JDF and workflow for your company

So what is JDF, where does it fit, what does it mean, and why should anyone care? And what is this thing called “workflow” anyway?

By the time this issue is in your hands, drupa 2008 will be history. We’ll see whether the promise of the “inkjet drupa” or the “green drupa” was borne out, and whether drupa 2008 will be more like the “CTP drupa” of 1995, where the impact was immediate, or more like the so-called “e-commerce” drupa of 2000 or even perhaps the “JDF drupa” of 2004, where it took longer for the industry to be affected. And make no mistake, although the typical hype and hoopla that accompanies a quadrennial show such as drupa may have overstated the case, JDF is being implemented and having an impact.

Although the term “workflow” really should refer literally to the way you get your work done, it is most commonly used to refer to digital prepress and is therefore a fairly recent concept. When digital prepress workflows started in the 1990s, “workflow” meant little more than the series of processes that were involved in getting a job from file to plate. More recently, however, the idea developed into a suite of productivity tools. With revenue growth difficult to come by, intense competition the norm, and margin pressure relentless, printers have to improve operating efficiency throughout the entire production process. A key piece of this is linking the various parts of production—prepress, print, and postpress—not only with each other, but also with MIS, estimating, and job costing.

JDF (Job Definition Format), a standard developed by the CIP4 (The International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press, and Postpress) organization, is an attempt to do just that. CIP4 was formed in late 2000 to extend the work of its predecessor, CIP3. CIP3’s Print Production Format (PPF) found some success in ink key presetting and postpress operations. JDF is an XML-based job ticket format that provides key information about the job to “JDF compliant” equipment and software.

Why is JDF important? The integration of production processes streamlines workflow. An automated environment tells when to start and stop a process, and it also communicates what functions should be performed. Anything that eliminates steps, takes time and cost out of manufacturing and, equally important, reduces the potential for error.

The lack of open standards allowing for communication within the print shop, and between production and MIS, leads to higher costs, slower production, and inefficiencies.

There’s been a great deal of misunderstanding about JDF. It is, first, an open technical specification, available to all. Second, not every piece of equipment, software, or production process will have to make use of the entire specification. By automating the “handshake” between devices, however, it provides the specific information for the particular step of the process. It provides a flexible methodology for building workflows and for producing jobs. JDF is a standard language for preserving the job data throughout the entire life cycle of a print job.

In addition to “informing” equipment and software of what needs to be done, JDF theoretically allows for the collection of quality control information as well as key production statistics about each process directly from the devices. These “MIS” functions allow management to identify differences between estimated and actual costs and recognize bottlenecks in the workflow. JDF thus can be used to improve overall efficiency and better allocate resources.

It’s important that communication be “two-way,” that is, able to send as well as to receive JDF specifications. The JDF-enabled workflow or MIS system must be able to actually implement the required task. And the JDF system has to be able to “organize” the job, that is, specify what actions are to be performed and what to do once they are finished.

As there are more than 300 companies developing to the JDF standard, you can imagine that implementation is a slow, laborious process. Not only do the products have to be developed and tested, the interfaces have to be tested with others to make sure they work. The certification process is long and arduous, but products are slowly and surely being certified as conforming to the Inter-operability Conformance Specification (ICS) by CIP4. But the good news is that the interaction is transparent, if equipment or software meets the specifications and is adequately tested. As a result, JDF-compliant or enabled equipment and software can be acquired in pieces. It is not necessary to implement a complete “end to end” JDF workflow or commit to one right away.

Another thing that’s important to remember is that JDF is not just for large printers. Indeed, all of the major workflow suppliers recognize that smaller and mid-sized printers are more likely to reap the benefits. Mark Wilton, Director of Partner and Sustainability Initiatives at Kodak and CIP4 Chief Education and Marketing Officer and Board member says, “More automation means you can be faster, more efficient. Every printer wants to get his Sunday back. [With JDF-enabled automation], you can be 10%-15% more efficient. Its real value is time. It cuts overtime, cuts process time.”

While all suppliers are facilitating automation, and supporting JDF, each has a somewhat different perspective and approach, or “unique selling proposition” in ‘vendor speak’. Although we discuss here only four major prepress suppliers, there are many other solutions available that may meet your needs.

Heidelberg was one of the four founding members of the initiative that developed the first draft specification of JDF and was involved with CIP4 from the beginning (and with its predecessor organization, CIP3). As one would anticipate from a supplier of prepress, press, and finishing solutions, Heidelberg’s approach focuses on the entire print production process. For Heidelberg, workflow does not revolve just around traditional prepress but incorporates everything from the print buyer through to finishing. Dennis Ryan, Prinect Product Manager at Heidelberg USA in Georgia, says “Heidelberg delivers on the end-to-end JDF workflow promise.”

Under its umbrella Prinect workflow, Heidelberg offers an integrated solution that links prepress, press, and post-press through a seamless system with a single master job ticket, workflow plan, and user interface called the Prinect Cockpit. This provides an advantage in tracking, archiving, and repeating jobs, according to Ryan. It is a single system, not silos with an interface. Also under the Prinect umbrella are press-based colour control and measuring devices. The JDF interface allows Prinect to link with and manage third-party applications and equipment such as MIS systems or digital print production devices.

The founders of Edmonton-based McCallum Printing Group, started in 2004, always had an appetite to be involved with the latest technology. With a target market that placed high importance on quick turnaround, the founders knew the importance of incorporating the latest workflow tools. Starting from scratch, but with extensive printing experience, the founders focused on implementing a highly-automated system and on establishing and meeting daily productivity benchmarks. McCallum Printing is the first printer in western Canada to incoporate CIP4 into its manufcatureing processes and last year received a CIPPI honourable mention for “Achieving Outstanding Customer Responsiveness As A Result Of Process Automation.”

McCallum chose Heidelberg’s Prinance as the centerpiece of their system. “We wanted to align our company with a vendor that would grow with our needs and have more at stake than just a MIS system‚Ķ.We believe Prinance has played a major role in our ability to provide exceptional service to clients. For our clients, sales, production or administration we have the information to create job data and manage production of the job data at a high level of efficiency creating it once and purposing it as needed.”

Using Heidelberg’s Prinect system, job details such as imposition, target press information, cutting, bindery, and shipping details travel with the job electronically via JDF. With Prinready, now re-named Prepress Manager, McCallum is able to process jobs much quicker than in the past and provide both online and hardcopy proofing. With the JDF enabled workflow and Prinance, McCallum has the ability to have precise schedules for the equipment and make effective decisions on equipment loading.

The JDF implementation has obviously been successful, although not without a few hiccups along the way. McCallum has grown in four years to 90 employees, sales of $17.5 million, and satellite centres at the University of Alberta and in Vancouver.

The profit margin has been “outstanding”, consistently in double digits as a percentage of sales.

Kodak’s approach is centered on developing workflows that are meant to be integrated or unified. According to Jon Bracken, Vice President, Marketing, Enterprise Solutions for Kodak in Vancouver, the goal is to combine traditional offset functionality and quality with digital print sensibility and cost structures. That means applying technology and automation to minimize requirements for operator intervention.

Bracken comments that the approach that Kodak is taking with its Unified Workflow is “not only the idea of a single workflow, but trying to identify the issues in colour, production, business, and data that affect the overall workflow.” Based on Prinergy and other existing Kodak products, it enables a printer to grow into digital print, including variable data, using the same workflow. Jeff Hayzlett, Chief Business Development Officer for Kodak, notes that Kodak’s goal with an integrated workflow is to provide consistent print quality, improve customer control, provide operational productivity and system output, and improve return on investment.

Kodak emphasizes flexibility. The core of Kodak’s workflow remains Prinergy. With its emphasis on database management, all activities in the workflow are tracked and managed, providing visibility to everything in the organization. Its rules-based automation (RBA) streamlines the production process by integrating business, data, colour, and production processes.

While there is tight integration with all Kodak products, the JDF linkage allows printers to incorporate non-Kodak solutions, or, through web-to-print programs such as Kodak INSITE, to communicate directly with their customers. “The INSITE System and PRINERGY Software offer print service providers a way to grow their businesses into high value services and capitalize on efficiencies via workflow integration and production automation,” said Bracken.

Ampersand Printing, a 30-year-old family-run company based in Guelph, Ontario, with 20 employees, is an example of a smaller printer already reaping the benefits of JDF. Last year, Ampersand was honoured with the prestigious CIPPI award for process automation. An early adopter of computer-to-plate to drive their two Komori presses, they also have an Indigo 5000 digital press and their bindery is fully equipped with Heidelberg JDF-enabled cutters and folders. Ampersand installed Hiflex MIS for order management and production planning and shortly thereafter began JDF implementation. Today JDF integrates the Hiflex MIS, Kodak Prinergy workflow, and the Heidelberg Polar cutting machine, and will soon be expanded to the presses and other departments.

Prior to implementing the Hiflex MIS System and the resulting automated workflow, Ampersand used several systems. Damian McDonald, son of founder Mike, says “As the systems were not connected to each other, the existence of multiple data pools inevitably led to inconsistent data at different stages of production and administration. Moreover, there was no online availability of up-to-date job information. We therefore lacked the transparency and flexibility to run production and customer responsiveness most efficiently.” The old paper-intensive system had redundant processes that were prone to errors and were not integrated. “With islands of IT application systems we lacked real time communication of job status.” Damian and Mike realized that if they were “to continue to provide our customers with the level of quality we were achieving, as well as remain competitive, we [had to] automate the process, make it as streamlined as possible and minimize errors.” Systems with JDF connectivity were “the only way to achieve this goal.”

They selected a Hiflex MIS system, which not only allowed them to capture detailed job specifications but also to generate and deliver JDF data and instructions to the production systems and equipment. The open standard of JDF allowed for standardized, cross-vendor communication among their many systems, from conception through production, delivery, billing, and job costing. Ampersand proceeded in phases, starting with the installation of Hiflex, then, using JDF, connecting it to their Kodak Prinergy Workflow System, proofing, finishing equipment, and, eventually, the pressroom.

McDonald concludes that “implementation of process automation helped us to realize considerable time and cost savings and significantly improve customer responsiveness.”

Agfa has a long history of workflow innovations, including being a leader in the introduction of PDF, integrated pre-flighting, and digital film handling, among others. At drupa 2000, they showed Delano, their close customer collaboration tool, and their recent developments have reflected this philosophy of moving upstream toward the document creator. Deborah Hutcheson, Senior Marketing Manager, Digital Solutions, says, “Agfa had traditionally started when [the] page [was] already built. We’ve always been strong in prepress. We’re now moving upstream into the design and creation phase, connecting to the customer‚Ķ. The intent is to create a good, printable PDF upfront. It makes it easier for the printer.”

This move extends the traditional benefits of :Apogee. :Apogee is modular and scaleable—the various components can be incorporated as necessary, thus making it appropriate for printers of different sizes, as well as specialties. Agfa, along with Heidelberg, MAN Roland, and Adobe, was one of the creators of the JDF standard. Recent revisions to :Apogee include full JDF integration and rules based automation; integrated colour management throughout the production workflow; and a flexible collaborative platform between printers and their customers that provides a more automated and integrated workflow from content creation through print and the web.

In addition to being able to output to the Web, Hutcheson also notes that :Apogee works well with digital presses; there is no need for multiple workflows. “Our workflow is not unique to any single press. :Apogee offers colour managed, imposed PDFs of all pages which can then be RIPed. It takes in [the press’s] imposition setups; colour and media profiles, etc. We can direct pages to various output devices, offset or digital.” She continues, “:Apogee provides one streamlined workflow. We are moving further and further upstream. Customers want to be involved in production. We not only drive various output devices but are connecting upstream to the customer and content creators.”

Fuji offers a number of different workflows, including Rampage, for which they are the exclusive Canadian distributor, TrueFlow from Screen, and Metrix from Lithotechnics. Jay Lalonde, product manager for CTP, workflow, and digital printing for FujiFilm Canada, says that the particular solution they would recommend depends on the target audience. Rampage is primarily for larger installations, while TrueFlow is good for smaller companies just moving away from film or perhaps acquiring a larger 4-page press.

Lalonde believes JDF compatibility is critical, as it saves labour costs, downtime, and reduces operator error. Fuji emphasizes the idea of setting up the right processes and web-based submission with Metrix JDF and the built-in JDF from Rampage Remote. Customer files can run through various ‘gates’ automatically, right to plating. They work closely with their customers to sell the idea of the web and JDF to their customers. “The less time the operator spends on a file, the more time there is to do something else, and there is less chance for errors.”

Workflow often gets short shrift. It is not as exciting as a new press or a new CTP system. It is more difficult to sell than FSC certification. But it is central to a printer’s profitability. Streamlining the production process lowers costs, increases productivity, minimizes mistakes, and shortens turnaround time. And that’s a good thing.