IPEX 2002 -- Accent on the Positive
BY MARK SMITH
Trade shows probably are not the most accurate indicator of an industry's vitality. When the show is IPEX 2002—the international printing exhibition held in Birmingham, UK—it's even harder to draw any direct conclusions about the North American market because of the show's strong English and broader European flavor. Still, there is an understandable temptation to try to gauge the current state of the market based on the tone of major industry events.
The organizers of IPEX report overall attendance at the 2002 show hit 65,451 people, which represents about a 30 percent decline from the final count for IPEX 98. Overseas visitors reportedly accounted for 36 percent of the attendance. Commenting on the numbers, Caroline Eden, exhibition director, says: "It appears that organizations have elected to send one or two senior personnel rather than a large group of employees, which in the current economic climate, is perhaps understandable."
Looking to trade shows for indications of technology trends and directions in the printing industry is a more meaningful proposition. Some of the broad trends indicated by product introductions at IPEX included:
* Offset presses are getting faster and are being outfitted with more integrated peripherals to increase productivity and flexibility;
* CTP technology continues to be developed along multiple paths, with violet and thermal systems introduced at the show;
* End-to-end process integration enabled by support of JDF/CIP4 is gaining ground; and
* Proofing of halftone dots on ink-jet machines is the next wave of proofer developments.
Another trend evident at the show is the continuing consolidation among industry vendors.
IPEX 2002 was a coming out party of sorts for the new HP Indigo Div. of HP Digital Publishing Solutions, which had its genesis at PRINT 01. Indigo founder Benny Landa noted the symmetry in this turn of events since the company unveiled its first digital press at IPEX 93.
Having also announced a planned merger at PRINT, Barco Graphics and Purup-Eskofot chose IPEX as the venue to unveil the combined company's new corporate identity: Esko-Graphics. The new entity's headquarters will be in Gent, Belgium, it was revealed, but exactly how the organization's two U.S. operations will be integrated has not been finalized.
Lastra SpA announced that its Brookfield, CT-based subsidiary, Lastra America, acquired Western Lithotech from Mitsubishi Chemical. Roberto Ziletti, president of Lastra SpA, commented that, "Western's plate product line complements our current offerings and the equipment business presents us with an opportunity to expand our analog prepress business into the area of CTP."
Even More Mergers
As an extension of its acquisition of Xeikon NV's digital color printing operations, Punch International NV of Belgium reported it had acquired the activities of Xeikon America. In a related move, Koonras Technologies Ltd. acquired the black-and-white magnetography printing operations of Xeikon, which will again be known by the Nipson name.
Flint Ink announced a "combination merger and acquisition agreement" with German ink manufacturer Gebrüder Schmidt GmbH. Flint reportedly is acquiring Gebrüder Schmidt's Canadian operations, while the two companies' European operations are to be merged.
Getting back to the product trends, the best way to describe developments in the pressroom is as being evolutionary, not revolutionary. Koenig & Bauer Group, however, did introduce a B3-format sheetfed press with a distinct V-shaped unit design around a central impression cylinder.
MAN Roland unveiled what it said was dramatic new styling across its press lines, including sheetfed, commercial web, newspaper and digital products. The company claims the impact is more than skin deep, noting that one element of the redesign "is a sparkling-green accent color whose role is to indicate interrelationships of systems, as well as to facilitate operation by its signal effect."
The product introductions in the computer-to-plate arena represented a mixed bag of technologies. Heidelberg added the Topsetter P 74 model to its thermal platesetter line, but also introduced an automated version of the Prosetter 102 violet line. Agfa, one of the biggest proponents of violet imaging, rolled out the Xcalibur 45 external-drum, eight-up thermal platesetter featuring Grating Light Valve (GLV) technology. Screen also plans to use GLV technology, but in the PlateRite Ultima thermal platesetter with twin exposure heads capable of imaging 16- or 32-page plates. Fujifilm, meanwhile, introduced four- and eight-up, violet-imaging versions of its Saber Luxel internal-drum platesetter family.
Digital exposure of conventional plates also saw its share of product introductions. Established player basysPrint launched a faster version of its imaging technology across its platesetter line. Also weighing in on the hardware side was Citiplate, with the announcement of an agreement with Escher-Grad to co-market a version of the latter's Cobalt eight-up, internal-drum platesetter capable of imaging high-speed, UV-sensitive plates such as the Citiplate Aqua LHP. By invitation only, Esko-Graphics demonstrated an "engineering prototype" of its Dicon UV platesetter for exposing conventional plates.
On the plate side of the process, Kodak Polychrome Graphics showed samples of a thermal, no-process plate it has in development with the intent of getting feedback from potential users. Similarly, Presstek said it was offering a "technology demonstration" of its Applause process-free thermal plate.
In terms of number of announcements, ScenicSoft led the field in printing process integration using JDF/CIP4 (Job Definition Format/the International Cooperation for the Integration of Processes in Prepress, Press and Postpress). Its UpFront imposition product can now also share data with Prism USA's computer management/MIS products, Wohlenberg cutters and Müller Martini finishing systems.
Creo and Printcafe introduced Synapse Link and Prepress Connector software, respectively, to link the former's prepress workflow with the latter's computer management/MIS solutions via JDF-based data transfers. Both products are open systems that will link to other third-party solutions, as well.
Agfa says its new ApogeeX PDF-based workflow solution features full JDF-compliancy to integrate MIS/IT operations into the workflow for automatic job-ticket generation and end-to-end process integration.
Lastly, the ability to represent—or at least simulate—halftone dots in proofs made by ink-jet printers was touted by Agfa, Xitron and a few others. To be truly effective, though, higher resolution output devices are needed to accurately reproduce the dot sizes and resolutions used in most commercial work. Such printers reportedly are due to be introduced.
One other announcement worth noting was Xerox Corp.'s release of pricing for its DocuColor iGen3 digital color printers, which reportedly will start at a list price of $510,000. The company says about 100 early iGen3 units have been produced to date, with initial customer deliveries slated for later this year.
These highlights, and the product write-ups on the pages that follow, are just a sampling of the news from IPEX 2002. For those who couldn't make the trip, Graph Expo & Converting Expo 02 in Chicago (October 6-9) should provide an opportunity to see all of these developments—and more—first hand.