Drupa 08, From Ink Jet to Green
Most have dubbed drupa 2008 the “ink-jet drupa,” and while many would agree that most new product releases and announcements have focused on ink jet applications, there are others. The pace of product introductions has slowed at drupa, and at other shows—but not because there is less innovation in our industry—because modern marketing won’t permit releases of new technology every four years, or even annually for that matter. Conversely, markets today require access to new products and innovations much quicker than in the past, so the days of “waiting” for drupa, PRINT, IPEX or IGAS are over. When a product is ready for market it goes to market. So despite the perception of many that the pace of innovation is slower, it’s as strong as ever—only the pace of the announcements has changed.
Yes, although ink jet was big at drupa 2008, others in our industry would do a far more credible job of explaining those and other technological developments. As a first time visitor to drupa my observations about the show focus on the business side of our industry. What I saw and learned at drupa revolved around five specific areas:
1. The Demise of Print is Premature. This drupa represents the largest exhibition our industry has ever seen, and the second largest gathering of graphic communications professionals—certainly not an indicator of an industry on a precipitous decline! While there are competitive threats to our industry, adaptation has always been the recipe for success. Consistent with show management’s reports, my visits to member booths confirmed that serious and committed buyers were buying equipment at the show.
2. Globalization Continues Unabated. It was easy to see the large (and serious) contingencies from India, China, Russia and Brazil at this year’s drupa. Delegations and exhibitors from some of those countries were nearly double the participation in 2004. But the real surprise was the newest groups of developing countries—the Middle East and Africa (MEA). Just like the BRIC countries mentioned earlier, this next group of global players are stepping up. In fact, member company Screen expected to sell more than 50 platesetters to MEA customers during the show!
3. Corporate Darwinism: The Merger and Consolidation Train Rolls On. Despite thoughts to the contrary, our industry continues to evolve through mergers and acquisitions. While a somewhat unsettling sign of a mature industry, as stated earlier, this activity is a necessary step for adaptation. Call it “Corporate Darwinism”—a survival of the fittest taking place. It’s not right or wrong, but a natural evolution of our business.
4. Productivity Takes a High Priority. Our industry, compared to other manufacturing industries, has much to learn about maximizing productivity. While we are not laggards, there is much that can be done to automate the press and post-press areas of our business. The message is starting to be heard and executed by forward thinking companies as lean manufacturing techniques are more widely adopted and promoted. For U.S. companies this is an urgent transition based on our labor costs and the scarcity of qualified workers.
5. Sustainability: Possibly the Lead-in to drupa 2012. If 2004 was the drupa that inspired companies to act on ink jet then the 2008 drupa will motivate companies to actively develop green and sustainable products and services. For two years the “talk” has been about sustainability; this year there have been substantial advances in the programs and utilization of practices that foster a commitment to our environment. Talking to AirMotion Systems President Stephen Metcalf during drupa, I learned that his company is acting on sustainability as they build their new plant in Wisconsin. Despite the increased costs to build in some of these requirements they were committed to doing this for themselves and their customer base.
Each person attending drupa develops unique observations, which I would be most interested to hear to help me guide NPES in the direction of most value to members like you. Meanwhile, after the first week of drupa, I left encouraged by one overriding theme. . .despite a flagging economy. . .the psyche and commitment to investing in equipment is apparent worldwide. That commitment may be stronger in some areas than others (both geographic and product), but the sheer size and involvement of this drupa indicates that it is real and growing!