Cip4 has published the specification for a new communication protocol, XJDF, which will enable faster, cheaper and more versatile prices automation than the original JDF.
This will continue to be developed alongside the new version, but once implementations get underway XJDF the expectation is that this will quickly become the choice for companies starting out on an automation journey. However not every piece of equipment and software will support XJDF at the outset, so the existing JDF format will continue to be developed.
Cip4, the organisation that controls both version of print’s automation standard, says the new version is “designed to simplify workflow automation by making it both easier to implement and far easier to validate using standard XML tools.”
It does this by focusing on a need to know principle. In conventional JDF, the entire workflow needed to be defined in the job ticket. This has made it difficult to cope with changes, led to inconsistency in describing the same terms and meant that comprehensive implementations can be drawn out and complex.
Rainer Prosi, Heidelberg’s Cip4 senior software architect who is technical officer for Cip4, says that this approach “provides too much information for devices such as printing presses, platesetters to finishing devices that do not require that much data to execute their activities and return status information.”
The XJDF format in contrast only delivers the data needed for the next production step. This will immediately make it easier to implement changes to the job, increasing or decreasing numbers printed, adding or removing pages, adding varnishes or changing a specification.
The support for XML editing tools brings JDF closer to the open standards world which was not possible at the birth of JDF when XML was also in its relative infancy. This support will allow home grown implementations of XJDF and much simpler interfaces between equipment.
The development has been welcomed by MIS suppliers. “We get all the benefits that XJDF offers from a technical perspective which makes it quicker and easier for us to support,” says Tharstern managing director Keith McMurtrie. “This in turn benefits our customers with more robust interfaces and predictable behaviour between different products.”
The hope is that the more straightforward approach will change perceptions of JDF and open it to a new audience. According to Prosi JDF has been associated with complexity, an academic approach, lengthy implementations and so only for larger companies.
It will also have appeal to online printers and those managing multiple jobs on a sheet. JDF was never designed to cope with this, leading to messy work arounds for those wishing to stay in a JDF network. XJDF in contrast will permit dynamic changes, open the way to plug and play interfaces, reducing confusion and making the implementation much faster.
This is ably demonstrated in the published specification. The volume containing the full JDF specification runs to more than 1,000 pages. That for the XJDF amounts to 440pp. The specifications will not be exclusive: a JDF workflow will connect to XJDF and visa versa.
But the new version points the way towards an automated future. Prosi says: “XJDF offers an ideal means of facilitating communication among web to print, MIS, production and other systems to simplify workflow automation.”