OEC Graphics, the largest privately held premedia company in North America, knows what it takes to stay ahead. Since OEC opened its doors in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1912, constant innovation has been necessary to stay ahead in an industry that has undergone multiple transformations.

Today, OEC still creates the printing plates used to control graphics on everything from cereal boxes to oil cans, assisting some of the biggest names in food, food services and petroleum. However, with printing now an almost totally digital and automated process, OEC’s biggest innovations are in software. Clients leverage OEC solutions to accelerate the delivery of their products to store shelves, where they can start making money.

According to OEC Solutions Manager Wayne Wyngaard, “These companies run hundreds if not thousands of SKUs, and they might have hundreds of projects on the go at any given time. Without the support of an organization like OEC, they would find it impossible to manage effectively.”

FUSION, OEC’s custom-built specification and review/approval workflow management system, brings everything together for premedia design. It houses inventories, version history, web-based collaboration tools and more -- all in one place. OEC’s high-powered clients expect FUSION to be fast and accurate. Therefore, OEC constantly strives to improve FUSION’s rendering accuracy and to simplify the UI to just the bare essentials.

But OEC had difficulty with their previous browser-based PDF collaboration tool. Complex software led to a crowded UI and dissatisfied clients, some of whom where abandoning FUSION’s PDF web viewer for workarounds involving expensive third-party desktop applications. OEC knew it needed to find a flexible and customizable web viewer alternative, and it soon discovered PDFTron SDK. PDFTron’s PDF SDK proved much more adaptable, while still able to meet OEC’s demanding requirements for rendering accuracy, loading speed, and browser-based PDF color layer and densitometer features.

linkOEC Graphics’ Business Challenges

  • OEC’s original PDF web viewer solution was too complex and hard to customize
  • A UI with too many features was leading clients to become dissatisfied
  • Some clients were abandoning FUSION’s web viewer for third party software
  • Because of complex software, OEC also couldn’t extract annotations from PDF

linkHow PDFTron helped OEC Overcome its Challenges

  • Streamlined customization, allowing OEC to match the web viewer UI to each client
  • Simplified integration with other systems, including extraction of PDF annotations
  • Delivered browser-based PDF color layer and densitometer features upon request
  • Continued support for new feature ideation and development

linkThe Benefits of PDFTron SDK

  • Reduced training time on web viewer by two-thirds (3 hours/week to one hour/week)
  • Reduced web viewer deployment time by two-thirds (2-3 business days per client to less than one day)
  • Increased user satisfaction and adoption

linkBusiness Challenges

With different process stages and business systems for each new client, OEC tailors its FUSION system to match. For instance, the petroleum industry tends to have an entirely different way of doing things from the food industry. Yet while workflows and systems may be different, what connects each OEC client are their requirements for accuracy and speed.

Graphics managers, marketing teams and legal teams need to collaborate on product packaging and graphics before an item can be shipped to market. While Graphics, Marketing and Legal departments want to finalize a design as soon as possible. PDFs would therefore need to load fast and reliably, even where clients had spotty internet or outdated systems.

In addition, a barcode that won’t scan right, a warning label that gets dropped or a key ingredient that can’t be read could spell liabilities in the tens of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

Therefore, facing demanding legal and internal corporate policy requirements, users needed colors and details to render perfectly on screen just as they would appear on the shelf. And just as a splash of Coca Cola Red should always be the same shade and hue, users would also need to ensure beforehand that printed graphics and packaging matched the color values in their brand color guidelines. This necessitated tools to easily manage the ink color separations in PDF and inspect the color values on any given pixel.

linkThe Previous Solution

Having clients collaborate in PDF browser-side posed unique challenges for OEC. With the PDF format so complex, designed to host a variety of color layers, profiles, fonts and page objects -- and generated with a variety of software -- not all viewers would render PDF accurately. Depending on the circumstances, a PDF web viewer might present PDF elements, like text and images, in a different position or hide information altogether. Fonts and colors might also subtly alter from their original intended values.

OEC’s previous web viewer solution was powerful enough to meet OEC’s expectations when it came to rendering PDF files in a browser. The only problem: the solution was way too complex, making it difficult to tailor each implementation to the use case of particular clients. Wyngaard said, “With 40 features on the menu, and maybe each user needing only three -- it was quite honestly overkill. Our mainly consumer-product company users are not all tech savvy. Most just need a way to look at the color layers and inspect the colors, to make sure they are beautiful and ready for printing.”

With their previous solution as complex as it was, OEC also found it difficult to parse annotations and have them display independently of their source PDF file. “Graphic design managers often don’t want to actually open a PDF when cross-referencing versions,” said Wyngaard. He added, with the previous solution, they found it almost impossible to build new annotation features because “the annotation text in the PDF would just get lost in the database and there was nobody there around to help point out where it went.”

Eventually, problems with their old PDF viewer got to the point where some clients stopped using it. Users at these companies turned instead to Adobe Acrobat on desktop to easily manage the color separations in a PDF and to add their own annotations. However, this process proved costly and unwieldy. For each user to collaborate, they would have to download and re-upload PDF to FUSION, often multiple times, as well as pay Adobe licensing fees.

linkIntegrating PDFTron’s WebViewer

Realizing what a bad match their previous solution was to their use case, OEC decided they needed an alternative. Their new PDF web viewer would need to be flexible and customizable, but still possess the same accurate rendering and fast loading speed, on top of the specific color management features OEC knew its customers would demand.

linkOEC Web Viewer Solution Criteria

  • A customizable UI that could be streamlined to match each OEC client
  • Flawless rendering of PDF colors and details
  • Browser-based color layer and densitometer features
  • Ability to easily record, track and merge PDF annotations
  • Flexible licensing model that would scale with their business

In just two days after starting their evaluation, OEC was able to set up a PDFTron proof of concept. And when asked for custom features, the PDFTron team quickly delivered. “While in Vancouver on business, I visited their office and showed PDFTron the custom functions that I was looking for,” said Wyngaard. “They went back and made sure it was doable, and I think they got it coded before we got the price. Because the next day after payment, we got the solution. It worked out really well.”

PDFTron outfitted FUSION with a new webviewer, with features to manage the color layers in PDF and measure the colorants in the file, as well as a visual diffing feature that would let users overlay two versions of a PDF and quickly cross-reference changes.

Managing annotations with PDFTron also proved a lot easier. Comments added to a PDF from a browser would now upload instantly to FUSION’s database, where annotations can be easily found and integrated into other features. This proved a huge plus. “Now we provide a pop-up window that shows the annotations on a version of the PDF,” said Wyngaard, adding, “Most other systems have a solution, but it’s not geared to integrate with other systems. That would prove a deciding factor for us when we chose to go with PDFTron.”

linkOutcome - Simplified Development, Deployment and Training

A year after integration of PDFTron SDK, OEC has migrated most of their clients, with plans to soon move the rest. Thanks to PDFTron SDK’s improved customizability and flexibility, OEC has been able to make several improvements to their custom FUSION workflow system.

“One of the biggest things we hear from our customers is how the new solution is really easy to use,” Wyngaard said. “With the other software as complex as it was, training was much, much more involved. I would have to run 1.5 hour web demos twice a week to onboard new clients. With PDFTron, each session is half an hour or less.”

Online collaboration on designs is now vastly simplified. Users don’t need to download anything. Instead, they can separate and inspect the colors, cross-reference versions of a PDF, and add and compare annotations -- all directly in the browser. This can be done as quickly, easily and reliably as they might on desktop, saving OEC and OEC’s clients many hours on a weekly basis.

In addition, PDFTron SDK has also shaved days off of FUSION’s deployment, reducing the time needed to install the collaboration tool from two-to-three business days to just one. It is now much easier for OEC to satisfy the needs of multiple clients on a tight deployment schedule. Indeed, according to Wyngaard, with PDFTron’s SDK powering its FUSION collaboration experience, OEC can promise delivery of their web viewer feature on Friday, and have it up and running for first thing Monday morning, when customers get back from their weekend feeling rested and in a good mood to try it out.

linkThe Value of a Long-term Vendor Partnership

OEC Graphics needed a way to tailor its browser-based PDF collaboration experience, and it turned to PDFTron’s SDK for its ease of customization, flexibility and accurate rendering. In the process of their evaluation, OEC also discovered a lifetime partner, able to help OEC adapt to changing requirements and demands.

With clients and prospects always dreaming up the need for something else, having PDFTron just a call away means OEC can quickly pivot and deliver a new PDF feature to market. Wyngaard states, “We can say to our customers, if you need anything else, we can just talk to the people who made it. And that’s what happened with adding a densitometer and color layers. We just came to PDFTron and asked: if this customer really wants this capability -- can you make it happen?”

If you have any questions about how PDFTron SDK can help enable growth for your organization, please feel free to get in touch!

linkAbout OEC Graphics

OEC Graphics, Inc. is a full service, vertically integrated premedia company and globally recognized expert in flexography.

OEC has always been driven by technology and opportunity since its inception in 1912. Family owned, OEC is leading the way in the prepress industry with our Seamex® seamless sleeves, HD-ITR, Flat Top Dot capabilities and custom digital asset management programs.

Learn more at www.oecgraphics.com.