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Info Aplenty at GATF/NAPL Sheetfed Conference

July 1998
CHICAGO—The eighth annual GATF/NAPL Sheetfed Conference brought 420 attendees and 53 sponsors together recently to hear predictions of the future and case studies of innovative success stories.

Consultants Frank Romano and Ray Prince offered some technology projections for the next couple of decades. Prince reminded the audience that printing press development has historically followed five-year time frames, adding that enhancements have invariably been driven by demands for higher productivity, not quality. He expects several new digital presses and many new robotic and automation advancements to be introduced at DRUPA 2000.

Presses of the future will be simpler (to operate, not maintain!) with reusable plates/cylinders, keyless inkers, single fluid inking and continuous feed fountains. Prince stated that the year before DRUPA is traditionally slow for equipment manufacturers as many printers wait to see the new introductions. He suggested that this might provide a good negotiating opportunity for many printers in the market for new equipment.

Prince does not expect the paper manufacturers to be building new paper mills at the $1.2 billion investment required, simply to realize the current mediocre returns. Rather, he expects prices to climb and company consolidations to result from demand exceeding supply.

On the other hand, with digital printing continuing to grow there is increasing interest among mills to provide digital-compatible paper. Since this means that the paper must be able to hold a static charge, there will not be any coated stocks.

Mike Anderson, regional vice president for Wallace, gave a printer's perspective on hot growth markets. "Services after the press and bindery are gaining in value to clients: fulfillment, warehousing, distribution, print management, summary invoicing and comprehensive usage reporting," he said.

The international consultancy A.T. Kearney published a study indicating that corporations spend $75 to $250 of "soft" costs to process a single request whether the item needed is worth $2 or several thousand dollars. Based upon its successful business forms specialty, Wallace added commercial printing to its "integrated supplies management" niche in helping clients move away from transactional to a total account management relationship.

Robert Hu, president of Menlo Park, CA's A&a Printers and Lithographers, is living Romano's projection that "the World Wide Web is a transactional enabler for print." In his breakout session, Hu explained how his 25-employee printing company has been leveraging some proprietary software to improve customer service and production via the Web, saying he has the long-term objective of "simply being an icon on client's terminals." A&a has invested more than seven years in programming for this Internet interface. Three printers thus far have licensed his software.
 

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