What I Liked at GRAPH EXPO

The first thing I thought was cool was what you didn’t trip over the moment you walked in the door…the old guard. Namely, Heidelberg and Komori weren’t on hand—going un-missed and un-mourned—while the new big (digital) dogs of print lined the center aisle.

A few remaining princes of offset were relegated to spaces further back in the hall, all but lost among the maze of stands that serve the needs of digital print and distribution first, while ignoring the needs of offset technology. Offset still has a place in the world, but it’s getting smaller. 2010 is the year that offset printing—at least in terms of a trade show presence—finally became, well, mostly irrelevant.

Big and Fast
The big inkjet systems are making a lot of noise and I’ll revisit them in more detail in some coming installments of this blog. First up is the one most noticeable—the T-300 and T-200 family from HP.

While having these machines at a short show like Graph is not practical, HP still tells a good story. There are now some 20 T-300 systems (40 print engines) installed around the world. According to HP, these sites are all paying customers, and while no doubt some smokin’ deals were cut, these machines are beginning to affect the market. Virtually all are in some type of book manufacturing operation where they are turning out to be an excellent fit.

In talking with execs from college textbook publishers such as Pearson Education, I’m hearing no issues with print quality compared to offset, and the appeal of printing only the number of books required makes a compelling business case. Publishers’ assessment of quality gets my attention because inkjet print quality for publishing applications has been on my mind for some time. The validation of big publishers tells a lot about the changes.

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  • http://ScottBertness Scott Bertness

    With all due respect to Mr. Ward who correctly related the new digital vibrancy, he has totally missed the point in asserting that “big iron” is superfluous and he has jumped to some unwarranted conclusions. Like Mark Twain said, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Same for offset.

    What Mr. Ward either missed, or chooses to ignore, is that with the down economy, coupled with the previous 10 years’ worth of exponentially-increasing costs for union labor (riggers, mechanics, electricians, etc.) at McCormick Place, the “big iron” vendors finally drew a line in the sand, since they weren’t achieving anything like a respectable ROI from their show presentation.

    The loss of these major players at Graph Expo 2010 FINALLY got the attention and respect of the GASC plus the Illinois legislature, who has passed legislation constraining union labor costs within McCormick Place, thereby making it much more competitive with other exhibition venues around the country (Javits Center in NYC; Moscone Center in SFO, etc.).

    I would bet a large sum that, with the new McCormick Place labor cost constraints in place, you will see Heidelberg, Komori, Mitsubishi, et. al. back next year with a vengeance.

    Sure, the digital technologies are rapidly and excitingly advancing, and the “cross-over” price point from digital to offset is advancing (from 2k – 6 or 7k – to wit, the new Fuji J-Press 720). But try being competitive with 250,000 24-pagers with ANY of the digital machines, including HP’s new T350.

    Conventional offset, with it’s newly-efficient make-ready capabilities from a digital workflow is FAR from being relegated to obsolescence.
    That said, I do agree that there is a great re-balancing act about to occur in most printers’ plants in the next 2 – 3 years.

  • http://NoelWard Noel Ward

    Thanks for your note. OK, I admit to being deliberately provocative.

    I’m a digital print guy, and while offset still accounts for the vast majority of printing done today, the landscape is going to rapidly shift toward digital. Long runs (250K) like you describe will remain offset for some time, but not indefinitely. There’s going to be a lot of turmoil and it will be fascinating to watch. Still run lengths and print volume are likely to shrink overall, and in my opinion digital is much better prepared to deal with this change.

    Big print plants of the future will have offset, toner and inkjet on the floor. Small shops will be primarily digital, in my opinion. And small shops account for a lot of pages.

    As for shows, that will change, too. The ROI is increasingly questionable for nearly all exhibitors. And with substantial demo centers on vendors’ campuses, shows are becoming less critical than in the past.