What I Did Instead of Watching the Bears Game

Why, I kept asking myself, would anyone voluntarily spend a perfectly good September Sunday inside McCormick Place at a trade show? Beats me, but there I was, dashing from one appointment to the next at GRAPH EXPO 2011.

Moving about was easy enough because the hall, while hardly devoid of attendees, was clear enough that no dodging and weaving was required. There were maybe 150 people waiting when the gates opened. Not all that encouraging, I thought. To be fair, the show had tough competition, with a Bears game just a mile away at Soldier’s Field and the weather perfect for doing anything outdoors.

The show did get busier as the day wore on. Monday seemed steadily busy, although vendors told me people seemed to come in waves.

So what was new? Not a lot, really, at least of truly major significance—with the exception of Xerox’ new waterless inkjet press, which I’ll cover in a later post. Still, there were things worth talking about, and my next couple of blogs will cover some of them.

GMC Gets Inspired
First things, first—literally. GMC had a breakfast meeting on Sunday to kick off the show and rolled out the expansion and renaming of its flagship PrintNet T software. Inspire is an end-to-end software tool for customer communications management (CCM). It is designed to help businesses increase customer engagement by streamlining and advancing the creation and delivery of marketing, transactional and operational communications.

While it still includes the mailing and targeted messaging tools the company has offered for years (within PrintNet T), Inspire covers a lot more ground. It now includes advanced data management that can combine information from different silos to develop sharper profiles of individual customer preferences. That intelligence can then be used for more creating focused customer communications across multiple channels, not just direct mail.

Responses to offers can be captured, tracked and managed, even to the point of bi-directional customer engagement—having a two-way conversation with customers. According to GMC, all these processes can be managed, even lights-out, within Inspire.

GMC has long been a major mover in transactional and direct mail, but has focused primarily on service providers. With Inspire, it is furthering a strategy announced last year at this show to stake out territory in the enterprise market.

This makes perfect sense in my estimation. CMOs have long wanted to do more with their troves of customer data, but have lacked truly effective tools for using siloed information to connect with customers across multiple media. By putting so many functions in one package, Inspire may be the answer some enterprises are seeking.

Mailing is tough. The regulations are Byzantine, the costs soaring, the complexity intimidating, and the very stability of the USPS is even in question. But while the mail won’t stop, service providers who handle it need tools that remove some of the pain of getting thousands of envelopes out the door every day.

These are some of the challenges that have driven the development of Uluro from the Nashville, TN-based Transformations Inc. The core of the software is OnceAmation technology that enables even complex, repetitive mailings to be set up once, then run repeatedly with minimal human intervention. That streamlines work processes bigtime, and should get the company a lot of attention. But the part that grabbed me is the ability to co-mingle mail by combining jobs—with just a few clicks.

Co-mingling has always been a nuisance for service bureaus, print shops and their customers. The USPS has hard-and-fast limits on how many pieces must be headed to a given zip code before a mailing qualifies for the lowest possible postal rate. This stymies mailers who can’t meet that minimum.

There are various workarounds, but they involve some fancy programming and take extra time in job preparation. With Uluro, multiple jobs from different companies can be combined in just a few clicks, enabling more mail pieces to qualify for the best postage rates. With postage rates heading up, this is good news for many mailers.

There’s a lot more to this software, including some compelling cross-media elements, so if mailing is any part of your business, it’s worth spending some time at Uluro’s site to see what it has going on.

Labels roll faster

Over the past year, I’ve found myself at events and meetings where labels are the hot topic. It’s gotten me to pay more attention to this segment, which is actually one of the more promising in all of print. Equipment vendors are rolling out new machines that are pushing aside analog technologies, such as flex, for some applications and doing things that simply can’t be done with analog systems.

But speed is an issue. Even though digital presses have versatility on their side, they are still slower than many flexographic systems and may be so for some time. So HP has amped up the speed with its new HP Indigo WS6600, which is being formally announced at LabelExpo in Belgium about the time you read this. HP says the new device enhances the scope of products that can be printed and offers end-to-end automation for improved throughput.

A couple of things stand out. First, there’s an optional in-line priming unit that puts a coating on the substrate to let the machine run a wider range of stocks. This can decrease TCO (total cost of ownership) because it makes less expensive stocks an option. For now the priming only works for paper-based substrates, but there are some hints that the coating may also work with synthetics—at some point. Stay tuned for that. Maybe we’ll hear more at Drupa in May 2012.

Second, the WS6600 features a new Advanced Production Mode that prints using just cyan, magenta and yellow, letting the machine print about one third faster than CMYK printing. The print samples I saw looked fine for their intended uses. They do look a bit different and this mode may not work for all images, but it could save time and money if even a portion of a shop’s production could take advantage of it.

The third piece is an improvement in Indigo’s white toner. The WS6600 can now put down a thicker layer of white to get the same results as multiple hits of white. This can mean fewer null areas while using less ink overall—good news to any label printer.

Another machine, the WS4600, also gets the Advanced Production Mode, a new controller and invisible UV-sensitive ink. Both devices are available startubg Oct. 1.

I’m outta space here. More to come.

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