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Commentary & Analysis

FREE: JDF Parc Lives Up to Promise

JDF Parc,

By Cary Sherburne
Published: May 24, 2004

JDF Parc, organized by CIP4, the body responsible for the development of the JDF standard, was a hot destination for fair attendees. CIP4 reported distributing over 7,000 brochures in the first three days of drupa and expected they would need to reprint brochures to accommodate demand during the balance of the fair. The Parc consisted of 21 vendors in 18 pods, and featured 90 connectivity pairs (combinations of two products with proven JDF interchange capabilities) that demonstrated interoperability between vendors and applications in the Parc itself. In addition, many interactions were taking place across the fair, the number of which continued to climb as more connectivity pairs were brought online during drupa. In fact, CIP4 reported there were 75 companies showing JDF-enabled products at drupa. This variety of connectivity pairs allowed attendees to witness the power of JDF in action. Much like the attendees, who represented almost every country in the world and used English to break the language barrier, the vendors in our industry are adopting JDF as the production and business management lingua franca. CIP4 has produced a connectivity matrix (external link to pdf file) depicting all of the interoperable pairs that have been tested, and will be keeping the matrix up to date online as the interoperability numbers continue to grow. If you take a peek at the matrix, you will see that a number of interoperability certifications actually transpired at drupa!

My first drupa stop, after the official drupa opening ceremony held for the press, was the JDF Parc, and it was busy, even on the first day. While I was not able to visit every vendor in every pod, I was able to spend time with most of them, and the results of all of the work leading up to drupa were very impressive. The demonstrations touched every part of the process, from the initial customer contact and job estimating, through finishing and shipping the job, to supplying the back-end systems with information that enables billing and management reporting. Here is an example of the interoperability that was being shown.

Enfocus showed interoperability with DALiM MiSTRAL using Pitstop Pro and Instant PDF. In the example, a printer or publisher specifies how a creator should create files to generate a certified PDF file to ensure proper production; in other words, the printer or publisher defines the form, but the solution also involves the document creator in the process for improved productivity. Using Instant PDF in the background, the job creator simply executes a <File Save> from within Quark, selecting Certified PDF as the file type. This brings up a simple dialog box that allows the user to create a job ticket. The job creator is asked for the minimum amount of information required to accurately submit the job, making it as easy as possible for the creator to submit a job using these tools. The application will not allow the job to be submitted until the job ticket has been completed accurately. Prior to the file being transmitted, it is also preflighted to ensure that there are no fatal errors, with the job creator being advised of any found errors and where possible, a suggested fix.

The job is then submitted to a Pitstop Pro hot folder, which automatically extracts job information, creates a JDF file and sends it with the job to DALiM MiSTRAL. Upon receiving pages from Enfocus, MiSTRAL checks the integrity of the pages, and invokes a Preps or Dynagram imposition template as specified by the JDF file, checks the page layout, and sends JDF information to the target output device, in this case a Harlequin RIP. DALiM was also showing connectivity with Agfa's Apogee and Screen's TrueFlow in the JDF Parc.

The Harlequin RIP receives a JDF file from MiSTRAL that instructs it how to impose the pages. Once the RIP processes the file (imposition, interpreting, separations, rendering and screening), it reports audit information back to the job ticket residing with MiSTRAL. With an optional JDF Enabler module to the Harlequin RIP, information can be sent directly to the production system or via a hot folder model.

Impressive  In a perfect world, the only fingers on the keyboard are the customer's. Of course, we don't live in a perfect world, so all throughout the process, logs are being created so that should errors occur that require human intervention, all requisite information will be readily available. A lot of work went into creating this simple connectivity demonstration, but that work now becomes a launching pad for true interoperability in a real production environment. The vision of CIP4 and its member companies is that users will begin to think of JDF as simple, under the hood, and should not require specific JDF knowledge. They should be able to simply check off as part of the buying process that the application is certified.

While there were too many interactions happening to list individually here, some of the other demonstrations in the Parc included

  • EskoGraphics Scope instructing VIO on file uploading and transmission;
  • Agfa's ApogeeX and Delano prepress workflow and project management solutions demonstrating 22 interactions in different locations throughout the show;
  • Heidelberg Printready Cockpit and Prism MIS paired up to schedule and execute platemaking, press production and finishing;
  • MAN Roland showing six different interconnects that allow presses to receive information for automatic set-up, and communicate information to MIS systems for business management purposes; and
  • EFI's JDF Connector handling all of the JDF and JMF transactions that must happen through the production process in a legacy environment, meaning that older versions of EFI products, including Fiery, Hagen OA and others, can be easily JDF enabled without requiring upgrades. EFI showed JDF enablement via four different MIS systems and a total of ten interactions.

While most of the pods were focused more on the production and management process, Adobe, who was working with all 18 pods, featured interactions between creative applications and printing solutions using JDF as the mechanism. From Adobe's perspective, the missing piece, and a real opportunity for JDF to add value, is at the creative professional using Adobe products on the desktop. Adobe has written two plug-ins, one for Indesign and one for Acrobat, that the company was showing as a concept demonstration. While there is no fixed product schedule for release of these plug-ins Adobe indicates plans to include this functionality in future Adobe products.

Kudos to CIP4 and its members for all of the hard work during the drupa run-up and for a successful demonstration of the promise of JDF in making computer integrated manufacturing a reality. While early interoperability efforts may have felt a bit like herding cats, I think it is safe to say that post-drupa, we can expect to see the JDF juggernaut continue to gain momentum, to the benefit of our industry and its customers.

What should we expect next from CIP4 and its members? First, the deployment of Interoperability Certification Standards (ICS's) that will enable interoperability testing to be offloaded to independent testing bodies thus increasing critical mass. This process is already underway; the first independent testing body will be GATF for North America , with selection of European testing bodies to follow.

And second, while the interoperability matrix is helpful, we call on CIP4 to produce a more definitive shopping list approach, a matrix that can be used by a prospective buyer to compare systemssort of a "do it yourself kit" for fitting a system together. This, in our opinion, is still a gaping hole in the JDF story.

Cary Sherburne is a well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries.

Cary Sherburne is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us.

Please offer your feedback to Cary. She can be reached at cary@whattheythink.com.



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