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FLEXO Magazine : February 2008
24 FLEXO FEBRUARY 2008 www.flexography.org INDUSTRY INDICATORS JDF: A Never-Ending Journey By Laurel Brunner Time casts a curious shadow on technologies, particularly those that are easily misunderstood. The job definition format, JDF, was one of the glittering stars at the last drupa and is one such technology. JDF isn't complicated, but the process of implementing it can be a bit overwhelming as many printers have found. So how deep is the shadow that time has cast over JDF since drupa 2004? Written in XML and under the stewardship of CIP4, the Committee for Prepress, Press, Postpress and Process, JDF's design objective remains to provide the digital equivalent of the traditional printer's job bag, but taking that basic concept much further. JDF formatted datafiles ensure that all data relating to a job, customer, workflow or project is accessible to all parties involved. They keep track of a print job's components, including related data such as contact details, related job histories and other stuff that might be useful for improving the workflow and pro- cess automation. CIP4 membership is around 136 and there are now more than 200 JDF-enabled products on the market. In addition to CIP4 members, many developers support the format through interfaces written in XML and so cognizant of JDF. JDF has moved on since 2004 and we are now working toward version 1.4 of the specifica- tion, which is due for release at drupa 2008. Version 1.4 will add specifiers for such things as direct control of ganged jobs, more complete descriptions for layouts with automatic marks genera- tion, and requests for authentication in JMF for more secure data transfers. Changes to JDF are incremental these days, because the basic specification is solid. The real work is in ensuring interoper- ability. We can expect to see numerous examples of interoperabil- ity at drupa 2008. This will include the ICS that CIP4 has already announced. INTEROPERABILITY CONFORMANCE In addition to work on the JDF specification, CIP4 has released seven Interoperability Conformance Specifications, guidelines which outline how the JDF should be written in order to ensure transparent data processing between two technologies, such as MIS and prepress or MIS and finishing equipment. That the mar- ket would need such a thing in order to actually implement sys- tems using JDF, was already apparent at drupa in 2004, although CIP4 did not drive the effort. According to CIP4, there are some 4,000 JDF installations worldwide and the adoption rate is increasing. MORE THAN A TECHNOLOGY It seems that what it takes to get a JDF installation up and run- ning involves more than just buying JDF compliant technology. Most printers seeing excellent returns on JDF workflow invest- ments have also taken the opportunity to completely rethink and update their workflows. This is true in incremental installations where JDF is used to share data between prepress production and MIS, or in really complex installations where JDF/JMF communi- cates data between MIS, prepress, press and finishing technolo- gies. Because the benefits are often intangible, at drupa 2004 it wasn't easy to put a figure on a company's productivity improve- ment or its return on investment. However, with experience comes knowledge and JDF benefits are now demonstrable. Many companies have invested into JDF incidentally as part of a larger investment, for example into a new platesetter or finish- ing equipment. Updating expensive technologies is not some- thing that printers like to do too often, however, caution with JDF implementations allows printing companies to plan their JDF strategies over time. They can carefully build their digital under-