GRAPH EXPO & CONVERTING EXPO 2003--Prepress and Digital Printin
Bridging the Digital Divide
BY MARK SMITH
Trade shows are supposed to be a forum for presenting solutions to meet the needs of attendees. What many people took away from workflow displays at GRAPH EXPO and CONVERTING EXPO, however, was a bag full of questions . . . and maybe the odd poster or two, a foam sword, canisters of M&Ms, etc.
That doesn't mean attendees weren't looking to buy. Exhibitors were more ardent than usual about the quality of the leads they were getting, and they claimed to also be pleased with the quantity. "Turned the corner" was a popular phrase for describing the market.
At the same time, there was a lot of speculation that manufacturers had held back in anticipation of DRUPA 2004. A wholly unscientific survey of a few vendors found agreement that, given current business conditions, no company could afford to hold back the introduction of a product that could give it a competitive edge in the marketplace. Then again, some of the biggest news at DRUPA tends to be about developments still in the works, not products ready for commercialization.
GRAPH EXPO actually got a jump on DRUPA in one sense. At a Monday press conference, Messe Düsseldorf and CIP4 (the International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress) announced they had struck a partnership that will in effect make next year's event "the JDF DRUPA." This year's show in Chicago turned out to be a de facto "JDF GRAPH EXPO."
In big and small ways, JDF (Job Definition Format) was a recurring theme in manufacturer announcements, presentations and booth displays. The question that went unanswered was, "What will JDF compliance at the product level really mean in terms of interoperability at the systems level?"
There were seemingly contradictory statements made about the degree to which compliant products will be able to interface in a plug-and-play fashion. Or, conversely, the extent to which manufacturers must work together to coordinate their implementations of the JDF specification.
What generated the biggest buzz was the joint announcement made by the then 27 current member companies (see below) of the Networked Graphic Production (NGP) partners strategic initiative. The group says it is committed to achieving real-world, JDF-based integration of the entire printing workflow. DRUPA 2004, naturally, has been set as a target date.
Irrespective of whether or not one buys into the concept, NGP is worth considering in some detail because it provides a microcosm of the potential issues involved in the industry's implementation of JDF.
Despite having taken its name from a solutions strategy trademarked by Creo Inc., the partners insist this is an industry-wide initiative open to all vendors. The notable absence of some major players called into question just how truly "open" the program is by intent or in effect.
All partners have an equal standing and the initiative isn't owned by anyone, asserts Amos Michelson, Creo's CEO. The only requirement for membership is a commitment to the goals of the group and a willingness to do the work, he adds.
Questions also were raised about why such an initiative was needed from a technical standpoint, given that JDF is by definition an interface specification and CIP4 is doing its own interoperability testing (and, possibly, certification). The inferences, and sometimes overt charges, made by skeptics were that the initiative was simply a marketing ploy and/or an attempt to gain competitive advantage through exclusion.
The group press release offers what could pass for a mission statement: "Increased efficiencies through automation, integration and cross-vendor interoperability is the main goal of Networked Graphic Production. This is made possible through the definition of a standardized set of NGP interfaces, based on the JDF standard. By adopting this JDF interface, each of the NGP partner solutions are able to communicate with one another, thereby creating an NGP family of plug-and-play solutions that can be combined together to provide a seamless flow of job and production data across the entire production process."
Creo's Michelson asserts that 90 percent of the value of JDF integration can come from implementing just 10 to 20 percent of the specification. Once the critical "touch points" of integration for various processes are identified, he says they can be used to develop subsets of the JDF specification (or NGP interfaces) that make it practical to implement, while maximizing the gains in print production efficiency.
The sheer size and daunting scope of the JDF specification was repeatedly made reference to at GRAPH EXPO. The officially published specification and documentation runs a hefty 564 pages, but the current working version reportedly tops 700 pages.
Walking the Talk
According to Michelson, NGP compliance simply represents a level of proven interoperability beyond that ensured by the broader parameters of JDF compliance. All of the partners are said to have committed to developing each of the relevant integration points agreed upon for JDF-based interfaces. Each NGP solution will be tested and certified to ensure that it meets the original integration goal. The group is looking to appoint an independent organization to do the certification.
While the group's intent is to simplify the work involved in achieving interoperability, Michelson was asked if getting that number of companies to reach agreement on the structure of the interfaces wasn't itself going to be a daunting task. "It will be a long process, but you have to start somewhere," he contends.
The group has established a Website (www.ngppartners.org) to keep the industry abreast of its progress.
Given the number of announcements about new business relationships it made at the show, Electronics For Imaging (EFI) seems to be pursuing a mini integration initiative of its own. Some of the deals involve EFI's products and technologies, others pertain to Printcafe, and a few encompass both.
Presstek is going to offer EFI's Velocity OneFlow bundled with its Dimension series of CTP systems, while Mitsubishi Imaging showcased a similar combination on an informal basis. Xerox plans to integrate Velocity Balance into its DigiPath/FreeFlow workflow solution. Kodak Polychrome Graphics (KPG) is selling Velocity OneFlow as a front end for its new KPG DirectPress 5034 DI digital color press. Enovation Graphic Systems plans to offer Velocity Balance and the Fiery EXP6000 server as part of the front-end package for the Xerox 6060 digital color presses it now distributes.
Screen (USA) is to become a reseller of Velocity OneFlow workflow software, as well as work collaboratively to integrate Printcafe's print management software (aka enterprise resource planning—ERP—software) into is Trueflownet solution. Heidelberg signed an agreement to collaborate on interfacing Printcafe solutions to its presses. Heidelberg will also now recommend Hagen OA software to its mid- to large-size printer customers, while continuing to offer its own Prinance solution to small- and mid-size shops.
GRAPH EXPO also showcased the continued expansion of remote proofing, both in terms of features and application of the capability. Integrated Color Systems (ICS) is looking to take the technology into the pressroom with a new Press Check option for its Remote Director solution. The system includes an 800-dpi, wide-format scanner for digitizing press sheets, which then are transmitted over the Internet for remote approval.
Lucid Dream stops just short of the pressroom in touting its OnTimeProof system as doing "online imposition proofing." Through JDF support, the company says it is able to produce online proofs directly from final imposed signatures.
In other developments, RealTimeImage debuted its "multi-view" capability and a "Compare" feature that dynamically shows any changes made between two proof versions. DALiM Software introduced DiALOGUE, a browser-based (no plug-in required), "aggressively priced" solution—running on Mac OSX and Linux—for collaboratively viewing and soft proofing high-resolution files. KPG says it viewed the show as an educational opportunity to get the word out about digital proofing in general, but did so by offering live demos of its Matchprint Virtual proofing system.
Proof to Be Held
In the hardcopy proofing arena, DuPont Imaging Technologies unveiled its Cromalin b2 self-calibrating, drop-on-demand ink-jet proofer with an integrated spectrodensitometer. Agfa Corp. extended its line of high-resolution ink-jet proofers with the introduction of the Sherpa 44m (44˝ wide) seven-color, contract proofing system, which also includes the Apogee Proofer RIP and AgfaJet Digital Proofing Base materials.
Elsewhere, GMG showed the newly SWOP-certified combination of its ColorProof software driving Epson Stylus Pro 7600, 9600 and 10600 ink-jet printers. Creo also featured the Epson Stylus Pro 10600 in a faster version of its Integris proofing solution, and introduced a two-sided media guide for double-sided proofing on the 9600-based version.
For remote hardcopy proofing, Enovation is packaging together the new FujiFilm PictroProof II thermal-dye color proofer with ICS' Remote Director software.
Software-only announcements included EFI's rollout of Best Colorproof and Screenproof versions 5.0, which incorporate Adobe PostScript 3 for handling PDF/X formats, and the Best LinTool utility for linearizing output devices. Colorbus introduced Fidelity Xtreme to speed the processing of 1-bit TIFFs when used for proofing on large-format printers. CGS Publishing Technologies highlighted the new ScreenDot screen proofing option for its ORIS Color Tuner proofing system.
Digital printing continues to make slow, incremental progress toward broader adoption, as evidenced by announcements at this year's show. Canon USA unveiled two production color printing systems—the CLC 5100 (51 ppm) and CLC 4000 (40 ppm)—featuring new delivery and fixing unit systems, plus advanced color management technology for enhanced production and increased color consistency. Xerox introduced the entry-level DocuColor 5252 (52 ppm) as a replacement for the model 2045, and enhanced the DocuColor 6060 with PANTONE certification and additional finishing options. A.B.Dick rolled out its Color X-Press 3000 digital printing system, a 50-ppm machine based on Konica technology.
On the monochrome side, Océ added two models to its VarioPrint line of sheetfed, production-class digital printing systems: the 5160 rated for 158 monochrome ppm and the 85-ppm model 2090 multifunction copy/print/scan machine. Heidelberg introduced a "cp" (commercial printer) version of the Digimaster 9110, featuring enhanced paper handling and image quality improvements.
There were even a few announcements in the on-press/digital imaging segment, including the first showing of the aforementioned KPG DirectPress 5034 DI digital color press. The two-page, four-color machine is based on Ryobi press and Presstek imaging platforms. A similar press, marketed as the Ryobi 3404DI, is being offered by the xpedx/Import Group.
In addition, KBA North America introduced a special plastic printing option for its 74 Karat digital offset press. MAN Roland displayed a printing unit from its DICOweb on-press imaging system in Chicago, but said the real news will come at DRUPA 2004. One development reportedly in the works is a "convoy" concept that integrates a DICOweb unit with conventional web offset printing units to increase production flexibility in newspaper applications.
HP Indigo was part of the broader show trend toward increased use of presentations by customers. In this case, the users focused on their successful one-to-one marketing campaigns.
Prepress exhibits around the show floor reflected a variety of other trends.
In the CTP arena, developments in platesetters primarily focused on enhancements to existing product lines, including faster speeds and/or increased automation. Creo spoiled the potentially big introduction of its new Positive Thermal plate—designed for long run lengths with no pre- or post-baking required—by announcing it just prior to the show. Printing Developments Inc. (PDI) did save the introduction of its next-generation Delta 830 long-run (1 million impressions with no baking) thermal plate for the show. And KPG extended its Sword line with Excel, a thermal, high-resolution, negative processing plate rated for up to 500,000 impressions without baking.
Native support for Mac OSX was a requisite announcement for any software applications that hadn't already been upgraded to the platform. Enfocus PitStop Professional 6.0, which also features support for PANTONE color matching and PDF 1.5, was just one example.
Similarly, support for the PDF/X-1a and PDF/X-3 formats has become a de facto requirement for any tools and systems that work with PDF files.
The product section of the GRAPH EXPO and CONVERTING EXPO 2003 coverage in this issue offers additional details on specific introductions, but it's not practical to include every announcement at the show.
That still leaves open to debate the question of whether or not exhibitors held back for DRUPA. The answer will be apparent before too long, though, since the international exhibition is scheduled to run from May 6-19, 2004, in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Networked Graphic Production Partners . . .
Compri (Systeemhuis Compri)
DiMS! organizing print
Prism Group of Cos.
Shuttleworth Business Systems
Prepress, Production Planning
Koenig & Bauer AG (KBA)
- Adobe Systems
- Agfa Graphics
- CGS Publishing Technologies
- DALiM Software
- DiMS! organizing print
- DuPont Imaging Technologies
- Eastman Kodak
- Enfocus Software
- Epson America
- FUJIFILM Graphic Systems Div.
- KBA North America
- manroland Inc.
- Muller Martini
- Presstek Inc.
- PRIMAC Systems, Vercom Software
- Radius Solutions
- Streamline Solutions
- Xerox Corp.