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Commentary & Analysis

JDF: A Hit or a Myth?

By Frank J.

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: July 12, 2004

By Frank J. Romano Editor's Note: This is the third article in a good spirited debate on JDF. See Frank’s first article on this topic entitled The Truth about JDF. Jim Harvey, Executive Director of CIP4 responded in an article entitled JDF: The Myths Unveiled. JDF has gone from an acronym, to an adjective, to a noun. I think it may soon be a religion. July 12, 2004 -- They call you a naysayer or a cynic if you question the hype of the moment. Ambrose Bierce said that a cynic was a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision. 250 members of the CIP4 organization are therefore yeasayers and there is one person (me) who looks at the issues and this makes me a naysayer. It is interesting how JDF has gone from an acronym, to an adjective, to a noun. I think it may soon be a religion. JDF is a good idea that is presented badly. Computer Integrated Manufacturing is a great idea. But it is already in practice and has been for many years. You do not need JDF to have CIM and many printers already have CIM without JDF. You do not need JDF to be an efficient and profitable printer; although, it may help. In the future, JDF may increase the functionality of printing systems and may be integrated into systems so as to be invisible. The simple fact is that you cannot buy JDF. You buy products that apply JDF. JDF is a good idea that is presented badly. The examples of companies that have trimmed staff only because of JDF should be open to examination. First, we should understand how un-automated those companies were to start with, and how much of the staff reduction came from CIM or CTP or better internal systems. Were they inefficient or overstaffed to begin with? And was the investment commensurate with the return? Shouldn't we give credit to the systems that enabled such automation? JDF wants top billing when it is only a supporting player. JDF wants top billing when it is only a supporting player. There is no doubt that JDF will be built into every device, system, technology, etc. used by printers. The problem is determining where JDF begins and where CIM ends. I fear that printers may assume that because the product says it supports JDF, it will work with other products that also claim JDF support. The only thing standard about a standard is the word standard. Some suppliers interpret and apply standards non standardly. JDF is all about inter-operability. The CIP4 people lead us to believe that just having JDF suddenly solves the problem of inoperability. It does not. JDF is not plug-and-play—your suppliers must work together. Having observed this industry for over 40 years, I can say that suppliers apply standards as they see fit. What happens when there are revisions to the specification and Supplier A implements them and Supplier B does not? Inter-operability is then not operable. CIP4 has said that JDF is a constantly evolving standard. Who will then pay for the constantly evolving upgrades? Printers, that's who. Lights-out automation (something I learned at a CIP4 session) makes printer A indistinguishable from printer B at the point where the customer enters a job. Comparison with automobile manufacturing automation is inappropriate. I do not send a file to GM to have them automatically make my car (what a great idea though--a low res image could result in a Yugo). I say the more automated a process is, the less value add as perceived by the print buyer. And it scares the heck out of me that customer data drives any part of the printing process given that most of them cannot make a Quark file or a PDF that works right. Our basic problem tends to be one of tense--I hear CIP4 saying "is" and "will be" when they should be using the future hypothetical "could be," "may be," and "might be." There is no assurance that your existing systems will work with JDF. Telling us that there are or will be solutions that integrate legacy equipment is an assumption—there may be such solutions, but more importantly, they may not be acceptable to you or work as you would think. Buy the system that does the best job in your plant. It will probably use JDF in some manner anyway. Prudent and pragmatic printers pick potential products primarily on practicality, not promise. I alliterate; therefore, I am. It is admirable that CIP4 built consensus to develop JDF; now the challenge will be maintaining it. "All printers, prepress services, and other users can get involved in CIP4 activities for next to nothing where they can get real answers and real facts." Charge for the "truth?"—what a novel idea. "Next to nothing" means something. I claim that anything involving a standard should be free and free means nothing, not next to nothing. It is admirable that CIP4 built consensus to develop JDF; now the challenge will be maintaining it. We are told to "distinguish between punditry and factual reporting about JDF." Right on! Like using terminology such as "myth versus truth" which implies that there were untruths. Every statement in my original opinion piece was true and I appreciate that CIP4 seeks to amplify and explain those areas that need amplification and explanation. They should have left it at that without the name-calling. Labeling your critics as liars is what they do in Congress. And suggesting that we read the 800-plus page specification is cruel and inhuman. I'm waiting for the movie. We are not anti-JDF--we are anti JDF hype. CIP4 alludes to people who are "unwilling to listen to new ideas." No, some of us are unwilling to listen to overdoses of hype. We are hype-r-sensitive. We would be happy to present our record of "new ideas" as documented in 40 books (like the first books on CTP, DI, digital printing, and PDF for print), thousands of articles, seminars, and the first college courses on workflow. We are not anti-JDF--we are anti JDF hype. The CIP4 organization could learn a lot from DDAP, which has been quietly effective in promoting PDF-X with wit and intelligence, not with cheap shots. JDF is only one issue that printers must contend with today. First and foremost, we need to generate more printing. We need to deal with irrational competition. We need to upgrade and apply new technology. Every printer needs new systems that cut cost and provide new capability. JDF is like air or electricity; it will just be there and sometimes it will be good and sometimes it will be ungood. Maybe.



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