EskoWorld, an annual four-day Esko user conference, launched June 17th in New Orleans. This was the first time that we have had the opportunity to attend the event, known to the packaging industry as one of the most action packed events, to learn and network with fellow Esko users. For those of you not familiar with the company, Esko is a global supplier of integrated solutions for packaging, sign and display finishing, commercial printing and professional publishing. Their big successes have been in software for the packaging industry that have become the industry standard, with 90% of all packages you see around you coming into contact with at least one Esko product. In this article we will summarize the event and share what we learned about packaging.
The people in attendance (about 500 of them) were all Esko customers/users. The format of the conference consisted of three tracks with the option to listen to lectures, attend hands-on computer labs, or contribute to strategic sessions called roadmaps (which explained where a particular product was headed). With several rooms running each track there were over 100 opportunities to learn.
The conference started with several keynote sessions. Bernard Zwaenepoel, Senior Vice President of Software Business gave a talk about some of the strategic plans at Esko specifically, and trends in the industry in general. Zwaenepoel compared the packaging industry to the shape of a diamond, metaphorically being precious, and forever lasting. He divided the diamond shape into three parts he called the brand management, structural management and prepress eco-systems. He also highlighted that colour is an important part of the equation.
Colour is a strong strategic area for Esko, a Danaher-owned company. Danaher, a science and technology company, purchased Esko in 2011. It has now also added X-Rite (along with Pantone) to their growing graphic arts portfolio. Already the workflow is showing synergy when it comes to colour.
Jan De Roeck, the Director of Solutions Management, spoke next about drupa. He highlighted some of the packaging-focused technology present at drupa and suggested a variety of “names” that the show could have personified this year. De Roeck shared that he felt that print is increasingly becoming a secondary communication channel—leading people to digital technologies. He used Ricoh’s Clickable Paper (http://rii.ricoh.com/clickable-paper) as an example. You must check it out! He concluded by encouraging all participants to keep an open mind when it comes to the potential of new technologies.
Last to speak was Dr. Malcolm G. Keif, Professor in the school of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University. Dr. Keif began with a discussion about the importance of learning, featuring video-recorded help from his sons — fitting on a Father’s Day afternoon. He spoke about the potential benefits of a learning organization, referring to fun sources like “Five leadership lessons from James T. Kirk” published in Forbes. He also brought along a great example of electronic printing done at Cal Poly; a copy of Canvas magazine with an electronic cover that added information to the page when you completed the circuit.
This was an important EskoWorld, moved further into the year to occur after drupa, which marked the release of a new version in Esko products. Within this version there were many improvements but there are two technologies we saw that everyone should take a look at: Store Visualizer and Web Center. Store Visualizer is very robust application that allows you to build a store, populate it with store merchandise, and then manipulate the virtual space. The image featured on our cover is a snapshot of the application. A lot of the technology behind it is from the gaming industry, making the experience very realistic.
Every detail is accounted for from the reflection of ceiling lights on the packages to the physics engine that allows you to accidentally drop a package or tip it over. The application is critical for brand owners who’s primary concern is how the product will look in store and whether it will effectively draw attention. A case example of where the application would have been helpful is in the Coca-Cola polar bear white can incident where packaging had to be recalled because the sugary white can looked too much like its diet counterpart. The idea is that placing those two cans next to one another in Store Vizualizer would have prevented the design from hitting production lines.
Web Center is another great technology worth investigating. It is a project management tool that allows you to track projects, collaborate, store documents, and manage assets and approvals. Each type of login (such as CSR or client) has an interface tailored to their specific information needs. Two really neat aspects of Web Center are that it integrates with Automation Engine (a workflow application) allowing you to see where in the process your project exists and it is now available on iPhone and iPad. The iOS side of the tool can be standalone and is free for download in the iTunes store. Using the app you can view and pan around 3D objects to make certain that your package design looks good.
In addition to the full days of sessions there were some great opportunities to network. The breakfasts and lunches were sponsored by some wonderful suppliers/partners who shared some of their product stories with us. There was also a team-building activity, which consisted of parading to the House of Blues (with marching bands in tow) and a night of karaoke. I must say that there is nothing quite like a parade to get people excited!
With the great keynote speakers, content-filled sessions, and a bit of fun this was a very worthwhile event.