50th: Long Road to Automation — From High Touch to Hi Tech
The story began: "A method for printing in space has been developed by the Emca Corp...It will function in satellites and space platforms, but is particularly suitable for operation in a lunar environment. Press speeds can reach 250,000 impressions an hour because of low gravity."
It may not be entirely sporting to pick apart a technology forecast with the benefit of hindsight. Still, a major ($100,000) printing industry study that purported to forecast technological developments for the next two decades is too good to pass up. The December 1970 edition of Printing Impressions included a recap of the Comprint 90 convention, which reviewed and analyzed the results of the study conducted by the MGD Graphic Systems Div. of North American Rockwell.
o Offset to Dry Out
According to the report, "After 1980, offset's relative importance is difficult to predict. (A current imponderable is driography, the rate of development and acceptance of which can be expected to have profound effects on process popularity.) For gravure, a larger share of the market is unlikely before 1975 or 1980, since development of laser or other low-cost electronic/optical engraving methods is not likely before 1975." Waterless printing never quite fulfilled that promise.
There wasn't much hedging when it came to developments in digital printing. The researchers appear to have been extremely bullish in their predictions, depending on how one defines "press" in terms of production speed.
"Field trials of electrostatic [digital] printing by single-color presses before 1973 will lead to commercial availability by 1977 and development of multi-color equipment will mature before 1980. By 1990, conventional book industry platemaking will be eliminated by direct or digital input belt presses, using image-production technologies such as ink-jets, electrostatic and photographic imaging. Those developments will affect commercial and newspaper printing, as well as book manufacturing."
An interesting aspect of the study is how it didn't get past the technological conventions of the day, even as it forecasted revolutionary changes. In the case of page composition, for example, it still spoke in terms of hot/cold type and CRTs (cathode ray tubes), even as it conceptually envisioned the rise of desktop publishing software and laser imaging.