On Thursday, June 17th, CIP4 and the School of Graphic Communications Management held a day-long JDF technology seminar at Ryerson University in Toronto. Experts came from the U.S. and around Canada to educate over 70 industry professionals who attended on the latest developments in workflow automation and JDF technology.
Bright and early on the Thursday morning of the event, the sun was shining and everyone in attendance at Ryerson University was in great spirits and ready to learn. After catching up with some friendly faces over coffee and pastries, everyone took to their seats and opened their notebooks.
Following brief introductions to the event from both Dr. Abhay Sharma and PIA President and CEO Michael Makin, the floor was passed over to the day’s first speaker: James Harvey, executive director of CIP4. He was able to provide answers to questions that many printers have about JDF, and give the audience some practical considerations for getting started with workflow automation.
What is the best way to get started with JDF?
Getting started with JDF technology may seem like a daunting task for many printers. While the potential exists to automate an entire workflow from start to finish, Harvey’s recommendation was not to look at the “big project.” Don’t try to automate everything at once. His advice is to start small and look for small successes. Treat it as a learning experience.
By the same token, Harvey also offered words of warning to printers, explaining that this will become an ongoing process that takes work and planning. To put it bluntly, he said: “JDF is not plug-and-play. It is not something that is simply purchased. JDF won’t just ‘happen to you.’ Just because you have JDF equipment doesn’t mean it will magically start.”
While this may seem intimidating, he said that once printers start small and get the ball rolling, it will be a chain reaction and they’ll notice the benefits quickly.
So…what is JDF?
JDF stands for Job Definition Format. The CIP4 website explains that JDF is an industry standard designed to simplify information exchange between different applications and systems in and around the graphic arts industry.
The seminar’s next speaker, Brandon Iskey, JDF product certification administrator at PIA, explained that, “Automation is not JDF, but JDF is automation.” But what does this all mean in plain English?
JDF is like a language that allows each piece of equipment in a workflow to “talk” to each other. It contains all of the information regarding each job, which is passed along down the chain from creation to completion. With JDF, the physical job ticket is replaced by an electronic one. Information only has to be entered once, improving accuracy and efficiency.
Quite possibly the best description of how JDF works was demonstrated by Dr. Sharma in his presentation. He held a duffel bag above his head and pointed to a luggage tag attached from a recent flight. He explained that JDF is to a print job what a flight tag is to luggage. “It is the ticket, it is the instruction of how to get the bag from Point A to Point B – but it is not the actual content itself.” If Oprah were around, she would have called that an “Aha! Moment.”
What are the benefits of JDF?
JDF automation allows print companies to do more with less people. “Twenty-five percent of all of the printers out there make all of the profit,” explained James Harvey. “These profit leaders have lower cost of goods sold and a lower payroll, while maintaining a high capital investment.”
Citing two different real-world case studies, it seems that the leading companies in the industry are onto something: substituting labour for capital is profitable. This is what the big guys are doing right, and the small guys are doing wrong.
Later in the morning, Dr. Abhay Sharma showed the audience some statistics that elaborated on this point. Looking at a typical printer’s cost structure breakdown, the materials needed for each job (ie. paper, prepress, proofing, capital) contribute to only 25 percent of the overall operation. The other 75 percent comes from overhead. If you can reduce some of your overhead by automating your workflow, you can turn more profit on each job.
The PIA’s Brandon Iskey explained another important benefit of JDF automation: accurate reporting. He gave everyone something to think about when he posed the simple question: “Let’s say you have 10 percent waste running a certain job. How do you know that number couldn’t have been only 6 percent?” With accurate reporting you can track costs and get specific and detailed audit information back, allowing you to see areas to improve your workflow. If you multiply that extra profit from each job over the course of a year, the savings can really add up.
Do you have to buy brand new equipment?
The answer to this common question is that no, you don’t have to go out there and buy a brand new fleet of press and bindery equipment. First of all, a lot of equipment sold these days is already JDF compatible. If you have older equipment though, it can still be integrated because your workflow is unique to your company.
If you are already in the market for new equipment, however, James Harvey’s advice is to “make JDF a requirement. If a machine doesn’t support it – don’t buy it. It is a waste of money. Buy smart.”
An excellent free tool you can use is the JDF Integration Matrix chart – available and updated monthly on the CIP4 website (www.cip4.org). It is a detailed index that shows the industry’s automation partnerships between vendors.
When it comes to working with vendors themselves, the CIP4 executive director had some more important advice: “Don’t work with vendors individually – make it a collaboration. Get vendors around a table and get them to understand your goals and objectives. Make sure your final payment does not just include installation, but proven interoperability between devices.”
Digging deeper into the world of JDF
After the informative “JDF-101” presentations from James Harvey, Brandon Iskey and Dr. Abhay Sharma, we heard from Tony Karg, senior marketing director at Fujifilm Canada. He went into depth about the latest developments with Adobe Print Engine and how it integrates with JDF workflows. HIFLEX President and CEO, Gary Marron, and Director of Marketing, Daniel DeBoyace, then showed how HIFLEX’s MIS system works and used Guelph’s Ampersand Printing as a real case study for a successful integration of JDF.
After a brief lunch and some more time to catch up with familiar faces, the audience was split up into groups to participate in live demonstrations of four workflow automation solutions. Experts were on hand from Heidelberg, HIFLEX, Dalim and Avanti to show how each system functions. The floor was open to ask questions, share experiences and learn about how the technology could improve current business practices. All in all, the seminar was very informative and received positive feedback from attendees who learned a lot and who were also given a lot to think about for the future of their companies.
For more information on JDF, check out the CIP4 website at www.cip4.org. There are a lot of helpful resources and links there to help get you started.