Digital Domination: 
A Glimpse of New Era? —Michelson

GRAPH EXPO certainly took on a new look and feel this time around. With the show floor mainly comprising color digital presses, wide-format inkjet printers and finishing equipment geared toward shorter-run digital jobs, someone from outside our industry would have a hard time believing that the vast majority of commercially printed pages today are still produced on lithographic, not digital, printing presses.

Some might argue, that once Heidelberg, Komori, and presumably Mitsubishi, come back into next year’s show, Graph Expo 2011 will regain its more familiar layout—with digital and offset printing press manufacturers vying for the attention of show-goers. But, I’m not convinced it will be (trade show) business as usual. Despite the Graphic Arts Show Co.’s (GASC) machinery handling incentives that encourage exhibitors to bring more equipment, as well as new work rules enacted at McCormick Place to help lower costs for exhibitors, offset press manufacturers still have a hard time justifying the ROI 
of setting up large presses in their booths. With a better payback from bringing potential buyers to their technology centers for individualized demos, gone are the days where you’ll see numerous sheetfed offset presses running in a Graph Expo exhibitor’s booth.

Their new trade show business models, as illustrated by the manroland, KBA and Goss booths at this year’s event, seem to focus less on promoting new equipment, and more 
on service and maintenance options for existing presses, as well as a growing range of consulting services. Enhanced business services that take a more holistic, plant-wide approach, and sales efforts geared toward more recession-proof segments like packaging and in-plant operations, are helping these manufacturers maintain revenue streams in an environment where installations of new litho presses have remained anemic. Blame it on the erosion of some offset work to digital presses, and an overall reduction in print volumes due to electronic alternatives. Couple those conditions with excess used equipment that’s still flooding the market due to plant closures and payment defaults, on top of the continued difficulties that printers encounter trying to secure capex financing. Consequently, heavy-iron offset press manufacturers are still facing an uphill, but not insurmountable, sales climb.

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