Participants had a wide choice of industry seminars to attend included JDF, digital proofing, digital printing, large format printing, packaging production and UV technology.
A noticeable difference between this and recent DRUPAs was the unusually solid optimism expressed by both European and Far Eastern suppliers. Only days before the opening of the 14-day show was a celebration of the expansion of the European Union from 15 to 25 countries. While the newest ten member countries only represent about 35% of the total GDP of the EU, the long-term economic prospects for manufacturers and suppliers is certainly upbeat.
On the other hand, European printers expressed concern as the labor costs of the new EU colleagues is a fraction of the Western European countries. Relative labor cost equilibrium is expected by some economists to be achieved within the EU in a generation or less. In the meantime, it’s a new ballgame as the fences come down.
This will have a minimal impact on Canadian printers as NAFTA has seen exporting print volume approaching 40% of total volume. Canadians have learned how to effectively service clients quite from hundreds and even thousands of miles away. Larger US printers with multiple plants across several regions have similar customer service and logistical infrastructure in place. However, medium-sized regional U.S. printers are rarely comfortable dealing with clients beyond a few hundred-mile radius of their shipping dock. For these printers, the ability to work with long distance clients is a distinct challenge.
The growing demand for global print partners is being recognized, particularly by the packaging industry according to Mr.Geert de Vries, Principal of the Dutch consulting firm Adviesgroep Grafimedia. A formative group of independent consultants gathered at DRUPA to begin the process of developing a worldwide network of consultants for printers. When a new product roll out has been successful in a regional market, the packaging or fulfillment printer can contact this network of global consultants to locate local printers with compatible with digital workflows to continue the product or kitting roll out.
The CIP4 international consortium, comprising 220 member companies, released a new version of Job Definition Format containing over 650 additions and clarifications to the global JDF specifications. They also introduced the Interoperability Conformance Specifications (ICS) concept. The ICS provides the minimum standard for individual classes of devices, i.e., image setter, press, binder and how they are expected to handle JDF and JMF.
Pre-production and Prepress
Digital proofing systems are almost exclusively inkjet based with more vendors offering soft-proofing options. DALiM DiALOGUE announced their Version 3 as both Mac OS X and JDF enabled. Users view high-resolution files such as PDF, PDF/X, PostScript, TIFF, etc. via the Internet without the need for client software. Clients can zoom in, take densitometer readings, chat in real time or leave virtual notes.
Esko-Graphics, along with eighteen other vendors, introduced the Scope workflow software. Scope’s databases and processing resources can be easily configured through web interfaces, standardized JDF or XML links with ERP, plant management or other business systems. Scope adds capabilities for project coordination, digital asset management, distributed proofing, approval and collaboration among the entire supply chain of stakeholders.
Spotless printing was launched by Creo to dramatically reduce the use of special inks in the pressroom. Accurate predictable color on press is achieved by utilizing Creo’s Squarespot technology coupled with color management theory.
Sheetfed Lithographic Presses
The major manufacturers showed three distinct trends to benefit the full spectrum of print customers. The small format presses were shown with automated plate loading, specialty packaging options to include UV drying, foil printing, and inline die cutting. The medium format presses are following the earlier lead of their big brothers by coming out with long perfectors – 10, 12, and even 15 print units. And finally, the large format presses are seeing a boom in fully automated, XXL sizes. On these behemoths an inline slitter cuts the printed sheet in half lengthwise in the press. Increased efficiencies in-line finishing, and value-enhanced production covered all format categories.
The entry level Roland 200 was shown with an automated plate changing option called Ergonomic Plate Loading. Cold UV interdeck drying on the Roland 500 avoids the extreme heat stress normally associated with UV drying. No ozone is formed plus the Seccomatic Blue lamps have a life 2.5 times as long as the customary UV lamps.
Among the 50 innovations promised for DRUPA, Heidelberg showcased their Speedmaster XL 105. Humming at 18,000 sheets an hour and aimed at the longer run label and packaging market, this large print format of 74 X 105 cm claims increased productivity of up to 30% due to its contact-free sheet transport and unusual coating application.
KBA, long on engineering expertise with a passionately loyal client base, generated plenty of its own excitement at DRUPA with eye-popping product enhancements. Laying claim to the world’s largest sheet fed press, the Rapida 205 (80.75′), KBA offered afternoon day trips to its poster and display printer client, teNeues, in Kempen, Germany.
In the new technology zone, Misubishi showed the application of a reusable plate system (RPS-X1) on their Diamond 16MAX-V web offset press with variable cutoff capability. The process takes about 15 minutes offline but up to five plate sleeves can be processed concurrently.
So called independents, that appear to me to be paid advocates, continue to forecast growth curves for digital print that to date have consistently proven to be exaggerated. My articles have not quoted them or their projections for years. This preliminary statement is not meant to dampen but rather add sobriety to a technology that in my opinion will never be more than a niche printing application relative to conventional printing. The ultimate size of this niche will strongly depend upon free enterprise among manufacturers to drive the cost down and the continued quality advancements in inkjet technology.
More manufacturers now offer models with speeds of 100 A4 (8.5” by 11”) a minute, which is 6,000 an hour. General commercial printers with proven demand on hand at that level usually prefer to get a matched pair of 40-60 cpm machines as this provides the necessary mechanical back up with the same labor cost as the single faster unit.
The new Delphax CR2000 rollfed digital press tops the industry’s speed charts at 450 feet or nearly 2,000 images per minute on an 18.24” imageable web width at full single color 600 X 600 dpi resolution. This electron beam imaging engine is 50% greater than its predecessor and is capable of producing 300 page books (6 by 9) at the rate of one every five seconds.
Anne Mulcahy, Xerox’s CEO and President, announced at their press conference the roll out of seven new digital systems at DRUPA. “Fifty percent of Xerox’s sales have come from products introduced less than two years ago,” she asserted.
The monochrome DocuTech’s replacement is the Nuvera line with the first two models being listed for $177,000 and $217,000. The print resolution is 4800 X 600 dpi. Xerox’s high-speed scanner, the FreeFlow 665 is compatible with the Nuvera line but would reduce its possible quality, as its upper scan resolution is 1200 by 1200 dpi.
The book, Pantone Digital Chips, has been developed by Xerox and Pantone to be used by designers. Printing is expected to be available on the iGen3 before long.
It seems that every logistics or IT publication picked up has an article concerning radio frequency identification (RFID). Without getting into a treatise of what RFID is (go to rfid.org), let me briefly state why it is of paramount importance to printers. The pharmaceutical industry, as a prime example, is fraught with combating counterfeit drugs. That industry feels that one of the quickest way to detect and thwart this fraud is by having the most secure and unimpeachable packaging and labels on their authentic products. In other words the printing surrounding the product will differentiate the good from the fake. Some sort of unique traceable, tag embedded branding in or on the packages appears to be the immediate answer.
While there are and will be state of the art conferences held worldwide on RFID, it is amazing what breadth and depth of printer solutions were shown at DRUPA 2004. Several exhibitors have equipment ready to ship while many others discussed their research and development concepts, which will give the industry the heads up on what to expect.
One of the costly limitations to the early adopters of RFID technologies, as so many in the printing industry have learned from being burned with early digital technologies, is the lack of universally accepted standards during the early product engagements. It is anticipated that one of the key organizations driving universal standards in the RFID arena will be EPC (electronic product code) Global (epcglobal.com). This is because Wal-Mart and other global retailers and stakeholders comprise its membership. Surely print, packaging, and label standards will be a subset of this group’s activities.
The universal trend for both web offset and rotogravure presses is more pages around the cylinder via wider presses. Despite the proliferation of the 16 page offset web press, single webs throwing off 24, 32, and 48 page signatures is now available from several vendors. The first 64-page press was prior to Drupa 2000 when a MAN Roland Lithoman V went into Austria followed in 2003 by a 72-pager into Germany. Gravure still leads the way with a 128 pages, two colors, being printed in one pass.
With the new web offset press trend moving to more pages for about the same labor complement this means the output or productivity could be 2-4 times as great as the 16-page web with only modest incremental costs. The full automated features on these larger presses are also making them just as cost effective at lower runs with faster make readies and lower start up spoilage. The point being made is that the medium sized web printer, who can’t afford the eight figure investment for these automated, larger webs, must look for other ways to remain competitive and provide value perception.
KBA presented a study showing a 7% expected savings from their Cortina newspaper web running waterless. While plates and inks are a little more expensive, the faster make readies show significant labor and paper waste savings. There still exists some skepticism as to the long-term practicality of waterless printing on a web press.
MacDermid Solutions (macdermid.com) introduced their STX 107 blanket. Its new proprietary high toughness polymers, elimination of cotton canvas, and five stage construction is expected to double the life of the blanket, reduce the wash cycle and ink consumption, and provide faster ink/water balance.
The Tail Wagging the Dog – Postpress
While post press highlights are concluding this article, their importance or interest expressed at DRUPA 2004 were a long way from the SigmaPress books-on-demand system by Muller Martini and Delphax, the RFID sophisticated finishing systems and the Cito in-line die cutting on an SM 52 press attest.
The book cooling towers by AmbaFlex have been around since 1993. However, as perfect binding speeds climb these cooling towers become more important and their 40-60 thousand euro investment justified.
The material handling, take-away and finishing requirements for the wider, faster web publication presses are much more practical due to the proven abilities of Ferag’s Unidrum and Muller’s PrintRoll technologies which were introduced in the early 1990s.
There is little doubt in my mind that the best designed major booth at DRUPA or any other show for that matter was Muller Martini’s. Instead of trying to schedule the demo times for major pieces of equipment, which every vendor does and show attendees scramble frustratingly to attend, Muller had a circular theater located in the middle of their booth. Revolving around, the theater brought every major piece of equipment to come into view for live running demonstrations. This slick live presentation did not even need popcorn to keep everyone’s attention.
After my sixth fourteen-hour day on my feet at DRUPA I ran into a client, who had just arrived in Düsseldorf, who asked me, “Did you find anything new that I should check out?” Considering how tired I felt late that day, I surprised myself at how enthused I babbled on about not only what was new but also what I thought it might mean to him.
I have tried to add a perspective of how certain trends will impact the small to medium sized printers. This group makes up the heart and soul of the North American printing industry. My final editorial comment is directed toward those aspiring middle managers that have ink-in-their-veins and want more from the printing industry than merely a job, maybe a sense of passion or career calling. You simply have got to experience a DRUPA while you still have fire-in-your-belly.
C. Clint Bolte & Associates, Chambersburg, PA.