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Graph Expo: Binding and Finishing -- Outperforming Expectations

November 2008 By Erik Cagle
Senior Editor
IT WOULD be easy to look at all the optimism that emerged from Graph Expo with a skeptical eye. After all, the economy is in shambles, credit markets have tightened, and many printers and mailers out there who haven’t abandoned their plans to invest in new technology have at least put them in a holding pattern. Right?

Well, most of this is true, to an extent. The economy tanked in October, but those who had planned on making an investment had their financial ducks in a row before the Dow Jones hit the fan. As for credit, several lending institutions had high-visibility booths; they aggressively pursued show-goers and made it known they had capital to offer.

As for the printers who hedged their bets, well, that group has existed since Johannes Gutenberg churned out his first yard sale fliers. And they were easily out-pointed by company executives looking to not only bolster their binding and finishing capabilities, but take advantage of the bonus depreciation offered in this year’s economic stimulus package. 

But don’t take our word for it. Countless binding and finishing technology providers were candid in their positive assessments of how the scene went down in McCormick Place South. It wasn’t all cartwheels and champagne popping, but this year’s Graph Expo did exceed the expectations of many.

Dave Ellen, sales vice president for Domino Amjet’s North American commercial printing division, expected to book $1 million in sales, and points out the company has already booked a bigger booth for PRINT 09. The high expectations are a result of a wildly successful 2008 for Domino. 

“We’ve grown our machine line by 70 percent this year,” he said. “When times get tough, people look at automation and integration. They want to improve throughput. They want to compete without spending vast amounts of money.”

One of the focal points at the Domino booth was its drop-on-demand K150 ink-jet printing system for the mailing and addressing sector. It uses both UV and low-VOC solvent inks. 

Sunday has always been a mixed bag in terms of floor traffic, but some onlookers found the first day to be brisk. “Compared to last year, we’ve been more busier for a Sunday,” noted Tim Palmer, graphic sales engineer for Videojet. “And the expectation is that it would pick up on Monday. We’ve already had five prospects come out.”

Among the newer products showcased by Videojet was the Crescendo v2 system controller, which allows a single Videojet BX6600 binary array printer to print on two separate lines simultaneously. This enables complex commercial and mailing jobs to be completed quicker.

Not that the economy hasn’t impacted printers’ ability to close out deals. Dan Maurer, vice president of postpress product management for Heidelberg USA, reported that it is taking longer for printers to get approvals for acquisitions. Still, Heidelberg is in an enviable position, with a 70 percent share of the 115-size (and up) cutter market. 

Those companies that do business with Heidelberg, as Yogi Berra might say, really do business with Heidelberg. About 80 percent of Heidelberg’s profit comes from 20 percent of its customers, Maurer noted. The most initiated—those willing to invest during less-than-optimal periods—generally benefit most when the sun peaks out.

“When we come out of the recession, some printers won’t be able to deliver the same quality as their counterparts,” he added. “It’s not all about high performance and high technology. You can create value for customers by improving margins for the products they’re manufacturing. You can either add the ‘Wow!’ factor or improve your efficiency.”

Heidelberg used a live, integrated print shop within its booth to tout several cradle/grave solutions. On the finishing side, this included the 2008 InterTech Technology Award-winning PACE (Polar Automation for Cutting Efficiency) system and a Polar 137 XT cutter. Rounding out the postpress solutions were a Stitchmaster ST 450 and a Stahlfolder TH 66 folder.

“You can’t stick your head in the sand and pretend that everything’s OK,” Maurer said of the economic conditions. “We stick close to our customers and help them collectively. It’s part of a partnership.”

Muller Martini enjoyed a solid Sunday en route to a strong overall showing in Chicago. Werner Naegeli, president and CEO of Muller Martini, also witnessed the dichotomy between the aggressively active and wait-and-see approaches employed by decision makers.

Those who were there to do business, he remarked, sought technology that offered makeready reductions, less waste and equipment that required less manpower.

A primary offering from Muller Martini was the Primera line of saddlestitchers, with the E140 demonstrated live on the show floor. Here the company addressed the need for quicker job preparation with the enhanced Human Machine Interface (HMI) technology.

The company has redesigned its machines to create uniformity among different types of equipment and with an eye toward ergonomic considerations. With a new corporate theme of “Grow with us,” Muller Martini worked with researchers from the University of Stüttgart to enhance the ergonomics of the gear.

Standard Finishing Systems opted to take an aggressive approach toward Graph Expo by sticking to its game plan, recession or not, to help make things happen. Mark Hunt, director of marketing for Standard, believed the company is positioned to take advantage of some “disruption in the space.”

“We haven’t seen any letup in the intention to buy,” Hunt said. “Our group has been constantly buzzing with prearranged customer visits, along with some unexpected visits that have been highly fruitful.”

Hunt stressed the benefits of giving prospective clients product insight beyond what can be found on a brochure or Website. “We feel the value proposition we bring to market can only be appreciated when a prospect is in front of a machine. The power of the live demonstration is a driving force for our sales.”

One of the products Standard touted was its Horizon i2i system, which addresses the desire of printers to bring advanced automation to the bindery. The system integrates with prepress and printing workflows to create a comprehensive, automated CIP4-based bindery.

While traffic was lighter at the Colter & Peterson booth, a strong percentage of visitors walked away with signed orders. Bruce Peterson, president and CEO, separates the buying public pie into thirds—one-third is actively acquiring technology, another third is not, while the final third is paralyzed. Getting at that last piece of the pie is Peterson’s objective. “We’re in a state of paralysis. People are scared; it’s a fear-driven economy,” he said. “I think it will be rough for the next six months.”

Colter & Peterson introduced the new Prism PC 32? paper cutter. The machine is driven by the microcut computer control and features variable hydraulic clamp pressure.

Michael Venittelli, senior vice president of sales and marketing for MBM Corp., took an optimistic viewpoint heading into Chicago, and was rewarded with a better-than-expected showing over the first two days of the exhibition. “We serve the low- to middle-volume arena, a good area to be in,” he noted. “Plus, this is a good opportunity to get input from end users.”

Among the newer products touted by MBM was the Triumph 5222 Digicut programmable hydraulic cutter with optional side tables. Also highlighted was the Creasematic 150 programmable creaser. 

Best Graphics found Graph Expo to be a continuation of a strong period of customer activity. Dan Brahm, vice president, said there seemed to be more decision makers passing through the booth checking out stitchers such as the Star Alpha and Star Tener, and fewer tire kickers. Indeed, the company had installed five stitchers in the previous 60 days.

In its 10th year at Chicago distributing for Best Osako, Best Graphics has garnered more mind share by promoting its 100 percent customer loyalty program. “The show’s been a great vehicle for us,” Brahm says. “Historically, post-Drupa shows have been good.”

The opening day didn’t prove to be as active as the previous year for Spartanics in terms of traffic, but that was hardly bad news for company President Tom O’Hara. Spartanics’ standing as a provider of unique technologies has enabled it to empty the shelves, so to speak.

“From our vantage point, there’s been no dropoff,” he said. “The systems are so new. We’re booked through January.”

O’Hara was referring to the recently introduced Finecut sheetfed continuous laser cutting machine and the Finecut high-speed laser cutting machine for the web. “We have been surprised to get some sales off the showroom floor. That’s not normal for us,” O’Hara added.

Si Nguyen, director of marketing for Duplo USA, was very pleased with the attendance and traffic at his booth. Attendance was less than it was in 2007, he noted, but it exceeded expectations and he found attendee interest to be high.

“We saw increased interest in digital print finishing products, similar to what we would see at the On Demand Expo,” Nguyen said. “Visitors are interested in automation and workflow integration. The response to our slit, cut and crease product line was phenomenal, and we received great feedback on our DC-645 slitter/cutter/creaser with in-line folder option.”

Spiel Associates marked its 45th year in business with the unveiling of its Sterling Digipunch, designed for digital and commercial printers. The high-speed punch, which will be available the first quarter of 2009, is ideal for on-demand shops.

Spiel President David Spiel said that the sad state of the economy caused him to dial back on expectations somewhat, which paved the way for a pleasant surprise when his booth was buzzing with activity. “You’ve got companies dropping like flies because they won’t keep up with new technology,” he pointed out.

Hank Brandtjen, president of Brandtjen & Kluge, can sense a slack off from a pool of customers that had been active in recent years. “A lot of people were buying equipment the last two years. Now, they’re waiting to see what happens,” Brandtjen remarked. “People just aren’t buying right now.”

Brandtjen hopes to remedy the situation when his new Kluge EHG series foil press with stamping, diecutting and embossing capabilities ships in January. The machine operates at speeds up to 1,700 iph.

Elsewhere at the show:

o GBC Commercial unveiled its new 7580 laminator. The system is suited toward medium- and high-volume finishing of book covers, folders, brochures and bags.

o Longford International showcased its high-speed C350 tipping feeder with autoloader. The feeder, which operates at speeds up to 40,000 pieces per hour, integrates with any folder/gluer.

o MBO America demonstrated its new T 535-EA Efficiency Automatic folder, which is ideal for short runs and multiple changeovers. It features a 15? color touchscreen and Vario-Control to simplify setup with a visual operator guide.

o Vijuk Equipment touted its Vijuk-G&K mailing systems. Options are available for folding (plough or knife), as well as feeding and inserting cards, CDs and brochures.

o Rollem International premiered its Jetstream finishing system in-line with an HP Indigo 7000 press.

o Böwe Bell + Howell launched its new Combo inserting system, which quickly changes application from flats to letters in a matter of minutes. It processes letters up to 12,000 cph and 9,000 cph for flats.

o Rima-System debuted its high-speed RS 610 log stacker, available with Total Copy Control, which is ideal for the short run and book printing markets, as well as 8- to 48-page web applications.

o IMC America President Ward Walsh noted that his company has sold a dozen of its CAMotion LDP-120 robotic log depalletizer systems, which reduce labor.

o MCS showcased its new controller for the high-speed 4250 ink-jet platform. It provides a doubling of internal data rates and has enhanced algorithms for controlling head wiping and capping.

o The new DS-140 and DS-1000 high-productivity folder inserters for mailing applications highlighted the offerings of Neopost. PI


 

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