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An Industry Celebration: GRAPH EXPO and CPP Expo 2014

August 2014 By Erik Cagle, Senior Editor
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Perhaps the tagline for GRAPH EXPO 14 and co-located CPP EXPO should read: Everything Is Different, But Nothing Has Changed.

It's a simple concept, really. The ways and means of design, production and distribution may see significant changes over the years, but the bottom line is that whether you call yourself a printer, a marketing services provider or some nebulous moniker, the quickest path to profitability remains being able and willing to serve customers in the capacity they need you to perform.

Sounds trite, but it's amazing that so many print providers get tripped up on the idea that if they don't provide a full service to customers, someone else will. Perhaps that's the industry's version of natural selection.

Regardless, the more evolved of the printing industry's species will be on hand at Chicago's McCormick Place South from Sunday, Sept. 28, to Wednesday, Oct. 1. The non-evolved in our midst, as Ralph Nappi, president of the Graphic Arts Show Co. (GRAPH EXPO's organizer), observes, will spend that time "pulling in their horns" instead.

"This is a once-a-year celebration of our industry," Nappi says. "Print professionals who attend are essentially saying, 'this is the industry that I'm committed to it, and I want to learn about new technologies, attend conferences, engage with suppliers and find a new way to make a buck.' These people see the industry as their future.

"There's a million reasons not to be there and there's one big reason to be there—to make a profit and look to the future."

Some Show Highlights

So what does the Chicago show have to offer attendees this time around? Here's a sampling:

• More than 50 educational seminars covering a diverse topic roster, divided into 10 tracks (including commercial printing, mailing and fulfillment, wide-format and marketing/sales). In total, the show is offering 70 educational sessions.

• The Executive Outlook Conference, a four-hour sneak peek at some of the best and most innovative technologies on hand in Chicago, backed by economic and marketing information, printing trends and economic forecasts.

According to Nappi, the decision to move the Executive Outlook Conference to Sunday (Sept. 28) was intended to increase attendance. Concentrating the agenda into a half-day format two years ago also provided a spike in attendees, he notes. The 2014 theme for the annual show preview is "Print That Performs."

• Twelve different printing segments and 15 industry-related pavilions. The latest segment to join the lineup addresses manufacturing and industrial printing (3D, printed electronics and decorative printing).

The pavilions include Deliver (mailing and fulfillment), marketing, BIG (wide-format) and Future Print. The newest addition to the pavilion roster is Plastic Print, which resulted from a partnership between the GASC and the Society for the Plastics Industry (SPI). With the growth of 3D printing, the Plastic Print pavilion will examine opportunities for the marriage between printing and plastics.

• While final numbers weren't available at press time, Nappi estimates the co-located event lineup would likely be smaller than it was for PRINT 13 last year, when it reached a jaw-dropping 66 events.

And, while on the subject of numbers, Nappi has been tracking a year-over-year uptick in attendee growth for the past four years (discounting PRINT 13, which was up over its predecessor), while physical vendor space has been trending downward. The latter is primarily a function of some industry vendors using their GRAPH EXPO space for marketing and educational purposes, leaving machine demos for captive customer events at demo facilities or manufacturing plants.

Digital and Offset Still Co-Exist

So, in terms of subject matter, what trends can we expect to see represented by vendors? Productivity enhancements will be among the areas touted by digital technology providers—both toner and inkjet, notes Marco Boer, vice president of IT Strategies. From enhancements on RIPs, variety of paper sizes and cost-effective run lengths, vendors will be pressing hard to demonstrate digital's ability to out-perform offset presses.

"For inkjet, it's not so much about the run length extensions as it is about the ability to print on coated and uncoated sheets," Boer notes. "And all of the vendors are inching forward in being able to print on coated papers. It's going to improve as we go on, and I think it's quite amazing that we've made as much progress as we have."

Still, Boer points out there is ample room on the print shop floor for both personalized inkjet and static offset to co-exist. The static market demand remains heavy, and high-speed variable data shows promise.

"There remains a bigger market for static offset, and static with a lit bit of imprinting of variable data," Boer says. "Inkjet's growth rates are off the charts compared to other print markets, but things will co-exist for a long time, in my opinion."

Wide-format digital printing, with its higher margins but lower volumes, will also garner significant attention, Boer relates. In a shop with under-performing elements, wide-format ouput could be that breath of fresh air on the bottom line.

"It's very profitable on a percentage basis, but does it dramatically impact the bottom line?" he poses. "It could, if you're making no profit at all. Hence, the interest in that market."

Speaking of profit centers, Boer anticipates seeing more vendors showcasing their product's ability to break into packaging applications, from folding cartons and corrugated to flexible film.

While IT Strategies does not track software trends, he anticipates a healthy buzz will surround Management Information Systems (MIS). "Going forward, the single biggest differentiator between someone making money or not making money is going to be an MIS system," Boer contends. "The companies that will be the most successful will be the ones that are data-driven, and learn how to get the most out of that data."

While not tipping his hand to the actual Must See 'Ems winners, program coordinator Hal Hinderliter provides a taste for some of the other major themes that should dominate the show floor next month. Making print do more, and serving a wider variety of applications in the process, will be the keys for successful attendees.

• Press formats, which were growing exponentially 10 to 15 years ago, are trending back toward half-sizes, and Hinderliter anticipates more medium- and small-format offerings for both the press and postpress arenas. Digital offerings, naturally, will continue to impede on analog turf as far as sheet size is concerned. The upshot for shops with both is that much of the postpress equipment geared toward the sheet size is digital/analog agnostic.

"We'll see more finishing devices with greater automation, including JDF, which has gone from a pie-in-the-sky idea to something everyone's expecting to have on their devices, where printers are going to be expected to crank through a wide variety of short-run work in a single shift," Hinderliter notes.

• Short-run production is getting a shot in the arm in the form of tool-less diecutting, scoring and perfing. Die-free production essentially paves the way toward variable finishing, of sorts.

"These systems are making it possible to do one-off production of a certain shape," he says. "In other cases, they're not designed to do one-off, but are capable of doing extremely short-run finishing without the use of expensive and time-consuming setup of the steel rules that we've been used to seeing."

• Quality control and color measurement. Given the increased processing speeds provided by computers, Hinderliter notes that the camera systems inside presses that were once used to monitor registration and color density can now be used for image inspection and defect recognition. In the coming years, this will have a huge bearing on how printers monitor sheets and do inspections.

"The days of seeing eight to 10 people sitting around a table, sorting through boxes and pulling random samples to check quality are going to disappear," he says. "You'll get that information live, online, as the job is being printed. It's going to be more robust, more effective and—most importantly—be reportable back to the clients. This type of technology is eventually going to become a must-have for all printers."

Along the same lines, color management and measurement moving to the cloud is a hot topic, according to Hinderliter. Cloud-based management enables asynchronous communication of color standards between the brand owners and all of their production partners.

"From a brand owner's standpoint, it's an absolute no brainer to have a system they can use that will allow all of their vendors to independently collaborate and assure that their products are being printed the same in all of the locations that service them," he concludes. PI


 

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