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COMPUTER-INTEGRATED MANUFACTURING -- Out With the Old?

May 2004
BY MARK SMITH

Technology Editor

There's always a danger of any promising new technology or big idea becoming just so much hype. As expectations are built up, so too can be a sense that it all sounds too good to be true. All the talk of computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) and Job Definition Format (JDF) is approaching, or already reached, the point where some in the industry are tempted to tune out.

Skeptics believe there are a number of reasons to doubt that implementation of CIM/JDF will bring the promised benefits or, at a minimum, they question the ROI. For that reason and others, its adoption will not be as sweeping as predicted, they say. Among the key issues being raised are:

* Why is JDF needed, since CIM—a.k.a. process automation—is already possible with current technology?

* Buying all new equipment isn't practical, so it will take years before the average shop is in a position to broadly implement a CIM/JDF-based workflow.

Ink-key presetting based on color information captured when the job is RIPed has become a common capability thanks to the utilization of PPF (Print Production Format) data enabled by CIP3. Also, some bindery and finishing systems (including folders, cutters and stitchers) offer automatic job setup based on PPF files generated at the imposition stage.

JDF—with its Job Messaging Format (JMF)—incorporates these capabilities, but expands on them in some very important ways, proponents assert. If equipment and system vendors implement the specification in the way its developers intend, JDF will enable:

* Two-way communication, with job parameters transferred down the line and real-time production data reported back up as the work proceeds; and

* Communication of data between workflow components (hardware and software) from different manufacturers, with the promise of plug-and-play connectivity.

Due to the level of development to date, what's been missing from the JDF discussion are real-world examples of its implementation, including analysis of the costs, benefits and barriers to adoption. As has been noted many times, Drupa 04 was seen as marking a turning point in the evolution of JDF—from theory to reality. The first detailed field reports were expected to be released at the show.

What's already seen as a big barrier to adoption is the existing installed base of equipment and software that is not JDF capable or compliant. This obstacle may not be as challenging to overcome as some fear, though.
 

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