Graph Expo 2008 review

Graph Expo 2008

Graph Expo took place in Chicago at McCormick Place this year from Oct. 26-29. It was the largest show of its kind in North America, bringing over 600 exhibitors together in an incredible venue that spanned over 400,000 net square feet. There was a general consensus at the show that attendance was down from previous years, and the official stats from the show confirmed that feeling to be true as attendance was down 12.5% compared to 2007. Some felt that this trimmed the fat on attendance and the people who did attend were actually there with a purpose – to do some real business. This was much to the delight of exhibitors who in the past have been swarmed with attendees and leads which often did not translate into revenue.

There were over 70 educational opportunities for industry professionals to hear about the latest technologies, techniques and ideas to help improve their businesses back home. Graph Expo’s organizers gave professionals from around the continent a chance to come together to learn and generate new ideas that they could take home to their shops and businesses to improve themselves and the industry as a whole.

This was my first time attending Graph Expo, and it was certainly an incredible one, especially given its setting. Chicago is an exciting and fast-paced cosmopolitan city with a rich history and amazing architecture around every corner.

The enormous size of the venue at McCormick Place was enough to make the most hardened set of feet melt like butter by the end of the day. I learned my lesson after the first day and would recommend to anyone who is attending future shows to invest in a pair of comfortable shoes. The seasoned veterans of the show were easily spotted with their fancy suits tapering off into a pair of comfortable running shoes.

The show started off with the Executive Outlook conference that took place on the Saturday before the show began. It drew interested business owners and managers who wanted to learn about where the industry is going and what new technologies are important to have in order to stay competitive. Some highlights from the Executive Outlook agenda were the “Be Green” segment highlighting the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) by Gary Jones, manager, Environmental Information, PIA/GATF, and Dr. Joe Webb’s “Which way and when is up?”

The “Be Green” segment informed us how the SGP is working to help the printing industry define what sustainable green printing is and how businesses can take steps to establish sustainable manufacturing and business practices. SGP is an independent third party recognition organization that provides benchmarking tools to the printing industry. It is a collaboration between PIA/GATF, FTA and SGIA. It provides a published list of criteria and verifies that partners meet those criteria of green and sustainable practices. This segment of the presentations provided information about how becoming Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified doesn’t necessarily make you a green and sustainable printer. It only means that you are using paper that has been produced with responsible forest management practices. Companies that are FSC certified may still be very significant polluters in other aspects and areas of their business operations. The SGP is trying to set a comprehensive benchmark for our industry to work off of in order to diminish its environmental footprint and be sustainable for future generations.

Dr. Joe Webb provided a wealth of information with many graphs and figures that were heavily slanted into the negative numbers. The steep graphs looked like double black diamond ski slopes dropping to the floor. This confirmed the fears of many and gave specific number values to what was already generally known by all – the printing industry, like many others, is in trouble right now.

Business owners who want to buy new equipment and have adequate demand for their products are being denied the credit they need to purchase these expensive pieces of technology. This, in turn, hurts the bottom line – along with many other things – of the producers of these machines and technologies because their potential customers who want to buy their products simply cannot do it anymore.

The crowd at Executive Outlook seemed to be looking for some sort of magic button and quick solution that Dr. Joe could pull out of a hat in front of them. All of the shortcomings of the industry and negative figures were presented, but unfortunately when it came to prescribing a solution for the industry’s sickness, Dr. Joe is still looking for the right medicine.
Dr. Joe’s recommendations were rather generalized as he explained to us that you can’t control market prices so try to control your costs by changing procedures, workflows and tools, focusing on total costs and ROI. Get the right products, the right people, the right equipment and get rid of underused equipment immediately. Push trackable short-term projects and make sure you keep debt low and under control. Focus on market creation and invest in people. Merely sustaining your business is a losing strategy and you must expand your product offerings, expand your market coverage, and push weak competitors out of business to be successful.

These are good recommendations for just about any business but I think attendees were looking for more specifics and solid directions. If there is a magic button, the respected experts in our field have yet to discover it. A quick fix solution is not what we need right now anyway. Major surgery will likely be required and we have already seen many cuts throughout the industry, but a full recovery should be expected.

At the Heidelberg press conference, Heidelberg provided the gold medalists from the 2008 SkillsUSA Championships with a $1,000 scholarship award and an invitation to attend Graph Expo 2008 with their instructors for two days. The gold medalists will also be awarded with the use of a Heidelberg model QM46 for their schools for a period of one year.

The event, where these medals were won, was part of the 44th National Leadership and Skills Conference. It showcases the nation’s top career and technical education students. Its purpose is to reward students for excellence, involve industry in evaluating their performance and provide training relevant to employer needs. The awards were given out at both the post-secondary and secondary level to encourage youths to get involved with the industry. This will likely lead students to foster good feelings about the industry and promote it as a viable career path. Reaching youth at both the undergrad and high school level is important because it deepens the roots and will encourage youths to spread the word to their peers about great opportunities in the print industry. The youth involved in these programs might just turn out to be the industry’s best and most underused marketing tool.

It was really great to see a company recognizing a problem, not just within its own organization, but the industry as a whole. They are taking steps to try and support the effort to alleviate the problem and reduce its impact. What is the problem? The printing and graphic arts industries desperately need to attract young people as about half of the workforce is 46-years-old and older.

As I rode the escalators in the morning, it was easy to observe that a large portion of the people on the escalator with me were older gentlemen. Now, I realize that only the top and most important people generally go to the show from each company (usually older), however, companies should consider sending younger employees so they develop skills for the future when the more experienced employees are retired.

Finding experienced employees retiring will prove to be a major problem in the printing industry, as a large portion of our population retires. Recently, a labour market report funded by the government of Canada’s Print Industries Sector Council program surveyed 8,345 industry companies and found that:

  • Men make up 63% of the print industry’s workforce
  • 49% of industry employees are aged 46 and above
  • A lack of education and training programs relevant to the industry is a critical concern
  • 53% of employers depend on networks, personal contacts and word-of-mouth to recruit new staff


Graph Expo has made a great effort to mend the aforementioned industry problems. They gave free exhibit space to schools with programs for our industry. Supporting these programs and institutions should be on everyone’s agenda as they provide the building blocks necessary to be successful. They will learn ways of becoming more innovative and professional, which will improve and enhance the industry as a whole. Through these education programs, they will learn ways to practice business in a sustainable manner.

Currently, many printing businesses are merely slashing prices until profit margins become razor thin and the competition is forced to do the same to compete. Businesses with great products are struggling to stay competitive due to the incomprehensibly low prices of the competition. This just eats away at the industry, and the people slashing their prices to beat out the competition are only hurting themselves in the long run.

On a lighter note, 4over had one of the most popular and hyped up booths with a half dozen scantily clad Luvabulls (Chicago Bulls cheerleaders) posing for pictures with attendees. The picture was superimposed onto a fake magazine cover with the Chicago skyline in the background and a headline reading “Business Man of The Year.” I wonder how successful the show will prove to be for them from a business standpoint. They definitely drew in a lot of traffic, but will the post show revenue generation be reflective of that? If the goal was to get noticed at the show and publicize their brand then they certainly accomplished that as it drew in the most excitement and attention from the largely male population at the show.

We learned at the press conference that KBA proved to be the world’s fastest make-ready champion at drupa 2008. A customer asked them to produce as many jobs as they could on the show floor in one hour. KBA impressed a crowd of almost 100 that gathered to see all the excitement by producing 15 jobs in an hour (59.36). The production requirement was to run 500 high-quality signatures on each piece, printed on two sides, in line on the Rapida 106 8-colour perfector. The production run involved changing eight plates 14 times, washing blankets and using the continuous feeder and delivery. The production runs were made ready and produced in less than four minutes for each of the 15 signatures. This impressed both the crowd at drupa and the crowd at the Graph Expo press conference.

The JDF Works Print Shop Live! booth was another highlight of the show that involved many companies coming together to minimize processing time and labour while maximizing throughput. Vendors participating included Avanti, Kodak, FOLDRite, Adobe and Duplo. They were giving live demonstrations of a digital print job being put through production on-site. The job was created in Adobe’s InDesign Server via a web browser interface with a FOLDRite folding template and the source PDF. JDF job intent, folding parameters and business ordering information was then passed through to Avanti Print MIS where the job was captured and organized, and JDF and JMF were created and passed to Kodak’s Prinergy prepress workflow and Duplo’s DC-645 Slitter/Cutter/Creaser. Kodak Prinergy, then, prepared the job through multiple prepress operations and sent the job to a Kodak NexPress M700 Digital Press. Printed sheets were then transferred to the Duplo DC-645, which was setup automatically according to the JDF provided by Avanti. This was a really incredible booth to visit and see exactly how well all of these systems and products could work together, just like in a real print shop.

The show was a great learning experience for me, as I am sure it was for many attendees. It was well-organized and provided a lot of information and opportunities to learn about innovation and new technology in our industry. If you did not attend this year’s show, I would definitely recommend that you get yourself down to Chicago next September and experience it for yourself! Just make sure you bring your comforable shoes and an open mind.