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DRUPA 04 REPORT Digital Printing -- Getting a Quick Impression

June 2004

Technology Editor

There are a couple different measures by which one can judge the vitality of digital printing at the recent Drupa 2004 exhibition in Düsseldorf, Germany. Certainly, the manufacturers made their presences felt around the show floors. Many of the largest booths were accounted for by digital printing system vendors.

HP Indigo was a tour de force with its sprawling booth and theatre presentation featuring a booming audio track that reverberated throughout Hall 4. Xerox dominated Hall 13 with its equipment stretched across one end of the building. Océ extended its presence around the fairgrounds by giving away wheeled cases made of cardboard that attendees dragged everywhere to load up with stuff.

And while its exhibits were not yet physically unified, Eastman Kodak made a bold statement about its resurgence in the digital printing market space through its recent acquisitions of Kodak Versamark (formerly Scitex Digital), NexPress Solutions and Heidelberg Digital.

According to James Langley, president of Kodak's Graphic Arts Group, the company is working on integrating these operations where it makes sense, but will keep other areas—such as R&D and manufacturing—separate because of the differences in ink-jet and electro-photography technology.

Also, the point was repeatedly made that Kodak Polychrome Graphics (KPG) is a separate venture, jointly owned by Kodak and Sun Chemical. So while it may make sense for KPG to be a distributor of products from its half-sister companies, it is under no obligation to do so.

As impressive as the booths were, the WOW! factor was missing. One didn't get a sense there had been any fundamental change in the competitive picture for digital printing. No major new speed benchmarks were set, the standard for print quality remained largely the same and, if anything, there was contraction of the format sizes supported.

Incremental advances—or some variation on that theme—was the characterization most frequently applied to developments shown at Drupa. Instead of mega-trends, attendees saw refinements in selling propositions and convergence of market forces.

Maybe that impression just reflects the maturation of the market segment, which isn't necessarily bad. But Drupa has a long-standing reputation for providing a glimpse of where the industry is headed in the next four years and beyond. Judging by this past event, the digital printing operation of 2008 isn't going to look all that different from today's—or one from the year 2000, for that matter.

Calling it a trend may be overstating things, but several manufacturers used the show as a forum to launch new monochrome printing solutions. This comes at a time when more users of digital color devices are moving toward running all jobs—color, black-and-white or hybrid—on a single production machine for processing efficiency. Higher volumes still dictate the use of dedicated black-and-white devices, though.

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