Complementary Future of Offset, Digital Printing to Be Seen at Drupa
Today it is becoming much more common to find printers using more than one printing technology. In most cases, this means adding cut-sheet digital printing to complement a predominantly offset printing operation. Doing so enables offset printers to profitably handle very-short-run work and also to get into new markets where offset printing is not appropriate. This includes business-to-consumer applications, such as photo books, and also doing variable data printing for one-to-one marketing/direct mail and even adding Internet-based services.
For the conventional offset printer, what one finds, however, is the normal mode of operation is for the offset and digital technologies to be run separately using different workflows and for the decision about which printing technology to use being made at the time of quoting for the job, rather than at the time of production.
The trend in the future, as we will see at Drupa 2012 from May 3-16, 2012, will be for much of the work to be done using a common workflow and for the output technology to be selected at the time of production. For this to happen, the output from the two printing technologies must look the same in terms of both image quality and color compatibility.
In the launch this year of Heidelberg’s partnership with Ricoh at digi:media in Düsseldorf, the common workflow and color compatibility was a principal theme of the Heidelberg message under a marketing term called HEI Flexibility. This was shown in a demonstration of production of a marketing package for a golf event in which the different items in the package were printed using offset and digital printing, with the look of the different outputs being near identical.
The work was all driven from Heidelberg’s workflow with common color management. The work shown also linked in Heidelberg’s digital inkjet packaging press in the same workflow, plus a range of Heidelberg finishing systems.
In the U.K., Heidelberg has also demonstrated how this workflow can be extended up the value chain by linking up with Cloud-based Web-to-print company Red Tie for online ordering and communication with the print buyer or specifier.
Where Digital Printing Should Fit
The Heidelberg example was a demonstration of what can be done, and today we are seeing such things happening at many printers in the industry using a range of different equipment. The use of digital printing to carry out work that would previously have been printed by offset where digital printing is a more suitable process because of the short-run nature of the work is only part of the way digital printing is complementing offset.
It is an example of how printers have found it necessary to implement digital printing in order to provide a more complete service to their customers while staying profitable. This is offset transfer, where it is not profitable to print short-run work using offset technologies. Today, digital printing from all the suppliers can match four-color offset printing for quality and color reproduction.
While digital printing has been the technology in the limelight at the past Drupa events, offset technology has continued to develop and become more efficient and more suited for short-run printing. Some digital printers have also seen the need to invest in offset to handle a wider range of work. In these cases, it is often seen that a digital printer will add offset printing with digital imaging (DI) technology like that from Presstek.
One reason for this is digital printing companies don’t want to have offset printing skills and the Presstek DI presses can be run almost like digital presses with offset costs. Jeff Jacobsen the Chairman, President and CEO of Presstek, states the following, “We have a term called ‘bridging the gap.’ Customers are having great difficulty as 80 percent of all printing in four-color is under 5,000 impressions, and to do that efficiently, you cannot do it with electrophotography because the toner is too expensive and inkjet is not there yet. Between 500 and 20,000 impression,s DI will give you the absolute highest quality at the lowest cost per piece.”
Sheetfed digital printing has developed hugely over the past decade. While major attention has been focussed on the high-productivity presses from HP Indigo, Kodak, Xerox and others, we have seen key developments in the mid-volume and light-production areas. A recent announcement in the light-production space has come with a joint development of a new next-generation printer using proven technologies from Canon and Océ.
We are now seeing additional functionality being added to these presses. This can be with a fifth printing unit for adding the equivalent of a coating or varnish. An example of this can be found in the Xerox 1000 color press where the clear dry ink allows for special effects like spot varnishing and special effects to be added to prints. The Kodak Nexpress also offers a similar functionality.
We are also seeing larger sheet sizes being offered. The Xerox iGen4 EXP handles sheets up to 66 cm in length permitting a wider range of work to be handled on the press. The Kodak Nexpress SX also offers a similar sheet-size capability.
This, however, is only part of the way that digital printing can complement offset printing and enhance the offerings that printers can provide for their customers. The key for the printers building their businesses today is to be able to offer a wide range of integrated services and products, rather than just high-quality printing. This is accomplished by enhancing the workflow to become accessible to a wider range of customers and to become easier to work with.
This approach means using workflow to reach new buyers for whom buying print is a normal procedure, as well as making it easier for print buyers to work with the printer. Apart from the high street quick printer, printing has predominantly been a business-to-business (B2B) operation. Internet-based ordering and workflows combined with digital printing are now making printing a business-to-consumer (B2C) operation.
Precision Printing – Changing the Business Model
A very good example of this can be seen from Precision Printing, a U.K.-based printer. Precision was a typical medium-size offset printer that first invested in digital in 2005 with an HP Indigo press.
For a number of years, its digital business was just complementing the litho business for short-run printing that matched its offset printing. Following the last Drupa in 2008, Precision changed its business operations by developing its own workflow for automating all the shop’s processes, and adding a very advanced Web-to-print ordering operation through an alliance with Italian specialist Pixelartprinting.
This move has allowed Precision to double its turnover in five years with only a small increase in staff. Its offset printing turnover has hardly changed in that time despite an increase in capacity with the addition of a new Heidelberg 10-unit press. The increase has come through moving to a B2C operation with online ordering and automated production via its workflow, allowing a huge number of small jobs to be processed on the company’s four HP Indigo presses. At the same time, the addition of variable data printing has allowed Precision to offer a much wider range of services to its B2B customers.
Web-to-print software and integrated workflow is the key for making print businesses more efficient and allowing them to widen their markets as Precision has done. This type of workflow will be one of the key items on display at Drupa from a range of companies.
Kodak will be one of the key ones showing such software with its Unified Workflow Solutions that link up the Prinergy commercial workflow with the InSite portal solutions, together with Darwin variable data and Kodak Web-to-print solutions to drive offset, flexo and digital printing systems. Most of the main industry vendors will be showing similar workflow approaches that reach up and down the value chain to allow printers to widen the scope of their businesses.
I would also expect to see many small systems providers showing a range of new software products in the Drupa Innovation Park for enhanced Web-to-print working and multiple media communication.
Imposition Optimization Creates a New Business
One area of Web-to-print that we are now seeing is specialized workflow software to optimize the loading and scheduling of work on the press. In the past few years, particularly in Germany there has been a major rise of Web-to-print where printers are using specialized software to gang multiple jobs on the same press. In this they are mainly using large-format four-color offset presses rather than digital presses for the work.
One company well known for this is Vistaprint, but I feel the best example of what is happening is Flyeralarm. It runs multiple large-format KBA and Heidelberg offset presses, as well as digital presses, with all work being ordered online via its websites and online stores around Europe. Currently, the company processes an average of 10,000 orders per day of which 99 percent are ordered online. One of the keys to such efficiency is the very fast makeready and low manning levels of modern large-format offset presses.
Companies like Flyeralarm have developed their own workflow and job ganging software to create this massive area of business. Today, such software is available from certain software suppliers to allow other printers to enter this high-volume Web-to-print area. Litho Technics has a solution for automatically generating complex imposition plans for ganging multiple jobs together on one sheet.
One user is MPG Books, a leading U.K. book printer. It needed to increase the capacity from 400 to 600 book titles per month and saw gang printing as a solution. The company achieved this while reducing staffing in the planning area as well.
Colin Gammon, MPG Books Technical R&D Manager, stated, “The software has helped us to remain highly competitive by cutting our labor costs in half. The AutoLayout feature allows us to put more work on a single sheet, which reduces spoilage and speeds job turnaround,”
One can also see the solution integrated into some other suppliers’ workflow packages. This includes Fujifilm Europe adding it to its XMF suite of workflow solutions and EFI using it with some of its MIS systems. In the U.K., MIS supplier Tharstern is also developing a work ganging imposition extension to its systems.
Traditional Suppliers Going Digital
One of the key trends to be seen at Drupa is some of the leading offset press suppliers entering the digital marketplace. Heidelberg’ partnership with Ricoh has already been announced and the first systems have already been installed. manroland has announced a partnership with the Canon-owned company Océ to sell high-speed inkjet presses into its markets. KBA will also enter this market through a partnership with the world’s largest printer R.R. Donnelley. R.R. Donnelley has developed its own inkjet presses and is licensing its inkjet technology to KBA for building its own presses. These manroland and KBA inkjet presses will be aimed at the traditional high-volume offset printers in books, direct mail, magazines and newspapers with the aim of changing the business models for printers in these markets.
So far, the majority of high-speed inkjet presses have been sold to transactional printers; few commercial printers have invested in this technology. In the United States in particular, some book printers have installed such systems, predominantly from HP and Kodak. They have used them to change the business models of publishers so run lengths of color books up to 5,000 copies now become viable on this technology, allowing print buyers to reduce their levels of inventory.
A good example is King Printing, a small U.S. book printer. It was the first book printer to invest in high-speed inkjet presses for book printing and now has two presses with a third on order. The company anticipates that with the success of this technology in helping its publisher customers change their business models, it will phase out its offset printing operations and become a total digital printing company.
Aditya Chinai, the president of King Printing, states, “We are becoming inventory managers for our customers as they look to cut their warehousing and costs. With inkjet, the frequency of orders increases and the quantity of run decreases. We may see 10 orders for 50 copies of a title instead of one large run. It is now print for order, rather than print for speculation.”
It is anticipated that with the entry of manroland and KBA into the digital market that book and magazine printers will be more likely to install high-speed inkjet presses to help change the business models of the customers in books, magazines and newspapers.
Where Does Offset Fit in the Future?
Perhaps the key thing that printers need to understand about the impact of new workflow approaches, Web-to-print and digital printing is that it allows them to work with their customers to help them change the way they do business. The new business model for printers is to be a multimedia communications supplier in which print is just one way of communicating.
Printers’ customers are being offered a whole new way of communicating and a range of new suppliers. The new Web-to-print and workflow tools allow a printer to be able to make it easier for customers to work with the supplier, or for the printer to offer a wider range of services to become a more complete supplier. This is not saying offset will disappear—far from it. Offset will remain the major element of most printers’ businesses, but without digital printing and automated Internet-based workflows, customers will move away from solely offset-centric suppliers.
While many analysts and members of the press will once again call Drupa 2012 the “Inkjet Drupa,” in reality it will be “Digital Drupa”—that is an event built around how digital workflow and printing technologies will spearhead the change of printing to become a multimedia communications industry.