Drupa 2012 was the first drupa show I have attended. Although I heard many stories and descriptions about the size and grandeur of the show from show-veteran colleagues, nothing could have really prepared me for the experience that awaited. Looking back, it was not the sheer size of the booths, or the amazing diversity of technologies that stole the show. For me, it was the statement the show made. Print is strong. Print is powerful, and print is not going anywhere anytime soon. In amongst the business suit-clad showgoers were school groups, parents with children, and people of all ages and walks of life. What a vibrant and energetic place to be!
For this article I would like to reflect upon some of the technologies, themes and ideas that stood out for me at the show, and why I feel they are important to watch as we move forward. To keep these technologies organized, I will focus on the areas of MIS and prepress workflows, prepress technologies, press, and post-press technologies. I will also pay a little attention to the area of variable data/transactional printing, as that is a particularly hot area. Finally, I will finish with what I feel were the surprises that I encountered, and the one technology that will be a game changer for our industry.
Please note that I am not endorsing any of these products or vendors. In a similar vein, I want to state that while I may mention specific products and/or companies in this report, I simply cannot talk about everything, or everyone. That does not mean that these companies do not have products worthy of discussion. The last note I want to make is that for those of you that have followed the drupa updates, I am sure much of what I speak about will be familiar. I hope, however, that I can speak to these topics in ways that perhaps add a new perspective.
Management Information Systems (MIS) and Prepress Workflows
As workflows and automation continue to evolve rapidly, it is becoming more and more challenging to find the definitive point where MIS ends and workflow starts. What I saw this time around was far better integration of MIS as an extension of the workflow process, especially on the digital side of things. HP’s recent acquisition of Hiflex is, in my opinion, a significant sign of the expanded role MIS, web-to-print and automation will increasingly play in the commercial digital market. Similarly, Products like EFI Fiery digital print controllers can be integrated with products like Kodak’s Prinergy workflow to create a more seamless and cooperative atmosphere between digital and offset.
When it comes to prepress workflows, it is clear that many vendors are thinking along three similar veins: automation, cloud computing and tablet devices. For example, Fuji has really expanded their XMF product to offer the XMF Production Suite. Key to this new configuration are XMF PrintCentre, and XMF ColorPath, both of which are online (cloud) tools for managing production. XMF Remote allows detailed remote access to the XMF workflow, including tablet-based control. Similar functionality can be seen in the other workflow vendors as well. Kodak previewed Prinergy 6 at drupa which appears to amalgamate many of the features of Prinergy and Insite Prepress Portal in a more user-friendly web interface, also with tablet functionality. Agfa :Apogee continues to expand upon the functionality of its tablet products as well.
Automation continues to be a big part of the enhanced prepress workflow. I was very happy to see that Kodak has enhanced the role of Rules Based Automation (RBA) in their workflows, making it possible to easily pass jobs from Insite products to Prinergy without a lot of the extra work that was needed previously. Similarly, Esko has really leveraged the power of Enfocus Switch in version 12 of their workflow suite as part of their Automation Engine.
In general, there is a trend in prepress that logically follows the trend we see on the print end of things: more support for digital presses and variable data. Because of my own research interests, I was quite happy to hear that the latest RIPs from Fuji, HP, and EFI are all PDF/VT compliant. Kodak is almost there, stating they will be compliant by the time Prinergy 6 is commercially available.
Prepress technologies are relatively mature in their respective markets, however there were still some trends worth mentioning. At the risk of jumping on the sustainability train, most of the advancements I saw in terms of prepress technology had to do with reducing environmental impact. There were several offset plate manufacturers demonstrating processless plate systems. On the packaging side, there were a few vendors (including Kodak) that were showing laser ablated flexo plates that required no processing after imaging. In addition to environmental gains, speed and resolutions enhancements were also being showcased.
It should come as no surprise that digital presses were dominant at drupa. Many vendors were demonstrating their digital inkjet web and sheetfed presses. The biggest area of innovation with these presses in my opinion were the 29 inch (B2) digital sheetfed presses. There were some very promising presses shown at drupa that will be comercially available soon. For example, the HP Indigo 10000 can print around 3400 4/0 full sheets per hour, while the Fuji Jet Press showed a lot of promise. Kodak had an impressive booth at drupa this year with their Prosper line of presses, as well as their Nexpress products out in full force.
What I found the most interesting about the digital sheetfed and web presses at drupa was the fact that traditional offset press manufacturers have begun to offer these presses along side the more traditionally digital companies like the Kodak, HP and Fuji. I saw excellent demonstrations of the Komori Impremia IS29 (sheetfed) and IW 20 (web) digital inkjet presses. The IS20 uses UV inks, which according to Komori, is the first such press to do so. KBA is also entering the digital market, with the RotaJET 76, a high-speed digital web press that is geared toward the magazine and newspaper market. Currently the press is outputting at 600 dpi and it can produce up to 3000 4 colour A4 size sheets per minute. KBA is currently working on a 1200 dpi model.
Despite the obvious focus on digital printing, it was nice to see that there was a vested interest in traditional printing as well. All the key players had impressive offset press configurations at the show. Heidelberg, as always, had a huge set-up, taking over all of hall one. KBA, Komori, manroland, and others had lots of heavy metal on the floor. There were some great applications being demonstrated on these presses, like in-line foiling, and custom holographic printing.
Post-press products were well represented at drupa, with some amazing products like an 18 unit buckle folder, and massive variable inserters for newspaper applications. There was a lot of finishing equipment on the floor that was designed to accommodate the digital presses of course. In particular, I saw a lot of Hunkeler equipment attached to the digital presses on the floor. I must admit, that although I am fascinated by the way these machines transform print, post-press in not my area of expertise, and I tended to spend more of the limited time I had at drupa in other areas.
Surprises and Game-Changers
Overall drupa was an amazing experience, and there was little left wanting after going through the show. The one thing I was a little surprised at was the low representation of ink-manufacturers at the show. I was also surprised that there was not more of a presence from the asset management side of things. The only asset management solutions provider I saw in the list of vendors was Canto Cumulus, and after two attempts to find their booth I had to move on. I would have liked to have seen a presence from the key players in this field. Perhaps this is not a usual venue for such companies, but asset management continues to grow in importance for what we do.
There were a lot of new technologies presented at drupa, and a lot of great products that will likely do well in the market place. The one that really drew my attention however, was the Nanographic presses offered by Benny Landa.
I know there has been a lot written about these presses already, some good, and some skeptical. I usually do not go for the obvious when looking at technology, but I have spent some time researching this topic, and there is definite potential. The marketing genius of Benny Landa aside, the technology is very cool. Nanography appears to offer some significant advantages over more traditional digital inkjet presses. For example, the prints come out dry, without the need for post-drying or UV inks. It can print on any substrate without the need for precoating, and at a gamut that Landa claims is larger than any other CMYK digital press. Due to the Nanography technology used, the printed inks are glossy and abrasion resistant. All of this at speeds of up to 11,000 sheets per hour, and a cost per page supposedly cheaper than any competitor. The Landa presses seem to offer it all; at least there are some big companies that believe so. Heidelberg, Komori, and manroland have all agreed to partner with Landa and use the technology.
Of course, as is often the case at drupa, the Landa presses showcased were prototypes, imperfect and not yet ready for the market. The print quality is not quite there yet, and there are some bugs to work out. In the end, however, I think there is a lot of promise in this technology. Currently there are six presses in the Landa line-up, three sheetfed presses and three web presses. Two of the sheetfed presses are targeted for the commercial printing space, and one for commercial printing as well as folding carton. For the web presses, two are geared for packaging, and one is specifically being marketed for direct mail, transpromo, and publishing markets.
I am intrigued with the nanographic concept of printing, however it takes more than just a good technology to make a product successful. One of the things that impressed me the most about the Landa products is how well thought out they were. From a sustainability standpoint, they seem too good to be true. Based on an entirely water-soluble system, there is little concern for VOCs. The inks ship concentrated, reducing the impact of transportation on the environment, and then are simply mixed with tap water. The spent ink containers fold in on themselves so they end up as a flat disk that can be thrown in the blue bin for recycling. According to Landa, these presses use less electricity to operate because there is no post-drying required. The printed pages from the press are supposedly easy to breakdown and de-ink for recycling. The presses themselves have a relatively small footprint, needing little space to operate in. Of course, presentation does count for something, and these presses, with their massive touch screen controls, are pretty cool.
There were a lot of congruent themes that were obvious throughout drupa this year: sustainability, digital printing, large format printing, just to name a few. Our industry has evolved dramatically over the course of time to get to where it is now, and it will continue to evolve and adapt more in the future. I could only speculate what drupa will look with in 2016, but what I can say is that drupa 2012 sent a clear message to all those there: print is strong, alive and well. It is also changing, and we are adapting to change with it.