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The ABCs of JDF

Automating the workflow pipeline.

Big Picture

The International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press, and Post Press (CIP4) Organization is the international standards association whose mission is to foster the adoption of automation in the printing industry. CIP4 brings together systems and software vendors, printers, publishers, consultants, educators, integrators, and distributors to define standards that support print automation, and to help educate and promote automation globally. JDF is one of those standards.

“Automation in printing began in the late 1980s and early 1990s – well before JDF was around,” says James Harvey, executive director of CIP4. “But only the largest companies could afford automation; as it means custom engineering and the need to plan the entire operation. JDF makes automation affordable and accessible to all print providers.

With JDF, you can begin automating pieces of the operation and expand automation with the confidence that you don’t have to go back and reengineer everything when you add equipment,” he continues.

And, says Harvey, “Some folks assume that JDF is only for sheetfed offset, or only for digital printing, or so on. This is especially true of folks in specialty areas. If your business is label printing, or printing of electronics, or flexo and board conversion, you may wrongly assume that JDF cannot help you. But the processes and resources in JDF are elemental – the building blocks of JDF can be arranged in any fashion you need for any workflow.”

Defining JDF: The Job Definition Format (JDF) is a specification and XML schema that’s used to define the interchange of data between systems in an automated production environment. JDF is flexible enough to cover every process and supports all types of printing, including digital printing, wide-format printing, offset sheetfed and web printing, gravure and flexography, and applications in packaging, newsprint, and more.

JDF supports both process information for devices on the shop floor and customer intent information for front-end/customer facing systems, and it includes a “Job Messaging Format” (JMF) that supports the command and control of systems on the shop floor by print MIS, scheduling, and job planning systems. In addition to driving production, JDF can also be used to collect information from devices on work in progress and completed for reporting, invoicing, and systems-management purposes.

JDF’s basic functions: JDF covers the whole life cycle of a print and cross-media job, from concept to delivery. The JDF specification includes four major application areas:
• Job ticket: Information about a printed product that may start with customer intent information and eventually include all process instructions and parameters.
• Workflow organization: A building block model used by management, production, and workflow systems to organize and automate jobs, including detailed definitions of processes, parameters, and job metadata.
• Device control & automation: An open, XML-based command and control language for all shop floor and studio floor software and systems known as the Job Messaging Format (JMF).
• Device capabilities: A method for MIS, workflow, job scheduling, and job planning systems to query devices for their capabilities and for devices to report back capabilities that is useful for both setting up new devices and determining their present status (for example, what media is presently loaded into a device).
JDF and other standards: CIP4 has formal and informal cooperation with many other groups, building bridges between islands of automation. CIP4 cooperates with ISO TC 130, ICC, IDEAlliance, IFRA, PODi, Ghent Working Group, and UP3i. The standards can work together.

The meaning of “JDF Certified”: If a product is “JDF Certified,” it means that it writes and/or reads JDF as established in one of several “Interoperability Conformance Specifications” published by CIP4. These “ICS” documents establish the basic requirements for systems that manage or consume JDF. Certification means that a product has proven that it meets requirements for basic interoperability.

Certifying that products are JDF compliant: The Printing Industries of America (PIA) has a long-term contract with CIP4 to conduct certification testing. At present, PIA is the single global certifying body for JDF systems and software.

How to know if a product is “JDF Certified”: Products certified by PIA will be issued a JDF Certified logo that has a unique certification number. You can look up the details of that product’s certification history with that unique number at www.cip4.org/certification/certified_products.php.

JDF Certification and guaranteed interoperability:
JDF Certification does guarantee a basic level of interoperability, but optional and advanced feature support for JDF may be supported by some products and not others. Hence, when integrating two JDF Certified systems, some setup and testing will be needed still, but the two systems will share a common denominator.

JDF Certification and “plug-and-play”: Professional graphic-arts systems may never be “plug-and-play” in the sense of simple consumer electronics. Quite simply, there are so many possible variations of workflow and production techniques that it may not be cost efficient for everything to be “plug-and-play.” Hence, CIP4 is focusing on establishing interoperability between systems from different vendors, and JDF does not portend to define “plug-and-play” for graphic-arts systems.

Certified products working with uncertified products:
Certified and uncertified products might certainly work together, but you could find that it takes more time and effort to establish interoperability with uncertified systems.

The above information is adapted from material provided by the International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press, and Post Press (CIP4) Organization. The CIP4 website, cip4.org, provides an array of information about JDF, including general data, tutorials, white papers, calendar items, technical resources, business-development topics, and much more.


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