by Cary Sherburne September 25, 2003 -- This year at Graph Expo is truly the year of JDF — Job Definition Format. If vendors are not already supporting JDF, they are talking about how they are going to. It's the next big thing in terms of process improvement in the printing industry, and with pressure on the print supply chain due to trends toward shorter runs, more complex jobs, faster turn times — or not printing at all for some applications — JDF promises to deliver process automation, data accuracy and improved job throughput throughout the print supply chain. What is JDF? While many printers are convinced that every job is custom and there is little opportunity to achieve true process automation across the entire production process, there is a growing community that understand the value of leveraging industry standards to improve productivity and simplify customer interfaces. And JDF is one of the keys to unlocking this power. CIP4 ( ) is the key standards body encouraging computer based integration of all processes that have to be considered in the graphic arts industry, in particular the specification of standards, such as the Job Definition Format (JDF). CIP4 defines JDF as follows: JDF is a comprehensive XML-based file format/proposed industry standard for end-to-end job ticket specifications combined with a message description standard and message interchange protocol. * JDF is designed to streamline information exchange between different applications and systems. * JDF is intended to enable the entire industry, including media, design, graphic arts, on demand and e-commerce companies to implement and work with individual workflow solutions. * JDF will allow integration of heterogeneous products from diverse vendors to seamless workflow solutions. CIP4 currently has 163 members that run the gamut from equipment manufacturers to software providers to end users and private individuals. Arguably, this effort has drawn more interest and attention from diverse parts of the industry than any previous industry effort, and the JDF standard is a central output from the group. CIP4 goes on to describe the basic tenets upon which JDF was established: To develop an open, extensible, XML-based job ticket standard, as well as [a] mechanism that provides new business opportunities for all individuals and companies involved in the process of creating, managing and producing published documents in the new economy. Building on existing technologies of CIP3's PPF and Adobe's PJTF, the Job Definition Format supplies a means for printing businesses to streamline the process of producing printed material [including:] 1. Ability to carry a print job from genesis through completion. This includes a detailed description of the creative, prepress, press, postpress and delivery processes. 2. Ability to bridge the communication gap between production and Management Information Services. This ability enables instantaneous job and device tracking as well as detailed pre- and post calculation of jobs in the graphic arts. 3. Ability to bridge the gap between the customer's view of product and the manufacturing process by defining a process independent product view as well as a process dependent production view of a print job. 4. Ability to define and track any user defined workflow without constraints on the supported workflow models. This includes serial, parallel, overlapping and iterative processing in arbitrary combinations and over distributed locations. 5. Ability to do so (1, 2, 3 & 4) under nearly any precondition. The challenge is great, but the results are already becoming evident. Software and services companies such as VIO, EFI, Enfocus, Printcafe and Markzware have dedicated resources to the CIP4 initiative and begun to deliver JDF compliance to the marketplace. Press manufacturers Heidelberg , MAN Roland, Komori and others have jumped into the fray, and the finishing vendors are active as well. For Vendors… …now is the time to jump on the JDF bandwagon, if they have not already done so. Vendors must assure that the products and services they bring to market are JDF-compliant, as appropriate. For Printers … …the first step is to get educated relative to the principles and advantages of a JDF-enabled workflow and determine how best to model their own workflow and processes to improve productivity and eliminate bottlenecks. More than ever before, printers must understand the strategy of vendor partners relative to standards compliance in general, and JDF specifically—and work with suppliers and customers to streamline the entire print supply chain. In a competitive market, where even the value of print itself is often under fire, it is absolutely essential to attack systemic inefficiencies, improve inter-organizational communication throughout the supply chain, and assure that the print medium remains as flexible, competitive, responsive and cost-effective as possible. JDF is clearly not the total answer, but JDF-enabled workflow and processes will contribute significant value. JDF will bring to the graphic arts industry: * Elimination of constant rekeying of information—or worse yet, physical job jackets and other paper-based tools and reporting—as jobs flow from process to process * Better integration with back-end systems to assure the availability of accurate, consistent and timely business information throughout the entire process, including time and materials, inventory levels, job scheduling and more * Better access to status information by customers in a self-serve mode, and/or customer service personnel EFI's Mimi Sells summed it up well when she said, “People seem to be talking about JDF workflow – there was a lot of excitement about JDF at Seybold San Francisco even though that wasn't really the show for it. We're showing a complete JDF workflow in our booth at Graph Expo, including tight integration with Printcafe's products and the ability to go from Velocity Exchange all the way through to final output, whether it is digital or offset or a blend of both. At EFI, we are really committed to open standards.” Whatever Happened to PCX? Industry watchers will recall that Printcafe launched its PCX effort as an early attempt at providing a standards framework for the industry. According to Printcafe's Andy Schaer, “The idea of PCX was to simplify the process of integrating systems. With PCX, we weren't building anything new; we were leveraging existing standards with PCX as a framework. The theory of PCX has not gone away, but the packaging has changed because it implied something proprietary, when that was not our intent at all. We're working very closely with CIP4, and EFI is really involved as well.”