh machine and it gets a certain type of error, it sends exactly the same report. Anybody can develop a system that reports accurately and carefully, but this is in the architecture. That’s the whole point of the heterogeneous solution: that you can mix and match your vendors’ products and they’ll work because of the architecture. Its being built-in is the key.
Q: In your opinion, what was the most important evolution of AFP you’ve seen over the years?
Harry: ICC-based color management and the container architecture are both so key. To me, those were two really big evolutionary steps in AFP. AFP was initially created for variable data. That’s in its genetics. Because it was so transaction-based for so long, over time we lagged some in providing really great color management. From 2004 to 2006, we worked to – and did – add ICC-based color management, which establishes how devices’ color profiles interact. The International Color Consortium defines how to articulate the color profiles related to devices, and it provides its own architecture for matching. If you scan a document, and it results in a JPEG somewhere on the document, when you scanned that, the scanner had certain characteristics dictating how it picked up those colors. And then when you go to display that on a monitor, your monitor has certain characteristics, temperature, brilliance and the like. Then when you go to print it, again, your printer has certain characteristics or, you could say, limitations. The inks can only be so bright. The paper has an effect. The lighting has an effect. So ICC-based color management is what is typically used in the industry amongst all these devices to calibrate and correlate the colors so they come out looking like you expect it to. Without these color profiles, your end product’s colors will be different than the ones you were expecting.
When we added a container architecture, it was really a recognition that while AFP has native architecture that can do the same as any other data stream – text, graphics, images, etc. – that there was no need for us to constantly reinvent those capabilities. We could use a container to encapsulate other predominant industry standards. That has carried us a long way, and I think it will carry AFP even further in the future.
Q: Do you see adoption of AFP into more cutsheet shops or is it still primarily leveraged in continuous feed organizations?
Harry: AFP is perfectly suited for continuous feed or cutsheet or both, and both are entirely feasible. I think the decision to use AFP is more influenced by volume, performance and the need for integrity – what’s sometimes referred to as the mission critical nature of the document produced. It’s less a cutsheet or continuous feed decision and more a “how critical is this and how large a volume I am dealing with” discussion.
There’s no real obstacle keeping AFP out of cutsheet shops as much as it is a lack of fit. Typically a cutsheet shop is more well-attended, so there’s somebody right there if something jams. It’s probably easier to reconcile any errors that happen on a cutsheet machine because you can manually go in and pull out the sheets. You can look at it and recombine it, whereas if you’re doing roll to roll and you go to further post-process, it’s not quite as easy.
Q: What industries do you see AFP being leveraged the most today? Where do you expect its adoption to increase in the next five years?
Harry: I don’t think it’s any secret that transaction is where it’s most leveraged, and I see that migrating to commercial variable data. It’s very simple.
Q: What, in your mind, sets AFP apart from other presentation architectures?
Harry: To me, architectural comparisons are very interesting. The problem with those discussions is that the level of detail ramps up very quickly. If you were to compare AFP, PDF and XPS, for example, you’d find they have a great deal in common especially at the fundamental level. They’re page-based with text, image, and graphic objects that are rendered into an area with characteristics like size, position, and rotation. Where things get more interesting is how that architecture can use resources, facilitate reuse or handle the complexity of something like multi-up two-sided production in a dual-engine environment with error recovery to the page level. Of course, I’m heavily intrigued by architecture comparisons, but you really have to dive into the details.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish through your efforts with the AFPC?
Harry: I want to keep AFP viable and on-target when it comes to the most critical needs of the industry. I’m leading the AFPC now, but I’m always aware I’m standing on the shoulders of some really brilliant data stream architects who came before me. And I’m also working amongst a group of dedicated vendors who bring enormous breadth and depth of real-life experience. Ultimately, what I’m aiming for is keeping the consortium intact and operating smoothly so we can keep focused on AFP.