50th: Long Road to Automation — From High Touch to Hi TechJune 2008 By Mark Smith
Letterpress has given way to offset and now digital printing. Composition has gone from hot metal and manual paste-up through phototypesetting, color scanning, color electronic prepress systems and desktop publishing, then on to computer-to-plate and Web-to-print. Bindery equipment now boosts more computer power than Apollo 11.
Along the way, once venerable names have faded from the scene even as some of the technology persists. Gone are Harris, Hell, Linotype, Royal Zenith, Polychrome, Crosfield, Scitex and Compugraphic, to name just a few.
From a technology standpoint, there's an added touch of symmetry in June 2008 being the 50th anniversary edition of Printing Impressions. Volume 1 carried a story titled "Drupa (1958) Exhibit Is Successful." By the time this anniversary edition is in print, Drupa should have completed yet another successful run, the 14th in a series that was launched in 1951.
The report noted that the show featured a number of American manufacturers, but mostly European vendors. "Selling features stressed by equipment manufacturers were automation, quality and time-saving methods. American visitors discovered that the industry in Europe is moving into high-speed printing equipment at a more advanced rate, perhaps, than in the United States."
Among the products said to have grabbed the attention of visitors were:
o A line of high-speed letterpress equipment showing a new 15.5x22.5? format with extension high-pile truck delivery exhibited by Albert Frankenthal.
o The new Rotor-Binder for perfect binding from the Mueller Bindery that increases in speed from 3,000 to 3,500 books per hour.
o Dr. Ing. Rudolf Hell showed the new Vario-Klischograph for both color and black-and-white, producing electronic engravings in sizes up to 12x16?, fully automatic.
To get a further sense of the industry's state of technological development in 1958, here's a sampling of headlines and excerpts from stories published that year.
"New Photocomposing Machine for Low Cost Production of Type Matter"--A new machine, the Optype, which uses a photographic principle for copying lines of type and justifying the right hand margin. . . is said to compose type at speeds up to 16 lines per minute. . .will sell for $6,950.
"Letterpress Forum Earns Praise with New Development Program"--Nine firms showed more than 2,500 graphic arts workers a dazzling array of new developments in the application of photographic techniques to letterpress printing. . .By closed circuit television, viewed at the New Yorker and Statler hotels, the companies unveiled the fruits of their research labor for an amazed and receptive audience.