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Automating the Print Production Process

By Don Monkerud

Customers who once were willing to wait four or five days for a print job now want delivery in two or three days. Profit margins are below three percent. CSRs donít understand what the customer wants and jobs sit in the bindery or in prepress for hours, waiting for someone to push them to the next stage.

Make ready is too slow, waste is too high and ROI on the press is lower than expected. How does a print shop owner or in-plant print shop manager solve such problems? Is it time to order a new folder? A new press? Hire more operators?

"Welcome to the Internet age," says Martin Bailey, senior technical consultant for Global Graphics Software in Cambridge, England and chair of CIP4, The International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress. Bailey points out that thousands of small printers are struggling to solve such problems. Itís discouraging. Magazines tell them that print is dead and going nowhere and interest in alternative methods of disseminating information, such as CD-ROMs, DVDs, the Internet, video, and messages optimized for hand-held devices, is growing. Obviously, printers need to become more efficient, but how?

Released by CIP4 in April, JDF (Job Definition Format) aims to solve problems created by the digital age. Itís a heady ambition, but JDF provides a basic building block to manage the complete print workflow. By creating an industry standard job ticket that covers the job from beginning to end and combining it with a message description standard and message interchange protocol, JDF takes advantage of XML (extensible markup language) to streamline information exchange between different applications systems. Itís a vision of the future.

JDF supporters foresee a fully automated printing system in the near future. A brief scenario of the promises of JDF includes a customer calling up a printerís Web site, obtaining a timely quote, and sending a PDF file to the printer, complete with a JDF-supported job ticket. The printerís JDF-based system would automatically schedule the job through the production process, reserving time on the presses, folders and other equipment, ordering toner or ink and paper, placing buy-out orders, providing feedback to the printer on estimated versus actual time, make adjustments for change orders, transmitting complete delivery information and billing the job when it ships. JDF connects all of the different elements in the system.

"The printer needs to reduce the need for staff intervention, increase the usage of expensive equipment, and increase automation, while keeping decisions under his control," says Bailey. "We need to automate without throwing away the old equipment and starting all over again. We need to improve communication with customers at the front end so that we eliminate guessing and develop a reliable language for discussing jobs."

According to Bailey, some of the pieces necessary for an automated system already exist; there are plenty of workflow tools on the market. Most major print suppliers offer workflow products: Agfa, Barco Graphics, CreoScitex, DALiM Software, Gretag, Heidelberg, Krause America, PagePath, IBM and Xerox are only a few of the major players. But these workflow tools have problems: Some are proprietary, most are incomplete and thereís little linkage between tools that only cover part of the print production process. They exist in what Bailey calls, "islands of automation."

JDF holds the potential to connect these islands with a common link. Originally developed in 1999 by Adobe, Agfa, Heidelberg and MAN Roland, JDF was turned over in 2001 to CIP3, an international, worldwide operating standards body. Adobe created PJTF (Portable Job Ticket Format) which incorporates information about the production process of the job along with the design content, and CIP3 created PPF (Print Production Format) which contains information about prepress, press and bindery. Many workflow solutions already employ these standards.

Products built with these software standards allow information such as ink key settings and register marks, and instructions for binding, stitching, folding and trimming to ride along with a job and communicate between different pieces of equipment. While CIP3 standards are useful, they donít go far enough. Printers want to extend capabilities to carry detailed information about a job from its inception through delivery, to communicate between production and management information systems and to define and track parallel and overlapping processes at the same time.

"JDF is very good at providing detailed job description information and connections between processes," says Doug Belkofer, director of third party integration at PrintCafe in Pittsburgh, Penn. "JDF extends the capability in all directions to both ends of the workflow. Itís one of the most exciting areas and will have a very interesting future."

PrintCafe will incorporate PDF through Synapse and Synergy from CreoScitex and in their own products to make printing systems more efficient. Today jobs can be produced in two to four days with lots of manual intervention. Belkofer predicts that in the future turnarounds with JDF-enhanced products will lower turnaround times to 8 to 16 hours.

"JDF will accelerate trends, especially in e-commerce," says Belkofer. "Aspects of JDF extend computerization and automation benefits by networking buyers, graphic designers, printers and suppliers."

New Equipment Not Enough
To meet the challenges that printers face todayódecreasing run lengths, more complex jobs, the high costs of order processing and prepressóit doesnít make sense to simply buy new equipment. Christian Anschuetz, a JDF product manager and CIP4 advisory board member from Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Germany, points out that increasing the throughput of a printing press from 15,000 to 20,000 impressions does little when the subsequent processes arenít capable of processing the jobs.

"Thereís a decreasing benefit of adding single components and an increasing benefit from networking systems and seeking a complete solution," says Anschuetz. "We need process thinking instead of a production focus. We need to consider the whole production chain. The successful printer has to manage the complete chain efficiently and integrate both business and technical processes. They need to link to the Web and integrate MIS and scheduling systems to produce the printed product."

JDF can provide such an integrated systems approach and also report feedback. It can collect all shop data from various print production equipment, including materials, operator and machine time and change orders, and track a job in real time. Collecting such information and using it to perfect the print system optimizes the process and cuts costs.

Anschuetz describes in detail how JDF features can bring benefits to each step of the process. Streamlining job quotations, for example, provides detailed job description, a history of the negotiation process, customer profiles, and ease of entry into estimating systems through a Web portal. Benefits include reduced estimating time, shortened response time to RFQ, setting production parameters for materials and machines and a detailed product description that enables better production planning.

"All these features are only a small part of the capabilities of JDF," says Anschuetz. " We have started to develop these with other companies: Itís a key for Heidelberg. In the future, we will offer customized solutions to our customers, using full open systems standards based on components of our product family Prinect. I suggest that anyone in procurement make JDF support a mandatory feature in future products."

Reducing Proofing Time
JDF is already showing up in products. Hewlett-Packard currently incorporates JDF into its proofing products. While itís only one step in the total process, HPís use illustrates how JDF cuts time from the printing process to make todayís printers more efficient. When they studied the printing process, HP discovered that proofing creates a huge bottleneck, because traditional generation and delivery of proofs can take days.

To streamline the process, HP uses Adobe PDF files to send them to a remote proofing device. But more information is needed to ensure output and color consistency. A JDF file enables the inclusion of job information such as color profiles, job ticket details, proof identification, processing and proofer settings, along with the job when it is sent to the client. In the future, HP plans to include new features such as marking up the proof and digital signatures for approval.

"Using JDF helps streamline the printing workflow," says Albert Such, commercial workflow architect at R&D, HP commercial printing systems in Barcelona, Spain. "We only implemented a subset of the JDF specification but, because itís based on XML, it was quite easy to use. The open sources library on the CIP4 =Web site helped a great deal."

More than PDF
While PDF is a de facto standard in the industry, it only carries the print job itself. But jobs need much more information to be produced. Companies such as Agfa and CreoScitex offer workflows built around PDF that include information about preflight, color separation, imposition, trapping, bleeds and trims, etc. EFI, which produces the Fiery RIP, offers a set of workflow tools in its Velocity software. But such solutions need to carry information about the whole job, from beginning to end, from filling out the job ticket all the way through to putting ink on paper, delivery and billing.

"We have to save people from entering redundant data and we have to make applications talk to each other," says Margaret Motamed, director of product management and planning at EFI in Foster City, Calif., and marketing manager for CIP4. "Because we are a major vendor of software and RIPs, we have to take a lead role in implementing new standards into our products so people in the industry can have workflow software and end devices communicate."

Before the dreams of JDF can be realized, more vendors need to accept the standard, and the standard needs development into different areas of printing. CIP4 is well on the way to success in both areas. As of Seybold San Francisco, over 94 major printing industry companies belong to CIP4, including R.R. Donnelley, Impresse, Muller Martini, NexPress, Ocť, Noosh, Xerox, and Short Run Solutions. Major institutes and associations include many international players such as Institute for Print and Media Technology, Graphic Communications Assoc., PODi, and Technical Assoc. of the Graphic Arts. Working groups of particular interest to digital printers include advertising and magazine publishing, e-commerce, finishing, packaging and labeling, and variable data.

"Thereís lots of unfinished business and a tremendous amount of work to go," says Motamed. "For example, the PPML group is trying to connect CIP4 for job ticketing. Every time thereís a new application, new things have to be done. CIP4 is a very big step but itís like weíre developing a new language."

Network Publishing
As one of the original developers of JDF, Adobe finds that it fits in their network publishing view. Bob Schaffel, senior product manager, publishing platform, cross media publishing at Adobe in San Jose, Calif., sees Adobeís role as creating visually rich, personalized content, reliably available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Adobe backs JDF because they believe it will provide the technology that will drive the next round of growth in the industry. The challenge is how to create content across the Internet and to enable generic content delivery across all delivery devices; the Web, printing, video and wireless. Extending the value of content across the Internetóthe network publishing modelówill allow publishers to sell content on line and produce income. JDF provides the link to connect all forms of authoring, management, production delivery, and MIS control, and pull it all together on the business end.

"Weíre doing this because we want to keep print alive," says Schaffel. "Print makes a lot of money, but itís becoming harder to make money because the cost of business is high. The Internet has changed the value of content. For print to stay alive, it will have to develop workflow automation to enable collaboration and an end-to-end optimization. Thatís why JDF is a large part of our future and why we spent so much effort on this."

Toward this end, Adobe released a new JDF software developerís kit at Seybold San Francisco. It will make it easier for OEMs and developers to create JDF workflows and it comes complete with binary libraries in object code, documentation and support from Adobe. CIP4 will also develop an open source developerís kit, but Adobe wanted a tool immediately to push the incorporation of JDF into print vendorís products. Adobe will provide the source code to the licensees of the software at a later release (but not an open source release).

Proprietary workflow is a big problem in the industry. While each vendorís product works fine within their own workspace, thereís little collaboration between these islands of automation. But the lack of communication hinders the development of the digital printing industry.

Rather than niche solutions, customers want open standards solutions and business conditions lead them to demand that these islands communicate with each other. While no one is promising that this will occur overnight, major printing supply vendors and software producers are incorporating JDF into their products toward an end that will automate the entire printing process.

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