Illusions of drupa 2012
After two weeks of rain and sunshine, sausage and spargel, more than a few alts and pils, far too much walking and standing, transportation that reminded me of Tokyo at rush hour, and having my BS detector turned up all the way, it’s good to be back home and try to put all drupa 2012 had to offer into some kind of perspective. All the big news has been well covered, so rather than say the same stuff as my colleagues, I’m just offering up my own thoughts on this latest love fest of print called drupa.
I’ll start where my drupa did, getting in late to the press conference of the ebullient and irrepressible showman Benny Landa and the rollout of Nanography. It’s what Landa envisions as the digital printing technology that will best live alongside offset and offer the best of both worlds for countless applications.
What was most interesting to me was that when I congratulated Benny on his latest efforts, his first question was not, “What do you think of the technology?” but rather “What do you think of the strategy?” It turns out, that question is one he asked of many others.
And I have to say the strategy is brilliant. It immediately addresses the loyalty factor—the fact that a Komori guy probably isn’t going to up and buy another make of press and is, at best, uncomfortable with any digital press vendor. Landa is licensing his Nanographic technology so his partners—which already include Heidelberg, Komori and manroland—can build their own versions of Nanographic presses while he provides the consumables, blankets, inks and various key parts. This approach dramatically scales the consumables as revenue model, as if an oil company sold cars and trucks and planes, as well as fuel.
Landa said he definitely plans to sell presses under the Landa brand name, but that he won’t sell a press that directly competes with systems sold by any of his licensees. Given that Landa Corp. plans to roll out six models within 18 or so months from now, it’s a little hard to see how he won’t be competing with his partners. But that loyalty thing may keep a Komori guy buying from the company he knows. And either way, Landa Corp. still does OK.
But wait a nano…
The smallest measurable moment of time is a nanosecond, roughly the moment between when the traffic light turns green and the jerk behind you blows his horn. I’m not a scientist, but I know that a nanometer is one billionth of a meter, making it 1,000 times smaller than a micron, which is one millionth of a meter. So while I think the technology all makes sense and the print samples are commendable for a product still in the development phase, I question the use of the term “nano” to describe what’s going on under the skins of the big machines.
How big is a micron? Well, the dry toner that makes up the images on most electrophotographic printers is between 5 and 8 microns, and the particles in HP Indigo’s ElectroInk (liquid toner) are 1 to 2 microns, which is why it’s in liquid form. Although Landa claims his particles are “tens of nanometers” in size, I really don’t think the particles used in “Nanography” are approaching 1,000 times smaller.
In my opinion, the claims of nanometer-size particles are mostly marketing hype—not that there’s anything wrong with that! Size usually matters, and I can see the positive benefits of teensy-weensy particles, I just question whether they can truly be measured on the nanometer scale.
After all, a nanometer-sized particle is invisible to the naked eye. A DNA molecule for instance, is 2 to 12 nanometers across, a human hair is about 50,000 to 100,000 nanometers in diameter. Then again, if it works, why should the actual size matter? Technology that enables you to read this article relies on the actions of particles so small they are barely there at all. So why not in printing?
But that’s all just background noise. Come Ipex 2014 when these devices roll out for real in London (31 years after Landa brought us the first Indigo), it will be fascinating to see how the technology is received. By then, there will have been a few beta sites and the hype will make the show Benny put on at drupa look like a kid’s lemonade stand. I can’t wait!
Kodak is now operating under bankruptcy protection and the illusion that things the company did when silver halide film was its cash cow still have relevancy in the second decade of the 21st century.
In a largely black stand, Kodak claimed that “Yellow Changes Everything”— a theme based on the color of the billions of boxes of film sold over the years. Seems like a stretch to me, but I understand what it’s attempting. I’m just not sure that the tie-in is causing many print providers to line up to buy from a company that’s on the ropes and is trying to sell off its IP assets.
Although a “leaked” memo touted the success the company was having at the show, a source inside Kodak tells me that none of the orders signed at drupa were really being signed in Düsseldorf. The order for a fourth Prosper press for Toppan Forms was signed weeks ago, as was a deal in India that had been on hold for over a year while waiting for Kodak to finally ship the Image Optimization System.
This (staging formal order signings at a show) is hardly a new tactic for any vendor, as systems with seven-figure price tags have long sales cycles. But in this case, it makes the company look a little desperate.
Still, Kodak rolled out new, faster versions of the Prosper inkjet press and toner-based NexPress, along with other refinements to existing products. And the big 53˝ monochrome book press done in conjunction with Timsons shows that there are printers who see the potential for Kodak’s Stream inkjet technology. These are good things on the product side, but the company’s srupa stand lacked excitement and some visitors described it to me as depressing.
Then there was the press conference. CEO Antonio Perez stood in front of a packed room with no PowerPoint slides and fielded questions, mostly about the bankruptcy. While I credit him for being willing to do this, Perez didn’t exactly catch the bullets in his teeth, and often came across as defensive. Reactions among journalists and analysts were mixed. Some thought he looked bad, others credit him for standing firm for 45 minutes of verbal parrying. Either way, I don’t think Kodak came out looking strong, and more importantly, there was nothing to encourage anyone that a new Kodak is going to arise from the remains of a business built on early 20th-century technology.
There will be more to follow. After all, that covers only two days into the show.