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JDF & CIM -- Issues Are Not so CIMple

February 2005
BY MARK SMITH

Technology Editor

There were no mysterious bulges, but maybe the occasional exacerbated expression and a testy moment or two during "The Great Debate: JDF—Reality or Hype?" session at Executive Outlook 2004 in Chicago. This "debate" between Frank Romano, industry consultant and Professor Emeritus at Rochester Institute of Technology, and James Harvey, executive director of CIP4, actually started with an exchange of opinion pieces published by OnDemandJournal.com.

As entertaining as these exchanges have been, Harvey says he's not interested in repeating the debate since the questions have been asked and answered. He sees more value in the industry moving on to discussing real-world implementation stories and lessons learned by the pioneers.

The problem is, much about JDF (Job Definition Format) is still a work in progress and the experiences of early adopters are only starting to trickle out. This ties into the session's title and one of the concerns raised by Romano—that proponents of JDF often don't clearly distinguish between the reality of what is practical today versus the potential of the technology. He also believes the concept of CIM is being incorrectly equated with JDF implementation.

The term computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) has been borrowed from other industries because of the notoriety it gained as a business philosophy. In some ways, it doesn't project the right connotation for process automation in the printing process, though.

In broad terms, the automation concept being debated starts with job information captured electronically up front so it can be passed along the workflow as digital data that is used to direct production steps. JDF-enabled workflow components (hardware and software) can also generate process data—such as start/stop times, counts, operating speeds or, in the case of prepress systems/RIPs, color information for ink-key presetting—for consumption, most often by MIS applications.

JDF provides a standardized language and framework for communicating job information and defining process operations.

Romano sums up the current state of affairs by saying "JDF is a good idea that is presented badly. I am not anti-JDF, but there are real impediments to its successful implementation in multi-supplier (print production) environments, which is most of them." JDF is not plug-and-play, and this industry doesn't have an encouraging track record when it comes to implementing standards, he adds.

The real payoff, Romano says, is in the broader concept of CIM, which the industry already has been adapting variations of for years—without JDF.
 

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