drupa wrap-up: What you need to know

When it comes to print tradeshows, there simply is nothing like drupa. Although the 2016 show is officially over, I have no doubt it will remain a hot topic of discussion for months to come. There was something about this drupa that just made it stand out to so many of the people I talked to. It seemed there was much more positivity and energy throughout the entire show compared to what was seen and felt four years ago at drupa 2012. It was like the entire show was screaming “print is back, and it’s better than ever before!”

This year’s drupa consisted of 1,837 exhibitors from 54 countries, with booths ranging from massive to cozy, and everything in-between.  What was really great to see was the number of new technologies unveiled at the show compared to four years ago. Several vendors were showcasing many new technologies as opposed to just one or two. The vibe was great and that energy seemed to carry forward to pocket books, with sold signs popping up on equipment in almost every booth. In fact, a survey of this year’s 260,000 attendees showed that 75% of them were in decision making roles within their organizations, and 54% of attendees attended drupa with investment intentions. Several exhibitors reported better than expected sales at drupa 2016: for example, Kodak met its sales target by day 7, and had hit 168% of that target by day 9. Aviv Ratzman, CEO and co-founder of Highcon, reported that sales to both new and existing customers greatly exceeded expectations. Similar stories of surpassing sales targets were reported by many other exhibitors as well.

There were definite themes running strong at drupa 2016. Extended gamut printing, and 3D printing and modelling were quite prevalent themes this time around, as was automation. Once again drupa was dominated by digital, and one thing was quite clear to all those that attended: digital printing is growing up. Fast. Anyone that still believes “but you will never be able to do this or that digitally”, may want to give their head a shake. Digital printing is encroaching on areas that were long believed to be the sole realm of conventional printing. After what I saw at the show this year, I can no longer say digital printing is making inroads. Digital printing has arrived, and it is rivalling conventional printing processes in almost every market imaginable. Yes, digital dominated drupa, so much so that the biggest vendor booth this time belonged to HP. They filled the entirety of Hall 17.

If you you are worried at this point that this article is going to turn into yet another drupa/digital printing/nanography article, relax. That is not what I am going to focus on. It is not that these things are unimportant. It is just that there are already a lot of well-written articles that go into detail on those areas. Instead, I want to write about the drupa hidden gems, the surprises that may not have gotten mainstream attention, but are definitely worth talking about. For this article I will highlight just a few of the great showpieces and companies that I think are worth a second look, regardless of which area of the industry you are in.

3D Wine Tree made from laminated cardboard produced on the Highcon Beam with 3D Modelling Package
3D Wine Tree made from laminated cardboard produced on the Highcon Beam with 3D Modelling Package

Highcon for Digital Cutting and Creasing

One hidden gem at drupa that just blew me away was the company Highcon, and its portfolio of digital cutting and creasing machines. These machines offer fully variable creasing and cutting at amazing speeds and removes the need for expensive dies. The Highcon BEAM model, for example, can reach speeds of up to 5,000 sheets per hour. Considering that Highcon made its debut only four years ago at drupa 2012, this company, and its products, have come a long way.

One feature I really like is the optional 3D Modelling Package that is available on both the EUCLID and BEAM models. This 3D module cuts and laminates layers of substrate together to create 3D objects. Not only does it do it economically, but it does it a fraction of the time that a 3D printer would take. For example, the wine “tree” shown here was completed in under 30 minutes. The same object would take days to render in most 3D printers currently on the market. For the show, Highcon even used the 3D Modeling Module to make a cardboard mold for a bench that they then poured concrete into. The result: a 300 kg cement bench that was as functional as it was stunning in design.

Another great solution that Highcon offers is AXIS. Axis is a cloud-based storefront solution that stands out from other products in that it offers more than just web-to-print. AXIS enables companies to offer web-to-finishing for both 2D and 3D objects. The solution is robust thanks to Highcon’s collaboration with Esko and XMPie: Esko provides a “structural rule engine” that is used for 3D products, and XMPie handles the variable data and personalization. Coupled with Highcon’s EUCLID device, there is a real ability to offer dynamic, short-run, web-to-finished products at maximum efficiency and low cost. This can open the door to increased profitability and unique product offerings, giving companies a clear advantage over competitors.

Birds-eye view of Kodak’s booth, aptly named the Kodak Quarter
Birds-eye view of Kodak’s booth, aptly named the Kodak Quarter

Kodak for Inkjet and Productivity

Another company that really outshone others at drupa was Kodak. To start, I have to mention Kodak’s booth, which they aptly named the Kodak Quarter. Many of the people I spoke to at drupa felt Kodak had the best setup at the show, and quite frankly I agree. There was an energy emanating from the booth. It was catchy, extremely well laid out, and very well manned. I found the Kodak people working the booth to be some of the most approachable, enthusiastic and knowledgeable people I spoke to. Whenever I visited the booth it was bustling with people. There is no doubt Kodak made a strong statement at the show, not just with an amazing booth, but also with the great products that were showcased within the booth.

Kodak Prosper 6000 Press featuring ULTRASTREAM technology
Kodak Prosper 6000 Press featuring ULTRASTREAM technology

Kodak launched over 20 different products and technologies at this year’s drupa, and there were a couple in particular that really caught my attention. First was Kodak’s ULTRASTREAM technology. This latest advancement in inkjet technology from Kodak delivers extremely high resolution print quality at fast speeds with extremely small dot sizes. It does this with less heat production than Drop On Demand (DoD) inkjet. ULTRASTREAM can print at a resolution of 600 x 1800 dpi at speeds of 500 feet per minute. Each droplet that lands on the page is less than 4 picolitres, and is placed with extreme precision. All this equates to a final print equivalent to 1200 x 1200 dpi. With print widths expandable from 8 to 97 inches, and printheads with an estimated nozzle life of 3 trillion drops, Kodak’s ULTRASTREAM is definitely a technology to keep an eye on.

Screenshot of one of the screens from Kodak’s new Analytics product showing a summary of NX media usage
Screenshot of one of the screens from Kodak’s new Analytics product showing a summary of NX media usage

Another great new product offering that Kodak unveiled was their Kodak Analytics solution. This wonderful bit of programming extracts metadata already found in the jobs run through Prinergy to help companies analyze, track and assess such things as material usage and cost, waste, plate utilization, and so on. Using the data collected and reported by Kodak Analytics, companies can increase efficiencies by altering consumable purchasing patterns to reflect true usage, manage and track archiving, determine such things as plate and substrate maximization, and so much more. Kodak Analytics is perfect for companies that want to track and manage these things, but cannot justify a large-scale investment in a full-blown MIS system. In my opinion, Kodak Analytics is a powerful tool that anyone using Prinergy and other Kodak products should start looking into.

This job was colour managed through GMG OpenColor. Here you see the proof (top), the press sheet (bottom), and the finished product (right). The small group of patches seen on the bottom right of the proof and press sheet are all that is needed to create an accurate extended gamut profile.
This job was colour managed through GMG OpenColor. Here you see the proof (top), the press sheet (bottom), and the finished product (right). The small group of patches seen on the bottom right of the proof and press sheet are all that is needed to create an accurate extended gamut profile.

GMG for Colour in Packaging

A very big theme at drupa this year was extended gamut printing, and GMG has done a great job with their OpenColor product in making extended gamut printing accessible in a way that is accurate and repeatable. What is more, accurate profiling can be achieved using a very small patch set. This means that it is no longer necessary to do dedicated press runs with hours of reading and validating targets in order to achieve good quality, multi-channel profiles to make the most out of packaging printing.

As you can see by the example shown in the image above, the proof and the printed sheet are almost a perfect match. And yes, that little group of patches you see on bottom right of the sheet is all you need to create an accurate seven-colour profile, which is just amazing.

GMG has also developed the GMG ColorPlugin Pro plugin that enables GMG custom profiles created in OpenColor to be used in Photoshop, which enhances the ability to match to a target colour space across a wide variety of substrates and printing processes. Recently added to GMG’s repertoire is the GMG ColorPlugin Packaging, which offers additional features such as channel removal, minimum dot adjust and preview, and takes advantage of OpenColor’s spot colour profile functionality, all on the desktop.

Comparison of the GMG DotProof solution (left) to actual dots printed on press (right)”
Comparison of the GMG DotProof solution (left) to actual dots printed on press (right)

For those in packaging, special attention should be given to GMG’s OpenColor solution in conjunction with the GMG ColorProof product. Thanks to the use of spectral data that can be used to create separation profiles, it is very easy to repurpose artwork originally created for offset to run on a flexo press without the need to for time-consuming retouching and file altering.

Last but not least is the ability for OpenColor 2.0.5 to create dot proof profiles for use in the GMG DotProof and FlexoProof products. This allows for extremely accurate dot proofing capabilities. The previous image shows a magnified section of a GMG DotProof printed on an Epson P7000 compared to the actual printed product. The colours and dot structures are quite a good match.

A screen shot of Dalim’s ES solution demonstrating the “compare documents” feature on a 3D image file.
A screen shot of Dalim’s ES solution demonstrating the “compare documents” feature on a 3D image file.

Dalim for Production Management

Another great drupa find was the ES Enterprise Solutions platform offered by Dalim. ES is a powerful tool that is ideal for anyone wanting a comprehensive, full-featured production and management platform not only for print projects, but for cross media and 3D projects as well.

Dalim’s ES has it all: a full-featured Media Asset Management (MAM) that can handle all things media (photos, video, 3D files, HTML, Flash and audio files for example); powerful proofing and approval tools with collaboration via Dalim DIALOGUE; project tracking via milestones and deadlines; automated imposition via JDF; and, last but not least, multi-channel (cross media) product creation and distribution via CHILI Publisher. ES caters to all the different stakeholders in the production process, from brand owners and agencies to printers, finishers and multi-channel service providers. It offers a web-based environment where users can plan, execute and control all aspects of a job, regardless of the end use.

Dalim offers a very powerful mobile app that offers rich functionality and interconnectivity to ES while on the go.
Dalim offers a very powerful mobile app that offers rich functionality and interconnectivity to ES while on the go.

The ES solution has so many features built into it that it is really hard to focus on just one or two. There were a couple however that I felt were unique. For example, many solutions on the market have the ability to compare two documents for differences, however, ES can do this even with 3D animations, as shown in the photo here. In fact, ES can can be used to preview, annotate and approve many types of non-print-centric medias such as video, sound, Flash files, 3D Collada files, and even complete websites via a simple HTML 5 interface.

Another cool feature is the very functional app that can be used to communicate with ES and remain productive, even on the go. Unlike some apps I have seen, the ES app is not just a tool to view projects and get status updates. Instead, it is a tool that can be used productively on the go to do many of the tasks that you can do on the desktop. For example, the app can be used to view and collaborate on a product, with the ability to annotate.

An impressive Heidelberg Speedmaster press featuring the company’s new “Push To Stop” technology
An impressive Heidelberg Speedmaster press featuring the company’s new “Push To Stop” technology

Heidelberg for Conventional and Digital Print

I was glad to see a new range of digital printing technologies from Heidelberg this drupa, and I was just as happy to see the company’s continued innovation and commitment in the commercial offset market as well. This was quite evident with the new generation Speedmaster presses that the company is using to promote the idea of fully autonomous printing, or as Heidelberg calls it, Push To Stop. According to Heidelberg, soon the operator will not need to start the printing process. Instead the press will do this automatically, and the operator will only have to intervene to stop the printing process due to a problem. Heidelberg believes that this level of autonomous printing could double productivity in the foreseeable future.

Heidelberg Omnifire UV inkjet printer that can print on just about any 3D object.
Heidelberg Omnifire UV inkjet printer that can print on just about any 3D object.

Heidelberg launched a series of digital presses at drupa 2016 under the “fire” product line. All of these presses had the coolness and wow factor that you would expect from Heidelberg, but I don’t think I could write this article without specifically mentioning the ultra-cool Omnifire printer. This UV inkjet printer prints stunning quality images on just about any three dimensional object using CMYK, opaque white, and even an optional protective coating. The versatility and quality of the Omnifire was just amazing.

The 3D object to be printed is held by a robotic arm using suction. The arm then pivots and rotates. First it rotates to the first colour, and the colour is printed. Then it rotates to a UV curing light, and the ink is cured. Then it rotates to the second colour, it is printed, and the arm again rotates to the UV curing station. This process is repeated until the print is complete. The image below shows a water bottle that was printed live at the show in under two minutes. Some of the other things that were printed on using the Omnifire included but were not limited to soccer balls, a hockey goalie mask and stick, and a bike helmet. The Omnifire is a great digital printer that can do some really unique things. One-offs of custom mugs and other products can be cost effective when printed on the Omnifire.

An example of an image printed on a metal water bottle using a Heidelberg Omnifire printer
An example of an image printed on a metal water bottle using a Heidelberg Omnifire printer

There were so many great exhibitors and products I saw at drupa this year, far more than I could fit into a single article. While I chose to focus on a handful of cool offerings, it doesn’t mean that there weren’t dozens more equally worthy of praise. The hardest part about writing this article was choosing what not to write about.

I know I will be doing a lot of reading over the next few months to get caught up on all the exciting things that will happen in the next few months as a direct result of drupa. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds, as I eagerly await drupa 2020.

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