PRINT 01 WRAP-UP -- Lasting Impressions
The show must go on. The spirit behind that old saying resonated through the halls of McCormick Place during the later days of PRINT 01. The show remained open for its entire scheduled run, even though the level of activity did drop significantly after Tuesday morning. The mood and topics of conversation though, understandably, turned away from graphic arts industry issues to the horror of the terrorist attacks.
"Prior to September 11th, in spite of the weak economy, PRINT 01 was attracting good attendance, and exhibitors reported steady and serious buying activity across all product types and sizes," reported Regis J. Delmontagne, president of the Graphic Arts Show Co., organizers of the event.
The exhibition actually got off to a bit of a slow start, but headline-making acquisitions still created a buzz on the show floor in the first days. Technically, Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. announced its acquisitions prior to the show, but it set the tone for there being a "Big Deal of the Day" for every day of the event. (See the sidebar below for more on the business news from PRINT 01.) For the rest of the show, there was rampant speculation about what deals may yet be to come. It all remains just speculation, so far.
The consensus seemed to be that Fuji's move to gain direct control over its dealer channel would have major implications beyond its own operations. In conversations at the show, representatives from a number of vendors indicated that the move marked a "sea change" in the use of dealers by prepress equipment/supplies manufacturers.
A commonly expressed sentiment was that as the print process becomes more digital, industry manufacturers need more control over the distribution of their products and closer relationships with customers. Cost savings also were seen as a contributing factor in this highly competitive marketplace.
Search for New Revenues
In addition, the move to digital processes means there are fewer lines of consumables for dealers to sell. Film (imagesetter, dupe, etc.), analog proofing materials, processors and chemistry, deletion pens, tape and even razor blades are just some of the products to see a drop in demand.
In the press arena, Komori America announced the acquisition of HRB Inc. in Cincinnati, a Komori distributor, and J.E. Doyle has been named the North American distributor for PrintConcept GmbH's line of UV curing systems designed for web presses.
As for getting closer to customers, CreoScitex announced it was following the lead of Agfa and Heidelberg USA in offering consulting as a distinct service and separate from the product selling process. In recent years, there has been talk of the need for dealers to do more educating of customers about digital processes, but it now appears that the equipment manufacturers are finding they must fill the void.
As for products in the prepress arena, the biggest trend at PRINT 01 was the continuing expansion of the workflow concept forward to the customer, and back to the pressroom and bindery. Heidelberg's Prinect system and the Networked Graphic Production concept from CreoScitex were prime examples. PDF support is a given in these workflows, but the file format wasn't as big a topic of discussion as it was at past shows.
The same can be said for digital printing. Systems were in evidence around the show floor, but the technology has lost some prominence. Nonetheless, NexPress and Xerox were able to generate excitement with the battle between their respective NexPress 2100 and DocuColor iGen3 (formerly FutureColor) digital color presses. The buzz might have been greater if the two booths were in closer proximity to each other, instead of being in two different halls and on separate floors. Other digital presses were also prominent, including MAN Roland's DICOweb, Komori's "Project D" and KBA's 74 Karat.
Heidelberg claims to have sold 70 NexPress 2100s worldwide. Since commercial shipments of the DocuColor iGen 3 are not slated to begin until the second half of 2002, Xerox also touted its forays into new markets, including announcing the first sales of its direct imaging color offset presses.
PRINT 01 also didn't end up being quite the showdown between violet and thermal platesetters that was anticipated. Some of the companies that had been expected to introduce violet systems either were absent from the show floor all together or had a very low key presence. (See the article on page 40 for more on platesetters.)
As for digital plates, the news mainly consisted of previously announced products now being commercially available, or at least on the verge of being released.
Finally: Remote Proofing
Digital color proofing, on the other hand, is capturing more attention again. A lot of the new developments have been in the area of remote proofing, or "virtual" proofing as some companies have taken to calling it. Imation showed a monitor-based, critical-color solution it is currently alpha testing, RealTimeImage highlighted its new partnership with Heidelberg and Prolatus promoted its low-overhead file communication technology that enables all forms of remote workflows.
In the traditional press arena, although some vendors had web offset presses running at the show, PRINT 01's emphasis still remained on sheetfed machines equipped with multiple color units, in-line UV and aqueous coating, and perfecting capabilities. In addition, UV drying/curing equipment was demonstrated on several presses from various manufacturers. The mantra of automation, makeready reductions and closed-loop color control also continues in both the sheetfed and web printing markets.
Automating the Bindery
Printing press vendors were not the only ones pushing automation and shorter makeready times. These buzz words have found their way into the vocabularies of the postpress solution providers, as well. Features such as automated makeready, touchscreen control panels and digital controls were found on everything from saddlestitchers to trimmers. Increased automation is the answer to the often slow, expensive and labor-intensive postpress processes.
Many manufacturers believe that as postpress machines become more user-friendly, and deadlines become shorter and shorter, printers will move more of their routine bindery functions in-house. As a result, there was a plethora of postpress machines designed to address the needs of an entry-level printer looking to decrease its dependence on a trade bindery.
Muller Martini's Valore saddlestitcher was just one example of the trend to target entry-level users. "It's easy to operate, to makeready and to maintain, yet it is versatile enough to accommodate the needs of various operations," contends Felix Stirnimann, print finishing division manager at Muller Martini. "This marks the entry into a new market for Muller Martini."
With the same thought in mind, Heidelberg showcased its new Stitchmaster ST 100 saddlestitcher, also described as an entry-level solution. Heidelberg claims the compact Stitchmaster ST is best suited to short- and medium-length runs with frequent format changes.
But, stitchers were not the only machines priced for the entry-level market. Gämmerler introduced its RS 101 rotary trimmer at the show. Gämmerler describes the RS 101 as providing the quality, accuracy and trim integrity associated with high-end trimming systems, but priced competitively so as to serve the needs of a broad range of printers. Another growing trend in the finishing arena was Heidelberg's presentation of the FCS 100 production and information system. Part of Heidelberg's Prinect, a modular concept for end-to-end workflow solutions, the FCS 100 brings the advantages of a completely digital workflow to the finishing department. It is said to encourage more efficient job planning, the transmission of press programs and online collation of precise production data.
Dealing with Change
PRINT 01 provided its share of surprises, but most were on the business—and not the technological—side of the industry. Perhaps the biggest was Indigo's announcement, at a jammed press conference, that it was being acquired by Hewlett-Packard. Earlier this year, HP bought 13.4 percent of Indigo's outstanding shares, and had even developed its own digital press based on Indigo technology. But this $629 million deal brings HP into the commercial printing arena full force—right on the heels of its merger with Compaq Computer.
"Indigo is not going to disappear into Hewlett-Packard," promised Benny Landa, Indigo's founder, chairman and CEO. "The Indigo name will live on."
"We think it's exactly the right technology," added Bill McGlynn, HP's vice president and general manager for commercial printing solutions. "Indigo is at the center of our strategy."
HP was not alone; a number of other business arrangements were made public during PRINT 01:
Just prior to the show, Fuji Photo Film U.S.A. announced it would acquire PrimeSource Corp., Heartland Imaging and Graphic Systems—the largest Fujifilm dealers—and create one new, independent national distribution company.
Barco and Purup-Eskofot revealed they would merge into a new company, temporarily named BPE. The new firm, management announced, will be Europe's largest digital prepress supplier. Some consolidation of the product lines is expected.
MAN Roland entered into a strategic alliance with Océ Printing Systems USA. Océ will support the DICO line of digital color printing systems in the U.S. with installation, training and service.
The combination of the Fuji/PrimeSource and HP/Indigo deals turned up the heat on digital press manufacturer Xeikon. At its press conference, the Belgian firm expressed confidence, saying added competition will increase awareness of digital technology, which will benefit everyone. With PrimeSource's acquisition leading to the dissolution of the companies' Canopy LLC venture, which had been the leading Xeikon distributor in North America, the company also announced it will henceforth be handling sales and support of its products directly.
The cluster printing concept got a boost at PRINT 01, with both Xerox and Canon making deals in this arena. Canon and T/R Systems formed a deal to create connectivity between the MicroPress server and Canon imageRUNNER and Color Laser Copier (CLC) devices, such as the CLC 5000.
Xerox and Electronics for Imaging introduced the DocuColor Cluster powered by EFI Velocity, a workflow management product that manages multiple print engines, dividing large documents between multiple printers.
NexPress and Xerox were able to generate excitement with the battle between their respective NexPress 2100 and DocuColor iGen3 digital color presses.