GATF Tech Alert 2004 Conference: Technology Offers Niche Opportunities

According to Dr. Gamota, one potential electronics product, radio frequency identifier (RFID), could be manufactured inexpensively using conventional printing platforms that have been modified to accommodate sub-micron features. The printed ‘OFET process’ is a four-step process for printing the separate elements of the transistor: gate, dielectric, source, drain and active layer. Attendees were shown how a four-unit press, operating at several thousand sheets an hour, provided the ideal medium for manufacturing these precise tiny transistors. He anticipated the initial printing would be done with the transistors applied by the last four units, or as a separate pass.

These low-cost transistors will initiate programmed information in response to a given stimulus. For example, transistors embedded in wallpaper could change its color hues in response to the mood of the occupant. An advertisement in a newspaper or magazine could have an imbedded transistor that accentuates a point or feature in the ad as the page is opened.

The majority of research in this field is aimed at the higher value applications, such as electronically encoded information designed to stay with a product through out its supply chain life cycle. Motorola and its venture partners are targeting novel materials, manufacturing platforms and testing strategies, to design and assemble low-cost wireless products based on printed organic and molecular devices.

2004 Technology Forecast

Participants received advance copies of the 2004 Technology Forecast, a concise compendium of 90 articles written by 53 industry experts on the most critical issues facing the printing industry. Some highlights include:

  • Large format presses, 73” from MAN Roland and 81” from KBA, -are arriving with the full automation features of their 40” siblings. The 6-up or 29” format presses are selling well with sound return on investment for certain product applications. MAN Roland is expected to be showing a DICO kit for upgrading select existing presses to digital imaging.
  • The integrated production promised by CIM continues to be embryonic applications due to ‘islands of automation’ and vintage equipment.
  • The production of educational books is moving offshore because of better pricing. China is scheduled to build four new paper mills in the next couple of years. The new Timson zero make-ready press will help North American book printers provide faster turn around to allow them to effectively compete.
  • The Canadian print market is expected to grow slightly less than the US, although Canada did not experience as severe a downturn during the past three years as the US printing industry. Twenty percent of Canada’s $10 billion in shipments for 2003 went to the US.
  • As digital storage technology falls in price, combined with increasing speed and capabilities, inexpensive online tools will become more available to printers.
  • This spring Sony will launch a new paper-like electronic display (ebook) that uses power only when the contents change. Up to 250 pixels per inch are possible.
  • Several articles on post press automation suggest that this will be a major theme from many suppliers at drupa.

Last year’s Tech Alert shed light on how CTP has eased the transition to stochastic screening. Additionally, last year’s panelists alluded to the increased ink mileage being experienced in the use of stochastic screens. This year, John Lind, GATF’s Director of Research, put together a research project documenting the runnability and printability of stochastic versus conventional screens. At higher screen rulings of 175 lpi, stochastic consumed less ink than the 133 lpi work of the same images printed. Black ink showed the highest savings of about 40% with less dramatic results from yellow ink.

Julie Shaffer, Director of GATF’s Center for Imaging Excellence, gave a tutorial on automating print-ready digital file submissions. She said that the percentage of digital file submissions problems has not appreciably improved with the advent of PDF because the files are not prepared properly for conventional printing. Shaffer reviewed the mistake-proofing tools and technology centered around one of three approaches: 1) desktop based preflight and PDF creation tools, 2) client interface tools for prepress workflow solutions, and (3) web-based preflight and delivery technologies.

The ensuing panel discussion highlighted the on-going commitment by printers to train their clients in the proper preparation of files submission. One suggestion was the use of webinars to custom train clients on their own files which is much more effective then telephone or email explanations.

Joe Marin, GATF’s Senior Prepress Technologist gave the survey results on implementing a color management system, appropriately called “The Pain of Color Management”:

  • 94% of respondents were using either Gretag ProfileMaker (69%) or Monaco Profiler (25%) software.
  • 35% of all printers spent less than $20,000 on implementing a color management workflow and culture,
  • 50% spent between $20-50 thousand, and the balance more.

Those who were successful acknowledged that it took over two years of disciplined, total commitment.

The Tech Alert Conference continues to provide one of the most salient venues for leading-edge printing technology. Its success rests on suppliers and printers candidly participating in the well thought out survey and research projects, GATF’s honesty and candor at sharing the results and the varied opinions of the panelists. After thirty years of studying printing technology, I continue to be excited at how much I learn each year at this gathering.