Even before we began hearing of the vendor’s plans we were being told that this time it would be a “JDF drupa”. In 2000 we were told it would be a “digital drupa”. Now these are nice titles but what do or did they mean. I am sure that most people in the printing industry really have little real knowledge of what JDF is and what it will mean to them. For those of you who have so far managed to avoid the barrage of information about JDF it stands for Job Definition Format. That is all it is, a computer data format to allow different computers within the production and management process to pass information back and forth between them. It is up to the software within each of the computers to make use of this data that is being moved around to be of benefit to the printer.
In reality JDF is all about integrated manufacturing processes and the move to make printing more efficient. It is about taking manual processes in set-up out of the industry, and to attempt to manage the whole production process using as few people as possible. JDF is perceived as the answer to the problems of the printing industry in trying to satisfy a customer’s needs for faster turnarounds, lower costs, better quality and more control.
So, is JDF going to be the universal lifesaver for the printing industry and the source of the return to profitability? Will the printer coming to drupa for this JDF experience find a new beginning and ongoing prosperity? I think not at this time for reasons outlined below.
I am not going to try to explain in detail what JDF is. There have already been many articles trying to explain JDF, but for most printers an understanding of the intricate workings of JDF is unnecessary. What a printer will want to know is what can JDF do for me, what will it cost and when can it do it.
There is nothing new about computer integrated manufacturing (CIM), which is what JDF is designed to facilitate. There are many examples of successful CIM operations. What JDF is designed to do is to make such CIM approaches easier to put together when linking up the products of different suppliers. The ultimate aim of JDF is to allow an almost seamless operation of print production. This is moving from estimating for a print job to moving that job successfully through every stage of the process from job creation, prepress, printing, finishing, delivery, invoicing and receiving payment. While this is all happening through JDF enabled linking of all processes, a continuous monitoring of progress is also happening to allow production status and cost to be available at any time.
The question to be asked is whether the above scenario is realistic for the average printer, and if so, when it will happen. The answer is of course it is possible, but in reality it will probably take most of us a long time to achieve it. At drupa we will see a large number of demonstrations of JDF enabled workflows. Many systems will announce that they are JDF enabled, and I have no doubt they will be. The question that must be asked is whether they are JDF enabled for the way you want to work, or just for the manner of the demonstration. For example in the impressive PrintCity operation, we will see examples of JDF enabled workflows. These will be linking up an Optimus MIS system with an Agfa Apogee prepress workflow, into an MAN Roland press system, and into a finishing system. This JDF enabled approach will be set-up for a particular type of work. The question however is how long will it take, how much will it cost, and who will do the work to use a different MIS or prepress system in such a workflow, or to enable the workflow for different types of work.
In another part of drupa there will be the JDF Parc. In this a number of vendors, all members of the CIP4 organisation, a grouping of all companies working towards making JDF successful, will put on demonstrations of using JDF data to communicate with each other. JDF Parc is something any company interested in the benefits of bringing CIM into printing should look at to assess the status of JDF. It should allow them to evaluate if the systems are yet really ready to communicate, but also what any printing company needs to do to be ready to implement a JDF enabled workflow. The critical word here is enabled. JDF is a data format for computers to use to pass data to each other to allow the data to be interpreted to allow the other computer to work better. It is necessary however to be able to know what information to pass and how to use it. Few printing companies work the same way. As a printer you will need to work together with your MIS, prepress, press and post press suppliers to work out what information needs to be communicated and to where it must be communicated. JDF is just an enabling data format to allow this data to be transferred between systems. It is one thing to make your system JDF enabled, which is what we will see everywhere at drupa. It is another thing to work with your suppliers to turn such JDF enabled systems in a full CIM operation to generate the benefits that we are promised JDF will bring.