Here, Jonathan Malone-McGrew, Electronic Document Professional (EDP) and Senior Director of Engagement at Solimar Systems, explores the Automated Document Factory (ADF) format. With over 45,000 software products installed in thousands of sites worldwide, Solimar Systems is a leading provider of document-delivery solutions for transactional/POD production printing environments and online web presentment.
Workflow automation, already growing steadily in significance on print-shop floors, has transcended the ‘nice to have’ bracket into essential territory. Every print shop is facing challenges where eliminating touchpoints, adjusting to decreased staffing levels and managing production remotely has become the reality for businesses the world over. The ability to reduce human intervention, boost visibility across end-to-end workflows, and create seamless progression, from job on-boarding through to delivery, are critical components of successful and ‘smart’ print production environments.
Automated factories are the path forward. Today’s smart factories can gather actionable data and insights, connect production processes and deliver visibility to all stakeholders. Critical for print shops, these developments in automation aren’t confined to the physical side of production. An Automated Document Factory (ADF) applies the concepts of intelligent factory production to the workflow behind document production to track every touchpoint through the workflow. We recently developed a handy formula for print shop success: PDF + JDF = ADF. Businesses have been building out elements of their ADFs because they need more end-to-end visibility, transparency and optimization within output management. Let’s break down each component of the equation, before taking a look at the formula as a whole.
Get familiar with the formats
Gartner defines an ADF as: “An architecture and set of processes to manage the creation and delivery of mission-critical, high-volume digital documents. The ADF applies factory production concepts to the document production – raw materials, including data and preparation instructions, enter the ADF where they are transformed into digital documents and prepared for delivery.” An ADF generates a positive impact on the bottom line thanks to efficiencies that can add up to significant cost savings.
One key to an efficient ADF is standardization on a print-file format. Most people are familiar with Portable Document Format (PDF). When the PDF reader became available free of charge, the genie was let out of the bottle and PDF became a dominating force. It’s the reason why trillions of pages are now stored in PDF, and the format is the clear winner over legacy data streams. PDF facilitates a reactive workflow. Its features are specifically designed for electronic workflows and collaborative processes that require approvals. Even the oldest versions of PDF provide amazing functionality as these capabilities continue to evolve with encryption updates and additional functionality.
Another key to an efficient ADF is the workflow communication and interchange. Job Definition Format (JDF) is a set of guidelines for that information interchange in a communication workflow, making interoperability a reality – enabling users to track the real-time status of multiple jobs, creating an audit trail for all jobs and collecting data on consumables’ usage. The shift away from legacy content formats, including traditional job tickets, and toward the more open standard of PDF, requires a complementary data exchange vehicle. This allows for a more holistic view of the print-shop floor and facilitates the creation of status tracking and recording of valuable data. JDF is a common approach. However, JDF technology has had something of a bumpy road, with a reputation for being vendor-specific. Finding implementations that work reliably has been a challenge. It has also been difficult to build complex jobs, such as cross-product ganging. Between these challenges and barriers to entry, such as the lack of a Windows driver, JDF has seen slower uptake than expected since it was introduced in the 1990s.
However, JDF and Job Messaging Format (JMF) specifications can be leveraged to implement an ADF and boost the efficiency and visibility of print production. JMF, the communications protocol used in a JDF workflow, is incorporated into Solimar’s job tracking and visibility platform SOLitrack. It’s a Solimar ‘secret sauce’ and is a crucial component in making the JDF dynamic. This combination enables production hardware and software systems in a JDF workflow to communicate with administration components and system controllers, permitting data exchange and visibility in real time. Lack of visibility is a source of anguish in under-automated production environments. A holistic view of the shop floor is essential to management who need to control inventory costs, labour rates, and invoice accurately and in a timely manner. On the production side, visibility on a more granular level is required, from knowing when a job has arrived, to its condition, to what needs to occur before it gets on the press, to when it’s on the press, to when it’s in finishing and when it’s launched for mail.
This is where the JDF/JMF communications with Solimar’s strategic partners makes a huge difference. It enables our users to gather ink and media data following job runs and feed that back to the system, allowing production managers to audit and compare what was estimated versus what they received. This data provides accurate insights into the actual running costs. By now, that ‘zippy’ formula should be starting to add up! Solimar excels over JDFs historic limitations with our onboard expertise in PDF and JDF. We’ve spent the last 30 years building our solutions to create automated workflows and automated tracking that deliver efficiency to print organizations. Our customers are always targeting increased efficiency and productivity, and Solimar’s solutions support them and their legacy systems in automating to meet those goals.
What solution is right for you?
When it comes to choosing the right solution for your Automated Document Factory, you have three options. You can outsource, purchase a ready-made solution, or build a system yourself. Outsourcing can be an affordable option. However, it’s important to consider that output management is often regarded as a cost centre rather than a revenue centre, putting pressure on organizations to be more cost-efficient. A home-grown solution requires a highly-skilled team and often means functionality is limited. Visibility with the ability to track and report on each process in real-time makes the ADF integral to an automated and efficient print production environment. While the automation shift has seen adoption, there’s still a lot of room for organizations to evolve their document factories to replace out-dated models for tracking and managing information.
Author Jonathan Malone-McGrew has built a reputation for helping companies in the communications, printing and software industries define and execute the outward communication of their unique market value. He brings his knowledge of customer experiences and service, partner and channel enablement, branding and message consistency, to a collaborative team supporting superior brand experiences for their clients – and in turn, their customers. He’s been recognized by Xplor International as an Electronic Document Professional (EDP), and firmly believes that the more a client, partner or customer understands the benefits of your message, the more memorable and successful your organization will be.