Vendors, Printers Debate JDF Merits
The Job Definition Format, an XML-based standard for automating the entire printing workflow, continues to gain support among leading industry vendors.
Heidelberg USA is moving rapidly on the JDF front. The company has announced plans to make all of its Prinect workflow products compatible with JDF by next year.
This will integrate production equipment with business workflow, and create a digital workflow from prepress to press, to post-press, says James Mauro, product manager for Prinect Press Products at Heidelberg USA Inc., Kennesaw, Ga.
For example, the JDF will enable Heidelberg's Prinect Internet Portal to automate print buying and quote generation. Job definitions posted online by customers will be saved as JDF files, which then populate the Prinance estimating package.
Printers will then generate quotes with Prinance. When customers accept the quotes, they're converted into JDF job tickets, which go straight to pressmen.
"We want to cut out the need to enter the customer's name and job details at each stage of the system," Mauro says. "In the heavy manufacturing industries, there's a lot of automation, and that lets customers do [time saving] things like check status. That's the functionality we want to bring to printing through [the] JDF."
Printers say they like what they're hearing from Heidelberg and others about the JDF. "There's been talk about standards throughout our industry for a long time," says Rob Anderson, VP of Operations at Crowson Stone Printing, in Columbia, S.C. "[The] JDF has the potential to take us another step towards the computer integrated manufacturing model."
Other printers see the JDF as crucial to the survival of the printing industry in these troubled times. That's because, in theory, it makes shop operations faster, more efficient, and requires fewer skilled personnel.
"If printing is going to be viable, we have to pick up efficiencies," says Craig Beedy, VP of Technology for Sells Printing Co., in New Berlin, Wis. "JDF is having a machine do what a person can do, in terms of setup, data, transferring of information. [It's] trying to make printing more of a science than a craft."
HARD TO SELL
But getting printers to accept the JDF is going to be difficult, Beedy says. Economics, resources and business models will determine who adopts the JDF, and how soon.
"In these times, to convince an industry to invest in upgrading technology for more efficiency is no easy task," Beedy says. He sees the largest printers, such as Quebecor World and R.R. Donnelley, going to the JDF first. "They have the engineering, they have the business coming in, they understand the accounting principles," he says.
Another thing that could slow the JDF's adoption: psychology. Most printers see themselves as craftsmen. "They'll have trouble moving to this process manufacturing mentality," Beedy says.
There's another side to the psychology: apprehension. Printers have seen highly touted technologies come and go. Some who jumped in early lost their shirt.
That makes some printers cautious. "We do not currently use any JDF-enabled applications, because it's a fairly new standard," says Anderson of Crowson Stone. "We like to be forward-thinking, but we want to make sure a technology makes business sense. [We don't] use it just because it's the next thing in a long line of technological changes."
Heidelberg's Mauro hopes to reassure printers as the company delivers new products that showcase the JDF's advantages. For example, Mauro says printers will be able to leverage JDF on older equipment from Heidelberg and other vendors.
"Even presses that can't be networked directly, we provide a console to enter operation code that can communicate to the system," Mauro says.
Printers like the message, but want to see the technology work. "Who's going to retrofit all the existing stuff I have with new programmable interfaces?" asks Beedy of Sells. "Three of my four stitchers don't have programmable interfaces. The industry can't afford to replace all its existing equipment.
"Workflow was always ancillary to machinery. Now that it's risen to the top of the heap, someone has to retrofit all the old equipment," he says.
- Richard Adhikari