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FLEXO Magazine : June 2008
TECHNOLOGIES & TECHNIQUES Production Automation And Converting Looking at JDF as the Tool of Choice By Mark Wilton W hen we think of production automation, we tend to lean toward big objects like a press or a new electron- ic device that you can stand next to and whack while saying, "Here's our new baby." The adoption of CTP (computer- to-plate) in flexographic printing and converting facilities has grown since its inception. Devices like that, which eliminate one or more steps in the process, lead to better automation and efficiency, ultimately saving time and money. Like CTP, JDF (Job Definition Format) is the standard in which CIP4 (International Cooperation for Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress) leads those that har- ness it to drive production automation, minimizing the need for re-keying data or eliminating it fully. Many industries have moved toward computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM). This is where JDF comes into play-it is the tool for CIM in the printing and converting industry. But adoption has been slower than first expected. Often print- ers and converters suggest that it is only for the big guys. But production automation has the highest impact for the small to medium players. In time and labor, critical businesses that have steps auto- mated via JDF can alleviate the need for expensive resources. Investing in JDF technology can give back the weekend or re- duce the number of shifts/overtime, or work in the reverse by streamlining such activities and opening up capacity or oppor- tunity for new business. N ow to streamline steps in the process of production, you need to have systems integrated or connected. To achieve this requires integration through cooperation-the slogan that lends itself from the NGP (Networked Graphic Production) industry initiative to help drive the proliferation of JDF. NGP is now the BNG (Business Networking Group) the business development working group of CIP4. - The convergence of NGP and CIP4 earlier this year (See FLEXO February 2008, page 25) establishes the value of both creating standards (technical) and driving awareness and adoption (education, marketing and business development) of such technologies. The inaugural meeting of the convergence through the BNG was this March in Belgium, during the Spring Interop (a CIP4 member-only activity where vendors come to- gether to test with each other for connectivity purposes). The main outcome of the meeting is the continued use of the JDF integration matrix to display all connectivity levels between vendor members. The matrix will emerge as probably the most useful tool when mapping vendors that are already connected/integrated and those engaged in the conversation of connectivity. The grid-like matrix will have all CIP4 members that have prod- ucts from categories such as creative, web-to-print, production planning, prepress, press, digital printing and finishing. Each category will be color coded, and reveal levels of status such as "customer confirmed," "installed at customer," "available for install" and "in progress." Technical workgroups are making all this reality. There are 16 to 20 active working groups and sub-groups, each striving to avoid commercialization and political issues, while aiming to achieve the goals set out by cooperative members for the great- er good of the standard. There are working groups that include MIS and conventional printing, origination and prepress, and digital printing. The packaging and label work group defines JDF extensions with respect to the needs of packaging and label printing work- flow. Currently, 50 members from 35 companies are subscribed to this group. There are a number of major packaging players that are members of CIP4, but there are a few yet to take the plunge; it JUNE 2008 www.flexography.org FLEXO