Process automation in the print shop.

There is no such thing as a standard print shop workflow. In fact, printing is the ultimate form of flexible manufacturing making process automation a monumental challenge. This challenge has led to the development of the Job Definition Format (JDF) standard.

The JDF standard defines XML elements that describe all the production processes and material types a printer is likely to encounter, regardless of individual job workflow. These processes and material types are the steps that are used to emulate the workflow through your plant.

As a matter of convention, processes such as typesetting, scanning, printing, cutting and so on are referred to as process nodes. Every process in the print production workflow requires input resources, starting with the client's files or artwork and ending with the final bound, packaged and labelled print product. For example, before you can print, you need paper, ink and plates, and before you can send a document to a bindery line, you need printed and cut signatures.

Process nodes and resources are the basic elements within JDF. They can be strung together to meet the requirements of each job. The output of one process becomes the input of the following process, and a process doesn't begin until its input resources are available.

The Job Messaging Format (JMF) functions as a standard interface between your equipment and your information systems or other equipment already on the shop floor. By buying only equipment that supports JMF you could reduce the cost and complexity of integrating new equipment into your production operations, and you may improve the flexibility and adaptability of your shop.

Although, in theory equipment that supports JMF can be linked directly to one another, in almost all cases production equipment should communicate through your Management Information System (MIS) . Generally JDF is more effective if it is the MIS that controls the scheduling, execution and control of work in progress. In fact, the JDF standard does not dictate how a JDF system is to be built. However, many printers already have MIS and workflow systems that have been customized or developed for their own environments. In most cases these legacy systems can be modified to work with the new JDF work flows and JDF enabled equipment.

An MIS with full JDF capability can be expensive to purhase and very costly to implement and maintain. Preferred stand alone (i.e. estimating) software modules can also be dropped in to build a unique JDF environment.