The JDF Advantage
Every print producer has a unique process for converting a customer's job order into printed material, and getting it out the door.
For many it's still largely manual. For those using automation, they tend to have several separate systems in different parts of the production process.
Often these islands of automation can't communicate, requiring human intervention to move a job through the process.
Of course, each time there's human involvement, especially in the form of re-keying data from one system to another, there's opportunity for error.
There's a difference between data and information. That difference is context and meaning. If an employee enters a list of names and addresses in the system it is data.
Unless the names and addresses happen to be those of people that employee knows, the employee has no context for the data, and no way to tell if each entry is correct.
However, if the individuals enter their own name and address, they are entering information. They know the name is spelled correctly, and that the street address is right.
In the context of their personal details, the entries have meaning to them. In the print industry, the way to take advantage of this is to ensure the print production process has as little data entry as possible and that, as often as possible, information is entered into the system by the people to whom it has meaning.
To make this feasible, it's necessary to provide the customer with the ability to enter information about themselves and their job directly into the print production system.
This first step can be achieved with a combination of an Internet-based interface to the print producer, along with graphic design and publishing tools that help the non-print-professional specify the job.
Given a well constructed, intuitive interface, there is no reason the average print customer shouldn't be able to provide the required high-level information about a print job.
Once the job requirements are entered, it's crucial the information be shared between the various systems in the process, without re-keying. The machines must be able to communicate.
Just as with human communication, successful machine communication requires a common language. It's become clear that the common language for the print production process is JDF.
JDF is XML, an extensible markup language that is similar to HTML, the language of the World Wide Web.
XML is specifically intended to facilitate the transfer of data between computer systems, without requiring developers of one system to be familiar with the inner workings of the other.
JDF allows the creation of a "job ticket" that's initiated by the customer, the graphic designer or anyone with high-level knowledge of the product.
A JDF ticket is built up and added to by the various people and systems, as it proceeds through the design and production processes.
The person initiating the job can describe the ticket in JDF without knowing how it will be imposed, which press it will be printed on or even which print manufacturer will be doing the work.
The customer is helped by the system to enter a structured description of the final product. The JDF ticket, once initiated, will flow through the process to job completion and beyond.
Each system in the process must be upgraded to speak, understand and write JDF. Most developers of print workflow, prepress, press and finishing systems are developing JDF capable upgrades of their systems.
Print manufacturers with own custom software solutions can also benefit from JDF. Instead of adapting and updating the communication capability of the custom systems every time new hardware or software is added, a single investment can be made in adding JDF capability.
This facilitates adding equipment from multiple vendors, and accepting jobs from multiple sources, with greatly reduced or even no custom development and integration.
The greatest improvement in overall production efficiency must come from creating or upgrading the flow of information through the process.
Removing the bottlenecks and errors that occur at every point, provides the greatest opportunity for cost savings and increased throughput.
Allowing the customer to enter structured information about the job, rather than having an employee of the manufacturer enter data, ensures the best possible specification is captured.
Adopting only systems from vendors that support JDF, and upgrading custom systems to facilitate JDF capability, are the best ways to improve overall efficiency and maximize return on investment through all stages of the printing process.
Gareth O'Brien (GOBrien@OAI.cc) is VP of Objective Advantage Inc., in Houston.